I received a few questions in the past week about discrepancies between my 2014 and current season rankings. We discussed the tiers when I took over for Eno Sarris last season, but perhaps I should have been clearer this season too. Let's correct that oversight today.
The best relievers offer excellent ratios and a chance to reach the 100 strikeout threshold. The difference between the Elite and Nearly Elite tiers is either track record or trustworthiness. In both cases, they're four category monsters.
Rather than ranking purely on projected output, I've considered growth potential. That's why Tier 3 includes players like Hector Rondon but not Jonathan Papelbon. Both pitchers feature very comparable expectations. Rondon is on the rise and could join Tier 2 later this season. Papelbon is on the decline and has to use all of his wiles to maintain his current level of production. He seemingly has less margin for error.
Aside from Tier 1, the fifth and sixth tiers are probably the least controversial. Tier 5 is reserved for pitchers who lack certain characteristics of top closers. Often, they either have suspect command, allow too much contact, or they don't suppress home runs. Tier 6 is there to note ongoing disasters.
Crossing the aisle to stolen base land, the league wide success rate declined by nearly two percent in the last week. We're up to 447 stolen bases in 634 attempts – a 70.5 percent success rate. Billy Hamilton once again check in on top of the world. He's still sitting on 13 stolen bases. Dee Gordon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Altuve, and George Springer have all joined Hamilton with double digit steals. Gordon has attempted the most steals with a 12-for-18 performance.
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Tier 1: Elite (3)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, San Diego PadresGreg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Chapman made his first and only appearance of the week last night in a non-save situation. True to his nature, he allowed no balls in play. We expect him to strikeout the side, but he doesn't usually walk three batters in the process.
Kimbrel had a lousy week. It's going to take an extended run of dominance for his owners to recover. He allowed three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning last Wednesday. His other two outings weren't nearly as bad. He recorded two saves and four strikeouts while facing just one batter over the minimum. Unfortunately, that non-out was a solo home run. No need for panic.
The Royals activated Holland after yesterday's game. As such, he hasn't pitched yet since returning from the disabled list. Give Wade Davis a hand for a strong six save performance in Holland's absence. He's definitely top closer material.
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Tier 2: Nearly Elite (2)
Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
New York relievers have been busy through the first month of the season. Miller is tied for the league lead with 11 saves, and he has yet to allow a run. In fact, he's allowed just three hits and seven walks in 13.2 innings. His 15.15 K/9 isn't too far behind Chapman quality. Dellin Betances continues to keep pace behind Miller with 15.1 innings, 26 strikeouts, eight walks, and eight hits allowed. He's allowed two runs – both unearned.
Through no fault of his own, Robertson has recorded just four saves. Luckily for his owners, he's also picked up two wins. He's arguably been the most imposing reliever in baseball with four hits and one walk allowed through 10 innings. He's racked up 18 strikeouts in the process. I considered merging Tier 1 and Tier 2 this week. There is very little difference between them.
Tier 3: The Upside Crowd (6)
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves
We received quiet, decent weeks from Rondon, Britton, Boxberger, and Grilli. They all appeared once or twice without allowing a run. Boxberger struck out the side in his most recent outing. Jake McGee is expected to make two or three more rehab appearances before returning to the Rays bullpen. The move should come early next week. We'll see if Boxberger remains atop the food chain.
Rosenthal received plenty of work with five appearances. He picked up two saves and a blown save. It wasn't the sharpest week. He allowed six hits, a solo home run, and two walks in those five innings. Luckily, the damage was spread around such that only one run scored. He has extra job security now that Jordan Walden is on the disabled list. I have my eye on Samuel Tuivailala as a potential up-and-comer. He might not be ready to step into a high leverage role.
I was on the Allen bandwagon back in 2013, so this latest turn in his career trajectory is depressing. He gave up another two runs including a solo home run in three innings. A .519 BABIP screams fluke. I took a close gander at this PITCHf/x data. His fastball is down just one mph, yet his whiff rate on the pitch is half that of last season. His pitch movement is basically identical to 2014. The curve remains elite. His command and control could be the source of his poor numbers.
Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (9)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Joakim Soria Detroit Tigers
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
Fernando Rodney, Seattle MarinersJeurys Familia, New York Mets
Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
On the surface, Perkins looks like a potential trade candidate. Technically speaking, the Twins are still alive with a 14-13 record. However, they're expected to aim to contend in 2016 and beyond when top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are more likely to contribute. Perkins keeps hitters on the defensive with a well-controlled slider. His 2014 season ended with injury, and it's fair to wonder how long the slider specialist will remain a reliable closer. The Twins tend to be loyal to their personnel, so it's not clear if they would trade him if he wants to stay.
Soria is up to 10 saves on the season, yet it's my best guess that the Tigers would like to replace him. The most obvious options on the market include Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. Soria is a perfectly serviceable option for the regular season. The concern is that his non-dominating stuff doesn't line up as well in the postseason. As such, I expect Detroit to wait out the relief market, perhaps in the hopes that Chapman is shopped.
