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Saves and Steals

The Closer Carousel Turns

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The closer carousel is a-turnin’. The Kelvin Herrera trade ranks as the biggest news of a very busy week. While I’ve been warning owners to prepare, I thought we had at least a month to finalize our plans. Instead, he was swapped to a setup role in the Nationals bullpen. It rates as the biggest mid-June trade in recent history.


Washington is currently 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East. Most baseball pundits expect to see them atop the division when the dust clears – with or without Herrera. The ability to further shorten games will only speed up the timetable. If Sean Doolittle were to suffer an injury – he has recurring shoulder issues – it would open the door for Herrera. On the KC side of the equation, GM Dayton Moore was lambasted for accepting a seemingly light return. Personally, I don’t see any issue with the swap – low end closers on expiring contracts simply aren’t worth very much these days. Better relievers with more club control will be on the trade block too.


Elsewhere, Hunter Strickland blew a save. He proceeded to throw a fit during which he punched a door and broke his hand. We’ll see him again in six to eight weeks. In the meantime, he’ll definitely lose his tenuous grasp upon the closer role. Mark Melancon is still being eased into regular duty. Since his outings are carefully managed, he’s not yet ready to resume closing games. Notably, his velocity remains two mph below his norm. Sam Dyson is on a hot streak. He’s been anointed the ninth inning guy. Stop reading and go pick him up. Then come back. Tony Watson has pitched just as well if not better than Dyson. He’s a solid temporary handcuff.


Here’s a third chunk of interesting news. The Phillies have demoted Hector Neris. He’ll work on regaining command of his splitter. As I’ve warned pretty much every time Neris is on a roll, he occasionally loses feel for his top weapon. When that happens, it gets ugly. He’s always recovered in the past, and I suspect he’ll do so again. The Phillies are pointedly using a committee which tells me it’s Neris’ job if he can bounce back quickly. Owners with room on their roster could consider stashing him for a week or two – just in case.


Shane Greene and Arodys Vizcaino tied for the weekly closer crown. They both saved four games since last Wednesday. Five others saves three games apiece. Edwin Diaz (27 saves) has a comfy lead atop the seasonal leaderboard. Craig Kimbrel is next best with 22 saves.


Now, shall we go to the tiers?


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Tier 1: The Elite (2)


Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox


Kimbrel’s command has turned plaguy in recent outings. He only pitched once in the past week, working around a pair of walks. That’s now five walks in his last three innings. Chapman hasn’t allowed a run in June.


Tier 2: The Also Elite (3)


Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals


Hey look, a new tier! The closerverse is always in flux. Adjustments are necessary. I’ve split the second tier from last week in half, recognizing a slight gap in the quality of the several nearly elite closers.


Jansen had a solid week, recording three saves in four scoreless outings. His velocity remains inconsistent. He continues to induce swinging strikes at a rate well below his career norms. Despite the apparent decline, he remains a premium closer.


If not for a meltdown on May 29, Diaz would absolutely be ranked with the elite hurlers. We can’t just ignore aberrant outings, especially since Diaz has shown a penchant for occasional blips since entering the league. Still, his 14.68 K/9, 27 saves, and 2.37 ERA rank him as the most valuable closer to date.


Doolittle’s role is completely unaffected by the Herrera acquisition. The southpaw fly ball pitcher has retired 43 percent of batters faced via strikeout or infield fly (both are basically automatic outs). Most of the others have gone down by way of lazy fly out. Oh, and he doesn’t walk anybody which usually limits the occasional home run to one run.


Tier 3: Nearly Elite (5)


Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs


Hand was tagged for a couple homers this week. One was in a non-save situation. No change to his status as a top closer. I still doubt he’ll be traded. Given his contract, he would certainly merit a much larger return than Herrera.


Rumors suggest Treinen may become available at the trade deadline. He’s in the midst of a fantastic season including two saves, a win, and seven strikeouts over the last week (four innings). Like Herrera, there’s a decent chance a trade would push him to a setup role. That said, he’s quite a bit better than Herrera. The Astros, for example, might consider Treinen as a means to stabilize their talented but somehow still inconsistent unit.


Iglesias is also rumored to be on the trade block. Like Treinen, the righty can be used a multi-inning setup man or a high quality closer. Escaping Great American Ballpark should help his numbers too.


