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Saves and Steals

The Final Stretch

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: September 17, 2020, 1:26 am ET

We’re entering the final stretch – just 12 days remain in the 2020 Major League Baseball schedule. It’s been a brutal battle on the closer front with enough injuries and deposed closers for an entire season.

Matt Barnes and Greg Holland shared the saves lead last week with three apiece. Seven others tied with two saves. We’ll see if Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand can defend their perch atop the leaderboard. They’re tied with 12 saves. Alex Colome and Kenley Jansen are hot on their heels with 11 saves while Ryan Pressley, Trevor Rosenthal, and Mark Melancon have netted 10 saves.

Let’s get right down to business.


Closer Tiers


Tier 1: The Elite (5)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

The homer bug bit Hader on Saturday, positively ruining his season in the process. His ERA ballooned to 4.30. He’s still a net positive for his fantasy managers with nine saves, 14.11 K/9, and a 1.09 WHIP. Moreover, he projects to be the best closer through the end of the campaign.

Jansen also ran into a disaster on Saturday, allowing five runs (four earned), without recording an out. He took the loss in the process. He’s since rebounded with a clean outing and a stressful appearance on Tuesday where he worked around a walk and two hits. Look for Blake Treinen or Pedro Baez to get the save opportunity on Wednesday night.

Diaz has an incredible 18.90 K/9 with a 1.80 ERA. However, the Mets are seldom delivering save opportunities. Still, we have to assume those chances will materialize at a normal rate, in which case Diaz has a strong case to be the top closer in the league for the final stretch.


Tier 2: Possible Top Performers (6)

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Trevor Rosenthal, San Diego Padres
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Hand continues to thrive and might just wind up as the most valuable fantasy closer. He remains in the second tier because red flags in his profile signal a potential reckoning. In particular, he’s yet to allow a home run despite never showing any special ability to prevent them. Were he to allow his typical home run rate, he’d be running a low-4.00s ERA.

Anderson and Castillo each notched one save in the last week. As noted in past episodes, Anderson would possibly rate as the top closer if he wasn’t sharing the job. He’s allowed just two walks and four hits in 12 innings.

Pressly was handed a loss last Wednesday when asked to protect a tied game. He’s since recovered to add two saves. He has an outside shot to lead the league in saves.

Although his seasonal numbers won’t have a chance to normalize, the good version of Neris might be back. Since a meltdown on August 22, he’s through 10 innings with two runs (one earned), 9.90 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, a 0.90 ERA, and 1.30 WHIP. The divergence of his ERA and WHIP hint that perhaps all is not well. There’s also a chance I’m over-interpreting his save on Tuesday night. Workman was also available, but Neris was chosen to slam the door.

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Tier 3: Secure (5)

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Minnesota Twins
Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Montero, Texas Rangers

Despite a meager 7.11 K/9 and 3.79 BB/9, Colome has managed 11 saves, a 0.95 ERA, and a 1.05 WHIP. This adds up to top five reliever production even if he projects to be significantly worse over a large sample of games.

It will be interesting to see who the Twins turn to for high leverage outs in the playoffs. Rogers keeps running afoul of bad beats. The latest included two walks, tripling his walk total for the season. Romo has the team’s most recent save, although it came on a day when Rogers wasn’t available.

Melancon and Montero both allowed one-run when working in a non-save situation. Their real teams won’t care, but their fantasy managers are undoubtedly shaking their fists.


Tier 4: Messy Upside (5)

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Gregory Soto, Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hunter Harvey, Tanner Scott, Baltimore Orioles

Barnes had a pleasant week, locking down a pair of saves without allowing a run. His healthy strikeout rate helps to make up for a painful ERA and WHIP.

Holland recorded three saves in the last week. I’m skeptical of his 2.49 BB/9 – he’s run over 6.00 BB/9 in the last two seasons. That’s more of a long-term concern though. He only needs to avoid free passes for another three or four appearances to help his fantasy constituents.

Garcia, a ground ball pitcher with just 3.44 K/9, has the Tigers two most recent saves. The first of those came on a day when Soto was unavailable. The second was a part of a doubleheader. I still believe Soto has the job. He’s done nothing to lose it and has the stats to back it up.

Crichton is a typical middle reliever which also happens to make him the best in the Diamondbacks mucky bullpen. There isn’t much to love, but he projects to post acceptable rate stats while picking up a save or three down the stretch.


Tier 5: The Leftovers (9)

Rafael Dolis, Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Tony Watson, Sam Coonrod, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Andrew Miller, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Jeremy Jeffress, Chicago Cubs
Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals
Brandon Kintzler, Miami Marlins
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Yoshihisa Hirano, Seattle Mariners
Ty Buttrey, Felix Pena, Los Angeles Angels

Dolis, with his combination of over a strikeout per inning and 50 percent ground ball rate, is a legitimate mid-tier closer. He induces soft contact but has some trouble with walks. He’s wrested save opportunities from Bass, but the return of Giles muddies the waters. He’ll undoubtedly be used carefully, perhaps sniping a single save opportunity as the club prepares for an uphill battle in the postseason.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler finally seems to be submitting to reason. Watson has worked all the recent save opportunities for which he’s been available. Coonrod also picked up a save. Don’t’ become too comfortable, Kapler has an unlimited capacity to frustrate outside observers.

