A few closers are on the hot seat after shaky outings. The state of Texas has a closer identity crisis. Shawn Tolleson has been removed as the Rangers closer after allowing 15 runs in 14.2 innings. The Rangers have so many talented relievers that Tolleson isn't a lock to remain on the roster. While there are plenty of candidates for saves in Texas, the first man up will probably be Sam Dyson.
Luke Gregerson “efficiently” blew three saves (only allowed one run in each game). Astros fans and fantasy managers are calling for blood, but Gregerson will probably remain in the role. He was never an elite closer. Occasional blips on the radar are to be expected. This is why Ken Giles was acquired over the offseason. Steve Cishek also had a bad week, but there's nobody clamoring for his job in Seattle.
On the steals side of the fence, it was a quiet week. Starling Marte stole three bases in four attempts. Nobody else swiped more than two bags. Jose Altuve remains the season leader with 15 steals. Marte and Jonathan Villar are tied for second at 12 steals.
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Tier 1: Elite (5)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
If you own one of these guys, you're probably in for happy times. The first four listed held opponents scoreless this week. None of them accrued more than two saves while pitching excellently.
Davis was the exception. He blew a save over the week by allowing two runs to the lowly Braves. The Royals later won the game, no thanks to Davis. Atlanta's three hits against Davis account for half of his season total. He's fine. If there's an issue, it's that he's posted 4.26 BB/9. He's usually in the sub-3.00 BB/9 range. I consider this a small sample blip.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (6)
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Rosenthal saved two in three appearances, but it wasn't a pretty week. On Thursday, he walked the bases loaded without recording an out. Kevin Siegrist bailed him out of trouble. Overall, Rosenthal walked six in just two innings. When he struggled through the 2014 season, it was mostly due to an elevated walk rate. Keep an eye on it.
Rondon coughed up a solo home run while protecting a 1-0 deficit versus the Pirates. Although it doesn't count as a blown save, it was a costly run. The Cubs pushed a run across in the home half of the ninth, losing 2-1.
Familia's stuff remains excellent, but he's pitching to contact. His fastball velocity is also down 1.5 mph to 96 mph. The ground ball pitcher remains a superb closer, you'll just have to deal with a non-elite strikeout rate. He tossed 2.1 innings last week with two saves and one run allowed.
Melancon was busy. He saved four over the last week including one in each of the last three days. Expect to see Tony Watson tonight. Melancon did allow the aforementioned run against the Cubs, and it could have been a blown save if not for Rondon's mistake pitch.
Tier 3: Good Veterans (4)
A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Jonathan Papelbon, Washington Nationals
Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
Ramos appeared four times and saved three games. He did allow a one to the Phillies on Monday, but it didn't affect the outcome of the game. Besides a few near-disaster outings, Ramos has looked quite sharp this season.
The Indians probably wish Allen would be a little more consistent. I thought his early season issues stemmed from throwing too many center-cut fastballs. Now he's having trouble with walks. He allowed one run in 3.1 innings. At least he also nabbed four strikeouts. The improved strikeout rate has me ready to buy.
Papelbon and Rodriguez both saved two games in two innings without allowing a hit. Paps did walk a couple. Otherwise, it was smooth sailing for these elder veterans.
Tier 4: The Mid Tier (5)
Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
Fernando Rodney, San Diego Padres
Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
The Astros don't have much margin for error. It's too costly when their pricey bullpen coughs up lead after lead. Gregerson blew three saves this week. The Astros managed to win two of those games in extra innings. Honestly, I'm not very concerned about Gregerson. He only allowed one run in each of those blown saves. It happens. If Houston wasn't in full panic mode, I wouldn't have demoted him to the fourth tier.
Rodney snagged another save in three innings of work. He's still yet to allow a run. The Rays are seemingly preparing Colome for his upcoming role as the primary setup man. He tossed three innings over two appearances and picked up one hold. Yuck. At least he had five strikeouts too. His 1.69 ERA, 11.81 K/9, and 2.25 BB/9 belong in the ninth inning. Brad Boxberger won't approach those numbers.
Madson was finally officially named the Athletics closer. He responded by rattling off three saves. Pitching yesterday for the third day in a row and fourth time in five days, he allowed two runs in a blown save. Khris Davis said, “hey, it's ok,” and slugged a walk off vulture win (grand slam) for Madson. Expect to see Sean Doolittle or John Axford tonight.
Casilla blew a save last Wednesday against the Blue Jays. He also had a shaky outing on Thursday, forcing Bruce Bochy to call upon Jorge Lopez for the final out. Friday and Sunday went more smoothly, he saved two without difficulty. We might see Lopez pick up a few more easy one out saves when tough left-handers come to the plate.