Tier 4: Maybe Good? (3)


Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets


Vazquez remains confusing. His command often goes AWOL, as it did last Wednesday. He managed to protect a three run lead by the skin of his teeth, allowing two hits, three walks, and two runs. He then turned around and fired off a pair off dominant-looking saves.


Familia is back from the disabled list. He allowed a run and three hits in his return on Sunday. Notably, he averaged a season-high 97.3 mph with his fastball. Owners were gifted with a vulture win.


Tier 5: Not Bad (7)


Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves

Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox

Keone Kela, Texas Rangers

Hector Rondon, Houston Astros

Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals

Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins

Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers


Vizcaino would rank higher if we were going purely off his 1.82 ERA, 10.01 K/9, and 3.64 BB/9. However, a few red flags lurk in the distance. ERA estimators predict between a 3.20 and 4.05 ERA for his work to this point. Regression seems likely. Moreover, Vizcaino isn’t the best reliever in his bullpen – that honor falls to Daniel Winkler. As surprise contenders, the Braves may look to add an upgrade like Treinen or Iglesias. For those reasons, fantasy owners should be wary to pay for his current performance.


Prior to last night, Rondon had firmly ousted Giles from the ninth inning role. Then he went and allowed a run in the eighth inning of a tie game, breaking the Astros winning streak in the process. That he was brought in early and failed to dispatch the Rays suggests the door remains open for Giles, Chris Devenski, or Brad Peacock to jump into the picture.


Norris receives a downgrade due to concerns about his job security. He’s suffered a mild slump in conjunction with Jordan Hicks’ emergence as an elite reliever. Hicks developed a better slider which unlocked even more value from his 100 mph fastball. He pitched the late innings yesterday, but Norris had thrown in the previous two games. He was probably unavailable. There’s a chance an official change could come in the next week, but it’s still too early for Norris owners to panic.


Soria and Greene received minor promotions out of the last tier. For Soria, superb ratios and solid recent performance are the driving forces. He’ll be trade bait at the deadline for a team hunting a bargain alternative to the big closers. Greene will also be on the block. Detroit used him on four consecutive days in the last week – he converted all four appearances for saves. Speaking of bargain relievers, throw Rodney in that bucket too.


Tier 6: Unsettled (9)


Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Brad Boxberger, Arizona Diamondbacks

Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels

Sam Dyson, San Francisco Giants

Ryan Tepera, Toronto Blue Jays

Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins

Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Philadelphia Phillies

Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays

Kevin McCarthy, Brandon Maurer, Kansas City Royals


At least for now, Davis’ days appear numbered as the Rockies closer. In seven June appearances, the righty has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in 5.2 innings. His seven strikeouts are only encouraging if you ignore the seven walks (plus a hit batsman). I fretted about his performance at Coors Field, but the recent meltdowns have occurred both at home and on the road. He’s ripe for a stint on the disabled list. Notably, his velocity was down two mph in his most recent appearance. If there’s good news, it’s that Adam Ottavino would be ranked between Doolittle and Knebel. If he’s still available on your waiver wire, now is the time to pounce.


Boxberger is also on the hot seat after allowing four runs and a pair of home runs on Sunday. The home runs are the true issue. He’s a legitimately homer prone pitcher which just doesn’t sit well when defending narrow margins in the late-innings. The rest of his profile adds up fine for high leverage relief. Fantasy owners may be interested to learn Archie Bradley saved his third game of the season on Monday. Boxberger was unavailable due to the aforementioned meltdown. I suspect Yoshihisa Hirano may be ahead of Bradley in the pecking order if Boxberger were ousted.


The last week was not kind to Parker. He allowed five runs via three home runs. He also recorded eight strikeouts across 4.1 innings of work. Knowing what we know about the predilections of Mike Scioscia, Parker could be bumped from the ninth at any moment. Or he may remain entrenched regardless of continued missteps. Justin Anderson is the nearest to competing for the role, but he has 6.75 BB/9.


Since a couple rocky weeks to open the season, Dyson has furnished a 1.35 ERA. More recently, he’s even recorded a healthy strikeout rate while limiting walks. His best attribute is a 70 percent ground ball rate. So long as he’s burning worms, he’s a solid asset. Melancon is waiting in the wings. Tom Watson has deserved the closer gig from Day 1.


