We're getting to the point in the season where the slow motion symphony of closer upheaval is running out of time. For the most part, the closers you see today will retain their jobs throughout the remainder of the season. The obvious exception is with injury and those few locations with season long problems like Detroit and San Francisco.
Fantasy trade deadlines are also fast approaching. Since the prospect for finding saves on the waiver wire is bleak, now is the time to swing a deal. Saves are one of the easiest categories to control in fantasy baseball, and they can be pretty easy to acquire from the right owner. Owners in keeper leagues can look down the standings for that rival with three good relievers and no hope for victory. A modest keeper might be all that is required to net two or more saves specialists.
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Tier 1: Elite (5)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
The elites are doing their thing. Kimbrel performed the best. Over three appearances, he saw nine batters and retired them all en route to two saves. Jansen was a close second, he required 10 batters to record nine outs in his three appearance week. He also saved two.
Holland picked up four saves. He allowed a run and seven base runners over his four innings of work, so it wasn't a flawless week.
Uehara was most busy of the elites. He appeared five times and recorded four saves. The elder statesman of the group might get a day of rest soon, so think about rostering Junichi Tazawa.
Chapman came in for just one non-save situation. He allowed a hit and a walk, but he also struck out two batters.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
For the second week in a row, this tier saw very little action. Perkins was the busiest with three appearances, one save, and a blown save. There's no story here, he walked a guy and then allowed a hit. It happens.
Robertson and Doolittle each appeared once in the last calendar week to pick up an easy save. Street appeared twice – both times in non-save situations.
Tier 3: Rock Steady (6)
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
What an ugly week for Cishek. The righty allowed five runs in 3.2 innings. Luckily for the Marlins, he did not blow a save or take a loss in that period. In fact, he locked down three saves during the rocky week. The team decided to give him the day off yesterday, so they turned to Bryan Morris to lock down the ninth. Morris wasn't quite up to the task, and lefty specialist Mike Dunn came on to finish off left-handed hitter Matt Adams. Cishek's job is safe – that's why he's only moved down one spot. If something does happen, it looks like the pecking order is Morris then A.J. Ramos, with Dunn taking the occasional tough lefty.
Rodney pitched in three straight games against the White Sox. He saved the first, took the loss in the second on an unearned run, and allowed three hits and a run in the third en route to the save. He locked down another save last night. Needless to say, it was a busy and eventful week for Rodney. The story remains the same. So long as he keeps a handle on his walks, he should be an above average closer.
The Padres handed Benoit three save opportunities, and he converted them without incident. His 1.68 ERA overstates his talent, but only slightly. He'll probably allow a run every fourth inning or so.
Britton got spanked around in his latest appearance. A walk, a hit, and a home run led to three runs. I warned you last week that Britton could occasionally get dinked to death. Like many sinker ball pitchers, he has a very high HR/FB ratio. Theoretically, sinker ball pitchers throw more cookies when the occasional pitch doesn't sink enough. Since his ground ball rate is at 76 percent, he doesn't allow enough fly balls to worry about his home runs.
These past two weeks, I was very close to pushing Rodriguez down a tier. He's given me no cause to do so with three more saves. He's up to seven appearances without a run allowed.
Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (5)
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Last week, I demoted Soriano to this tier due to a reevaluation of his projected performance. Or in plain English, he has more in common with Papelbon than Benoit. He faced just one batter over the minimum in his last four outings. It's his fly ball tendencies which worry me the most. He's going to allow some home runs at some point.
Despite taking the loss last Wednesday, Rosenthal has been doing his best to secure his job. The one outstanding issue is his walk rate. After going eight straight innings without a walk, he's handed out two free passes in his last four innings. We'll see if he can keep a handle on the walks since he stuff remains borderline elite.
Papelbon watch remains in effect. He had two one-two-three innings in the last week. All that remains is for an enterprising contender to bite the bullet and make an offer. The Phillies are said to be asking for a talented piece in return, although they are willing to eat a good portion of his contract to make it happen. Executives are saying the asking price is too high, so we'll see if it comes down closer to the deadline. Meanwhile, Ken Giles looks like the heir apparent, although Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman could figure into the mix.
Tier 5: Questions (6)
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Chad Qualls, Houston Astros
Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
Janssen “earns” the demotion after a two home run disasterpiece last Friday. The main reason I moved him down is his strikeout rate. I'm tired of waiting for it to return to career levels. Considering other changes in his peripherals – including a big increase in fly balls – I'm not entirely certain what to expect out of him. The potential is there for a very valuable reliever due to his tiny walk rate, but not until he strikes out some hitters.
