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Saves and Steals

Doolittle Returns

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

Since we published last Thursday, we have a six day “week” to cover today. The last week has offered plenty of turmoil in the closer world with blown saves aplenty. A few of the most recently minted closers are in the process of securing their new job. Meanwhile, a couple established relievers are on the verge of losing their role. Of course, the big news is the return of Sean Doolittle. Don't expect him to jump right back into the ninth innings for reasons we'll discuss in a moment.

 

Base runners had a bad week. The league wide success rate dropped to 69.4 percent. Players have stolen 764 bases in 1100 attempts. Billy Hamilton has stagnated at 17 steals for a third straight week. With 18 swipes, Dee Gordon has wrested the base running crown from Hamilton. Of course, Gordon has been caught seven times. Joe Altuve (15), Jacoby Ellsbury (14), Brett Gardner (12), and Gregory Polanco (12) round out the top five.

 

Tier 1: Elite (6)

 

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

Andrew Miller, New York Yankees

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Craig Kimbrel, San Diego Padres

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

 

Our Elite tier isn't looking so hot. Chapman coughed up a couple runs, four hits, and four walks in three innings. With a 1.77 ERA, 15.05 K/9, 4.87 BB/9, and a 1.43 WHIP, he hasn't quite earned his hefty price tag. He only has seven saves on the season. Owners will have to hope the Reds can open up some more opportunities for him. If Cincinnati continues to slumber, Chapman could land on the trade block.

 

Robertson is coming off his worst outing of the season. He faced four batters and coughed up a three-run home run en route to a blown save loss. It's just one hiccup in an otherwise fantastic season. I'm not worried.

 

The same can't be said of Holland. He allowed a two-run home run in his lone outing. He lasted just one-third of an inning. Holland has walked (8) more batters than he's struck out (7). His velocity was below 93 mph in his last three outings. He's probably hurt. Go ahead and pay for Wade Davis.

 

Since we last convened, Jansen appeared three times. He picked up three saves and four strikeouts while facing the minimum number of hitters. He looks as sharp as ever. Miller and Dellin Betances also looked sharp in two appearances apiece. They remain the best relief duo in the game.

 

Tier 2: The Upside Crowd (4)

 

Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

 

Jake McGee blew the save last night in the eighth inning. He allowed four runs, three earned, in one-third of an inning. Boxberger later took the loss after he allowed a solo home run. Despite the poor outing, Boxberger's role seems secure for the next few weeks. He was a little homer prone last season. There will be a risk of a role change all year.

 

After throwing three innings in two days, Trevor Rosenthal was unavailable last night. Thus, he missed the Cardinals first save opportunity since May 17. Seth Maness locked down the ninth. Anybody who is looking to handcuff Rosenthal should pick up Maness. For what it's worth, Rosenthal has pitched well this season with a 0.81 ERA. His 3.33 xFIP is less impressive.

 

Britton nailed down three easy saves in three attempts. The ground ball specialist remains a reliable arm. Familia has also continued to pitch well. He earned the win yesterday in a two inning appearance. He also nabbed a save on Monday. He won't be available tonight so grab Carlos Torres.

 

Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (9)

 

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Joakim Soria Detroit Tigers

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels

Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

 

Last week, I took some flak from one commenter regarding Perkins. With 17 saves, 21 strikeouts, and two walks in 21.2 innings, he's been one of the best relievers in baseball. He picked up another two saves since last Thursday. Yet I've somehow managed to rank over 10 relievers ahead of him.

 

In this case, it's all about future expectations. Slider specialists shouldn't be counted on to provide elite walk rates. Perkins tends to be very good in this regard, but I'm still expecting about 2.00 BB/9. Projection systems call for somewhere between a 2.97 and 3.27 ERA. I see no cause to disagree. I'm also worried about his health. You could say it's hypocritical to include Holland in the first tier, but his hyper-elite ceiling changes the calculus.

 

I've demoted Rondon in the tiers, but my expectations remain unchanged. Rather, the move is an acceptance that he probably won't take another step forward this season. He blew a save in noisy fashion last Friday. Since then, he's recovered with two clean outings.

 

The Braves have to be happy with Grilli, although a couple minor injuries occasionally limit his availability. Fantasy owners aren't too excited about his 4.11 ERA, but a .371 BABIP is the culprit. His 2.68 xFIP hints at better days to come. His walk rate has increased for a third straight season. That's definitely a red flag. Any Grilli owner should keep a close eye on the situation. Jim Johnson is next in line.

 

Storen was busy with three saves in the last four days. He also notched five strikeouts in his three innings. He might not be available tonight. If he does pitch, he definitely won't be available tomorrow. I suppose Aaron Barrett is next in line while Casey Janssen reestablishes himself.

 

Tier 4: Questions (8)

 

A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros

Shawn Tolleson. Texas Rangers

Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants

Tyler Clippard, Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics

Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

 

Over the offseason, I tabbed Carter Capps as the next elite reliever. He had to sort through a few issues early this season. In the interim, Ramos has laid firm claim to the ninth inning. If you're looking for vintage Kimbrel upside in a non-closing role, Capps is a good option. Ramos has experienced control problems in the past, but he's safe for now.