Barraclough has allowed just one hit over his last 17.2 innings. That’s fantastic. He’s also sacrificed his strikeout rate (5.60 K/9) to combat his usually exorbitant walk rate. His hot streak includes a .023 BABIP. Without more swinging strikes, Barraclough will regress to a below average ERA and WHIP.


The only thing standing between Zach Britton and the closer job is about two mph of missing velocity. Otherwise, he looks ready for the job. Sure, he had a rough 2018 debut when he walked three batters, but he clamped down on the walks in his two most recent appearances. An 83 percent ground ball rate is welcome too. Brach remains the closer but for how long?


The all-out committee nature of the Phillies bullpen makes it a tad toxic for owners chasing saves. Ideally, fewer than four pitchers (plus Adam Morgan when a tough lefty shows up) would be in the mix for the key stat. The good news is that all of these guys can provide better than average ratios. Dominguez was tabbed with the loss last night after allowing a solo home run in a tie game.


Romo still tops a deep and varied committee in Tampa Bay. The club seems to have moved past using him as a starting pitcher which helps fantasy owners. He’s not the best reliever in this bullpen, but the Rays like it that way.


The post-Herrera bullpen is a mess. Unless you're absolutely desperate for saves, I recommend speculating on other bullpens. There's very little opportunity to extract positive value out of this unit. McCarthy has some modest ground ball chops and is the current top performer. Maurer has some past experience - albeit with painful results.






Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (elbow – out for season)

***Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays (administrative leave)

Hunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants (hand)


To avoid joining “the deposed” section of this column, Strickland decided to break his hand. I’m sure that’s how it happened.


The Deposed


Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals (injured)

Greg Holland, St. Louis Cardinals

Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels

Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox

Alex Colome, Seattle Mariners (traded)

Tyler Clippard, Toronto Blue Jays

Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Ken Giles, Houston Astros

Kelvin Herrera, Washington Nationals (traded)


Tough break for Herrera owners. I still think Giles will recover the job eventually.




The Steals Department


Those who followed the advice from last week could have profited handsomely from Michael Turner’s four steals. He paced the league. Lorenzo Cain, Delino DeShields, and Billy Hamilton trailed with three swipes apiece. Taylor is now back atop the season leaderboard with 21 steals. Teammate Trea Turner and Ender Inciarte are nipping at his heels with 20 steals. Dee Gordon lurks just below with 19 thefts. Since Taylor is kind of stuck behind Juan Soto and Adam Eaton, he definitely won’t finish the season in the top spot.


The easiest catchers to pick upon include Robinson Chirinos, Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Flowers, Devin Mesoraco, and Russell Martin.


The Twins and Padres are next on the Rangers agenda. With Byron Buxton out, the only options with any semblance of baserunning prowess are Eddie Rosario (fully owned) and shortstop Ehire Adrianza. I wrote about Adrianza in last week’s The Fringes column, available to NBC Season Pass subscribers. In short, there are some reasons to hope for decent production. He could be borderline playable in 12 team leagues for this series. By comparison, the Padres are swimming in targets including Travis Jankowski, Manuel Margot, Cory Spangenberg, Jose Pirela, and Freddy Galvis.


Next up in Atlanta are the Orioles and Reds. Baltimore lacks speed. As for Cincinnati, your only meaningful play is Jose Peraza. You probably won’t have better luck exploiting the Mets. They’re finishing a series in Colorado followed by a jaunt home to host the Dodgers and Pirates. Austin Meadows and Josh Harrison are available in shallow formats. The Rockies and Dodgers lack a freely available player with speed.


Look for Angels and Astros. Both teams host the Blue Jays this week. Los Angeles features Ian Kinsler – now back in the leadoff slot – along with recently healed Andrelton Simmons. Utility man David Fletcher can also run if he happens to crack the lineup. You’ll want to play the platoons when hunting for Astros. Marwin Gonzalez is on a hot streak, although he’s mostly a power play. Jake Marisnick starts versus southpaws while Tony Kemp typically plays opposite righties.

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on NBC Sports Edge, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.