Street snagged two saves and a win in three outings. One of those saves was a max effort performance that included three hits, a walk, and one run scored. Papelbon appeared in three non-save situations and allowed one runs, four hits, and two walks with three strikeouts. Uehara locked down two saves while facing the minimum.
I worry about Storen's viability as a shutdown reliever, and national beat writers are starting to echo that sentiment. He's pitched well with a 1.64 ERA and 1.93 FIP on the season. He even has a career best 13.8 percent swinging strike rate. In fact, his performance is perfectly contrary to public sentiment. His slider is getting better side-to-side movement this year. He has elite results with the pitch in a small sample.
Rodney allowed a solo home run and a walk in his most recent outing. He also recorded the save - his second of the week. He had a seven inning scoreless streak prior to the home run. His job remains safe-ish.
It's probably past time to move Familia up the rankings. He's tied with a major league leading 11 saves. He's struck out over a batter per inning while limiting walks and hits allowed. A .107 BABIP has much to do with his success. He might allow close to a hit an inning going forward. Even so, his 96 mph fastball and robust whiff rate should limit the damage.
Tier 5: Questions (7)
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Tyler Clippard, Oakland Athletics
Melancon threw two clean innings in non-save situations. His velocity remains around 89 mph. The current iteration of Melancon is a lesser version of the guy who carved up hitters the last two seasons. It's anyone's guess as to how he'll perform.
The Marlins don't have much behind Cishek, so it's good that he was working around 92 mph last night. He's been hovering around 89 mph most of the season. Cishek is a big cog for the Marlins as they try to take advantage of a weak NL East.
Speaking of velocity watch, Feliz has continued to exhibit inconsistent heat. He averaged 93 mph in his first two outings of the week then reached back for 94.5 mph in his latest appearance. He recorded a save and a blown save in the process. Consider him unreliable.
Pitching three days in a row, Rodriguez notched two saves and six strikeouts. Casilla's week was a little shakier. He earned two saves and a vulture win on a blown save. To be fair, the blown save was the result of an inherited runner.
Clippard pitched reasonably well last week. He threw 3.2 innings with two strikeouts and one hit. Even so, his time as the A's closer could have gone much better. Sean Doolittle is up to 25 pitches and could face live hitters soon. He's on track to return around mid-May.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (3)
Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays
The Dodgers brass seems to have faith in Hatcher, but it keeps going sideways. Garcia set up Hatcher's save on Saturday. Then Hatcher blew his first save of the season on Monday. He also has three losses. This will be a non-issue soon. Kenley Jansen has made two rehab appearances and could return by the middle of next week.
The Rockies didn't have a save opportunity in the last week. Presumably, Axford remains the top gun with Betancourt waiting in the wings.
Cecil has handled Toronto's last two save opportunities. It certainly looks like he's the guy. He's missing two mph on all of his pitches. The velocity decline has manifested itself as a lower whiff rate. It's always risky to depend on pitchers with declining stuff. A few - like Papelbon - can handle it. Most fall apart.
Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies
Ottavino may be headed to UCL replacement surgery for his elbow – otherwise known as Tommy John. The loss of Nathan for the season was fortunate for fantasy owners. The same cannot be said of Ottavino's predicament. He was in the process of emerging as a mid-tier talent.
Jansen and McGee could graduate by this time next week. Doolittle isn't too far behind them.
Kimbrel isn't going to relinquish his job anytime soon. Benoit remains a quality reliever with his splitter heavy approach. The 37-year-old has lost one mph on his fastball.
The Steals Department
In some ways, Gregory Polanco is underperforming. He's batting first or second for the Pirates, but his .276/.311/.388 line is better suited to the bottom of the order. Alas, Josh Harrison is off to a terribly slow start.
It's good news for fantasy owners hoping to buy steals. Polanco's owner could be impatient with his tepid start. His 27.2 percent strikeout rate is much worse than his track record. He should put more balls in play going forward. He also has more power than he's shown. One thing is clear – he's eager to run. He already has eight stolen bases.
If you have room for a part time player, Rajai Davis is the classic choice. The lefty masher is up to six steals on the season. He usually has a prominent role in the Tigers offense when a southpaw takes the hill. You'll notice some teams will mix around their rotation to avoid throwing a lesser lefty against the Tigers.
On the opposite side of the Tigers platoon is Anthony Gose. His ownership went crazy after a hot first week. He's cooled down to his expected miserable production. He has five stolen bases and should swipe plenty more. Just don't expect anything from the other categories.
Ender Inciarte has settled in as the Diamondbacks regular leadoff man. He only has three stolen bases which has allowed him to slip under the radar. The high contact hitter could bust out with a multi-steal week at any time. I anticipate 25 stolen bases with a full season.