Friday was a bad day for this tier. Rondon took the loss last Friday although he's bounced back with a couple clean outings. He has plenty of internal competition, but the Cubs might decide to just stick with Rondon unless he implodes. Neil Ramirez is probably next in line, although Kyuji Fujikawa could shoulder his way into consideration if he can keep throwing perfect innings.
Casilla appeared just once and took the loss. I do not expect any changes to be in the air, and he should get more frequent work soon. The Giants are just half a game out of the Wild Card, and I thought they lined up as a good trade partner for Papelbon in July. That's still the case today.
Qualls appears to be turning into a pumpkin. He allowed another run on Friday which brings his ERA up to a decent 3.38. His saving grace is a tiny walk rate, but he does have some competition in the form of Josh Fields. Although I'm confident that Fields is the superior pitcher, he's been shaky of late, so a change is unlikely to come soon. With about seven weeks left in the season, anything that doesn't happen soon is probably too late.
Mejia is dealing with a hernia and a calf injury. The calf problem will probably heal, but the hernia will be a season long issue. Since the Mets aren't really playing for anything, don't be surprised if they shutdown Mejia. While it's possible to pitch through a hernia, injuries can cascade into other problems. For example, Mejia could slightly alter his mechanics, put more strain on his elbow, and pop his UCL. I considered moving Mejia to Tier 6, but let's get a better read on the situation first. Jeurys Familia is next in line. His 1.97 ERA is quite a bit better than his 3.81 xFIP. He would rank right around the same place as Mejia.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (4)
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Jacob Petricka, Chicago White Sox
Feliz's velocity per outing has ranged from 90 to 94 mph. If he can work at the higher register, he might have enough stuff to be a useful closer. At the lower end, he'll probably get shelled. He's spent his entire life as a flame thrower, so I'd bet that he doesn't adjust quickly to pitching smart. That said, he was fine over the last week. He faced 12 batters and recorded 11 outs.
It was another quiet week for Hawkins. He appeared just once and struck out the side in order. It was his first three strikeout outing of the season.
Nathan took the blown save on Saturday, and he's walked five batters in his last 2.1 innings. The Tigers are hurting for relief help. Joakim Soria is on the disabled list and Joba Chamberlain is also struggling. Al Alburquerque is probably the name to watch unless the Tigers jump into the Papelbon market.
Petricka blew another save yesterday, his third of the season. Unless you're desperate, don't inflict yourself with this ratio bomb. Matt Lindstrom is back in Chicago, but he's probably weeks away from taking ninth inning duties. If Lindstrom did take over, he'd probably take up residence as the last ranked closer. In other words, he's no savior. Zach Putnam is also back in action.
Jesse Crain (calf, biceps), Houston Astros
Bobby Parnell (elbow), New York Mets
Jim Henderson (shoulder), Milwaukee Brewers
Joakim Soria (oblique), Detroit Tigers
Our injured list has been pared down considerably. Lindstrom, Fujikawa, and Putnam have all been activated.
Henderson hasn't appeared in a minor league game since July 30. There is very little information available, but it appears he returned to the Brewers spring training complex to further strengthen his shoulder. Not good news for a team that needs bullpen reinforcements.
Soria lands on the disabled list just when the Tigers might have wanted to promote him to closer. Tough break.
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs
Josh Fields, Houston Astros
John Axford, Cleveland Indians
Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
Jason Grilli, Anaheim Angels
Ernesto Frieri, Pittsburgh Pirates
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays
Ronald Belisario, Chicago White Sox
Joe Smith, Los Angeles Angels
Joakim Soria, Detroit Tigers
Zach Putnam, Chicago White Sox
Putnam lost his share of the closer job while on the disabled list.
The Steals Department
San Diego is the cool place to go for steals these days. The Padres recently activated prospect Rymer Liriano. He's a 20 to 30 steal outfielder with a bit of pop and a few too many strikeouts. If you prefer something more predictable, Will Venable has been hitting much better since the start of the second half. He's relatively safe to use against right-handed pitching.
Another prospect call up should garner more attention – Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor. The dynamic youngster has 20 home run power and 40 steal potential. With Jayson Werth banged up and Steven Souza on the disabled list, Taylor should see semi-regular reps over the next week. He could work his way into a regular rotation with the current outfield to keep them fresh for the postseason. Owners in keeper leagues should salivate over his upside. Redraft owners should show more restraint.
Over the last 30 days, the top five in steals are Carlos Gomez, Anthony Gose, Denard Span, Jarrod Dyson, and Dee Gordon. Obviously Gomez is tough to acquire. Gose and Dyson are free, but play in limited roles. Span is a good pick up where available, while Gordon has slumped enough that an owner might be willing to sell.