The Cardinals are back to casting a wide net for saves. Since losing Giovanny Gallegos a few days ago, Miller and Helsley have already blown saves. Perhaps Reyes gets the next opportunity. Miller is a shadow of his former glory while Helsley (luck neutral 8.59 ERA) doesn’t look like a Major League pitcher. Reyes is erratic, but at least he’s recorded over 12.00 K/9.

Jeffress is having a remarkable season. An entire article could be dedicated to breaking down the many unlikely aspects. He captured a blown save vulture win on Tuesday night. Our old friend Craig Kimbrel should work the ninth on Wednesday. He’s pitched well since losing the closer job on August 6.

Hudson has proven to be one of the toughest closers to rank. While I’ve always been a naysayer, his results spoke for themselves. The one thing I never expected was an over-50 percent fly ball rate. Coupled with a probably unfortunate 20.8 percent HR/FB ratio, Hudson has allowed 2.70 HR/9. Typically, teams won’t put up with pitchers who allow more than 1.00 HR/9 as their closer unless they have Hader-like talent. The Nationals are running out the string and lost one of their backups, Tanner Rainey, to a flexor strain last night.

If we had more season to work with, I’d start pumping Mike Mayers recommendations. The righty has a new cutter which he credits with his breakout which includes 13.29 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, a 2.14 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Instead, we’ll probably have to watch Pena and Buttrey put on a ninth-inning rendition of a Bevis and Butthead episode.


Injured or Ill

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros (out for season)
Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies (out for season)
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers (out for season)
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres (out for season)
Jalen Beeks, Tampa Bay Rays (out for season)
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates (out for season)
Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

Gallegos is down with a groin issue which will likely cost him the remainder of the season.



Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Jairo Diaz, Colorado Rockies
Trevor Gott, San Francisco Giants
Zack Britton, New York Yankees (Chapman returned)
Taylor Williams, San Diego Padres (traded by Mariners)
Archie Bradley, Cincinnati Reds (traded by DBacks)
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers
Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles
Kevin Ginkel, Arizona Diamondbacks
Oliver Drake, Tampa Bay Rays
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Brandon Workman, Philadelphia Phillies
Anthony Bass, Toronto Blue Jays

Drake has yet to be used since being activated from the Injured List. It’s possible he’ll work his way back into the Rays closer committee. Davis is expected to be used as a middle reliever. Ginkel was suddenly and unceremoniously optioned to the alternate camp – ostensibly to sharpen his command.

With Boston, Workman developed a reputation for home run magic – namely he was especially “talented” at avoiding them. Since joining the Phillies, he’s coughed up two in just 11.1 innings. Although he’s pitched decently, he’s blown enough saves to re-open the door for Neris.

Dolis was always better than Bass so this dethronement had an air of inevitability.


The Steals Department


Adalberto Mondesi has come alive in the waning weeks of the season. He hit a power-heavy .217/.308/.609 over the last week while chipping in a league-leading four stolen bases. Ozzie Albies returned from injury and nabbed three bags. Manuel Margot and Trea Turner also netted three swipes. Overall, Mondesi (16) leads the league with Trevor Story (14), Margot (12), Dylan Moore (11), and Jonathan Villar (11) rounding out the top five.

Before revisiting our normal hunting grounds, let’s take a moment to discuss a few individuals. Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho is starting in the outfield on a near-daily basis. After a rough start to his career, he’s starting to show some life at the plate. Over his last 33 plate appearances, he has three home runs and two stolen bases. His catcher eligibility makes him a rare source of speed from the position. He’ll see the Angels, Astros, and Rangers in upcoming series – the Angels and Rangers are stolen base prone.

Reds outfield Shogo Akiyama is also coming alive. In the last two weeks, he’s hitting .361/.521/.417 with four steals. Obvious, we looking at a fluky outcome. However, he was supposed to offer 15 homer and 15 steal ability with a solid average and OBP. Perhaps we’re finally getting a taste of what the Reds paid for last winter. Upcoming series against the White Sox and Brewers offer opportunities for steals.

Margot, who has eight steals in the last 14 days, offers a complicated fantasy target. There’s no question he’s a top thief for the remainder of the season. The issue is with his playing time. He tends to start roughly half of games. The Rays have five games in four days against the Orioles followed by a three-game series against the Mets. Both are opportunities for Margot to overtake Story as the second-best speedster.

Our old friends the Mariners get to prey upon the Giants and Padres – assuming air quality allows any of the games to be played. J.P. Crawford will soon return to the lineup after completing paternity leave. Phillip Ervin has fallen to the bottom of the lineup, but at least he’s starting to hit. He still hasn’t stolen a bag since joining the Mariners at the beginning of the month.

Unfortunately, most of the Padres and Rangers touted in past editions of this column are now widely rostered. There are a few exceptions like Jurickson Profar and Leody Taveras lurking around. Profar has rebounded from an icy start to the season which caused him to lose the second base job to Jake Cronenworth. Taveras is batting leadoff for the Rangers with mixed results. He’s only batting .213/.314/.360, and that’s about all we can expect. The good news is he has four steals in just 86 plate appearances.

Brad Johnson

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