Tier 5: Questions (4)
Steve Cishek, Seattle Mariners
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee BrewersJake McGee, Colorado Rockies
Last week, somebody sent me a grumpy email because I had Cishek ranked in this tier. To that point, Cishek had a sub-1.00 ERA with good strikeout and walk rates. My response was to say we need more than 18 innings before we decide Cishek is a legitimate, high quality closer again.
Now we're looking at the other extreme. After allowing five runs over two innings, Cishek's season numbers have “regressed” to match expectations. He now has a 3.10 ERA with 10.18 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9. He'll probably post similar production over the rest of the season. If Tony Zych or Joaquin Benoit were healthy, Cishek would be on the hot seat. Alas, I don't foresee Joel Peralta stealing his job any time soon.
It's too bad Vizcaino pitches for the Braves. He would be a quality closer on the right team. With a 1.10 ERA, 12.67 K/9, and 3.86 BB/9, who can complain? Alas, he has only three saves on the season because Braves just don't win baseball games.
Jeffress pitched four times. He tallied three saves, one hit allowed, one walk, and three strikeouts. It was arguably his best week to date. The lack of strikeouts and scary home park limit his ceiling.
Citing concerns about his velocity and Coors Field, I demoted McGee last week. He'll probably continue to bounce between the two lowest tiers. He had the top week for closers, pitching five times and earning five saves. He even added six strikeouts.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (6)
Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers
Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jeanmar Gomez, Philadelphia Phillies
Joe Smith, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Jepsen, Minnesota Twins
Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
Tolleson is on the way out after allowing seven runs and three home runs in his last 1.1 innings. Yesterday's disaster came in the form of a walkoff grand slam to Khris Davis. Tolleson now has an unsightly 9.20 ERA with 6.75 K/9 and 3.07 BB/9. The Rangers bullpen is loaded with high quality arms. Dyson should be first in line. He's a poor man's Zahc Britton with a sky high ground ball rate. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate usually sits between 7.00 and 8.50 K/9. Jake Diekman could get a few saves versus left-handed hitters while Matt Bush has impressed in his much delayed major league debut.
Ziegler took the loss on Sunday, but his league leading save streak remains intact. He blew a tied game. Semantics, right? In any event, Ziegler will continue to earn saves without any other discernible benefits.
Three more saves for Gomez despite allowing a run to Miami last night. Even though he's only the third best reliever in the Phillies bullpen, he'll have to do something to lose the job. Hector Neris and David Hernandez are both pitching like quality closers. Keep an eye on them.
Smith pitched well, picking up two saves and a win in four innings. He also had five strikeouts. Overall, his 3.60 ERA, 5.85 K/9, and 2.25 BB/9 aren't very exciting. He'll hold the fort until Huston Street is ready. Fernando Salas is next in line.
Jepsen is still pitching poorly. He allowed a home run on Saturday. With the Twins record in the toilet, no heroic measures are being taken to resuscitate the roster. As such, Jepsen will probably continue to close on the off chance he hits a hot streak to build trade value. Sorry Trevor May.
Cingrani's still at the bottom of the trough. With his poor command, lack of strikeout stuff, and scary home park, he'll never be a reliable closer. Jumbo Diaz was pitching well in Triple-A. The club promoted him earlier today.
Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers (knee)
Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays (oblique)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins (shoulder)
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels (oblique)
Street played a game of catch the other day. He's still at least a couple weeks from a return. Probably closer to a month. Boxberger made his first rehab appearance without incident. He'll probably return around the end of the month. Smith is also making progress in his rehab. No updates on Perkins.
Ken Giles, Houston Astros
Drew Storen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds
Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
The Steals Department
After a few weeks of futility, I was ready to give up on Mallex Smith as nothing more than a fast fourth outfielder. A hot week has him looking like a 3.5 outfielder – comparable to Anthony Gose. The issue remains strikeouts. He just isn't making enough contact for his profile to work in the majors. Even over the last seven days, he has a 22.2 percent strikeout rate to go with his happy .320/.320/.680 slash line.
I wouldn't be surprised if Smith never has another two home run game. Don't go counting on any power production he does have six steals with the potential to take another every 10 to 15 plate appearances. If you're lucky, you'll get stolen bases with an empty average and a few runs. If you're unlucky, you'll only get the steals.
The Astros recently sent Carlos Gomez packing (disabled list). Jake Marisnick is back on the roster, but the real upside play is Tony Kemp. The tiny second baseman will never take Jose Altuve's job. He might just carve out a role as a regular center fielder. Kemp is a patient hitter with plus contact skills. My only worry is that he might be too passive against major league pitching. He's a solid bet for 15 to 25 steals if he carves out a regular role.
Ian Desmond's rebound from early season disaster to midseason core player is complete. Admittedly, I bailed at the very lowest point. Now he's hitting .268/.333/.470 with six home runs. Of course, it's the seven steals that interest us in this column. Desmond was recently promoted to second in the Rangers lineup so he's now in line to provide everything but a batting average. It's possible his owner still has a bad taste from past futility.