 

Allen reminds me of a lesser version of 2014 Trevor Rosenthal. A strangely high walk rate and .396 BABIP explains why he has a 6.16 ERA. He continues to rack up strikeouts which means fantasy owners are getting something for their money. He also keeps coughing up runs. While he's not pitching the eighth inning, Zach McAllister has looked awfully good since joining the bullpen. He has an elite 96 mph fastball. The offspeed stuff is only adequate. He could fill in for Allen if a change is made.

 

Gregerson earned another trio of saves in three tries. He also allowed a solo home run. If he can't keep the opposition off the scoreboard, Chad Qualls could take over the ninth inning. Josh Fields provides another option.

 

After notching saves on each of the last three days, Tolleson appears to have a firm grip on the closer role. Keone Kela is next in line. Neftali Feliz is now on the disabled list with an abscess. Everything is working in Tolleson's three pitch repertoire. As a result, he's posting strong strikeout and walk numbers. If he keeps it up for much longer, he'll continue to move up the rankings.

 

Casilla saved three games while facing the minimum. Elsewhere, Melancon locked down two saves while facing the minimum. Casilla isn't an exciting pitcher, but he makes the most of his stuff. If he slumps, he could quickly lose his job. Melancon has avoided damage for a couple weeks. His job is safe.

 

Doolittle is back in action, but don't go cutting Clippard just yet. The A's will ease Doolittle back into late-inning duties. The lefty is topping out around 90 mph – he sat at 94 mph last year. Until he recovers some velocity, I worry about his efficaciousness. Clippard has survived some terrible peripherals so there isn't much in Doolittle's path to saves.

 

After McGee blew the save last night, Rodney returned the favor with three runs on three hits and a walk. Luckily for him, he still “earned” the vulture win. He did save three other games last week, although he allowed a two-run home run in one of them. With a 6.98 ERA and poor peripherals, Rodney's leash must be getting short. The consensus next-in-line is Carson Smith. The righty has a 0.86 ERA, 10.29 K/9, and 2.14 BB/9. His 2.44 xFIP is more than sufficient for ninth inning duties.

 

Tier 5: Roller Coasters (3)

 

John Axford, Colorado Rockies

Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays

 

Axford is currently the uncontested closer in Colorado. With 5.73 K/9 and 4.91 BB/9, I recommend speculating on alternatives like Rafael Betancourt. His 9.87 K/9 and 1.04 BB/9 would look much better than Axford in the ninth inning.

 

With Enrique Burgos on the disabled list, Ziegler appears to be the guy in Arizona. The side winder has intermittent platoon issues with left-handed hitters. He's not ideal for a ninth inning role. The door could open for Hudson. The former starter has been solid out of the bullpen. He has 8.41 K/9, 2.66 BB/9 and a 4.43 ERA. There is nothing exciting about the profile, but he's better suited to full innings than Ziegler.

 

Cecil hasn't received much work, but he's performed decently when called upon. The Blue Jays bullpen is a strange one. It seems to me that Cecil should be pitching more frequently. If Cecil gives up more home runs, Roberto Osuna is waiting in the wings.

 

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Injured

 

Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets

Bobby Parnell, New York Mets

Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies

Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

Enrique Burgos, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Feliz won't challenge for saves in the next couple weeks. He's recovering from an abscess. It's too bad for Burgos. He had a shot to become Arizona's closer. Instead, he's sidelined with shoulder tendinitis.

 

The Deposed

 

Chad Qualls

Joaquin Benoit

LaTroy Hawkins

Miguel Castro

Steve Cishek

Addison Reed

Neftali Feliz

 

Qualls may soon have an opportunity to take his job back. He just needs Gregerson to scuffle in a couple more outings.

 

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The Steals Department

 

The Athletics continue to use Billy Burns on a regular basis. He's managed enough contact to justify a spot as a temporary Ben Revere-type asset. Speaking of Revere, the vagaries of BABIP have him hitting just .264/.306/.346. His owner is probably ready to cut bait. Revere is the same high contact, no power hitter of old. Over the rest of the season, expect somewhere between a .280 and .300 average with 25 or more steals. He may be traded to a better offense soon.

 

Fantasy owners have yet to show much enthusiasm for Nori Aoki. The Giants' leadoff man is a useful three category player. San Francisco has him running frequently with 11 steals in 15 attempts. He has a near .400 OBP so he should continue to have opportunities. He's due for a pinch of regression, but most owners are happy to get something back for him.

 

Rajai Davis will face a lefty in each of the next three days. Not only has Davis stolen 11 bases in 110 plate appearances, he's also a career .304/.359/.450 hitter against southpaws. Basically, he's an elite hitter for the next couple days. Pick him up in daily moves leagues.  

Brad Johnson

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