With only 12 days left in the season, it's time to pay close attention to daily usage. Your best bets for clutch spot saves will be found when a current closer throws multiple days in a row and/or over 20 pitches. The Bullpen Usage Report on DailyBaseballData.com should be part of your daily routine if one or two saves can make the difference for you. A quick perusal for tonight shows that Jim Johnson, Ken Giles, Brandon Maurer, and Sam Dyson may be unavailable. Snag setup men for the Braves, Rangers, Padres, and Astros.
There's one more place to turn for a new closer – Philadelphia. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin says it might be time to turn to a new closer after another blown save by Jeanmar Gomez. Nothing is official yet. Splitter specialist Hector Neris is next in line. This always felt like an inevitable outcome, but I expected the change way back in May.
Jonathan Villar is one stolen base behind Billy Hamilton. With the Reds' speedster recovering from an oblique injury, Villar has plenty of time to swipe two bags for the crown. Dee Gordon led the week – six steals in seven attempts. Rajai Davis was 5-for-5 and half a dozen others stole three apiece.
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Tier 1: Elite (5)
Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cubs
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Chapman, Jansen, and Britton dominated yet again. The Cubs closer tossed two hit-less innings, good for a save, a win, and five strikeouts. I've restored him to his previous place atop the closer kingdom. Jansen experienced some wrist stiffness last week, but he doesn't expect it to affect his performance. He threw three innings with two saves, six strikeouts, and one fluky run allowed. Britton notched three saves in three innings.
About a month ago, I opted to place Betances ahead of Chapman as the top closer. At the time, I cited superior strikeout rates and an expectation for some positive regression in home run rate. After allowing runs in four of his last six outings, it's past time to bump him back down. We all make mistakes. Betances remains hugely valuable, but there's a chance he's a bit gassed. In the last week, he allowed six runs (four earned) in 2.1 innings. He was handed two losses and a save.
Boston called upon Koji Uehara for the save last Sunday, but that was only because Kimbrel had saved the previous two games – he struck out all six batters faced. Kimbrel also picked up a save yesterday.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (5)
Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Mark Melancon, Washington Nationals
Jeurys Familia, New York MetsCody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Osuna allowed a pair of runs on Monday. Fortunately, he was working with a three run lead. How's that for a save? He nabbed a save and a no decision earlier in the week.
None of Diaz, Melancon, or Familia allowed a run while receiving sparse work. No need to adjust anything with this trio.
Allen didn't actually save any games last week. I've promoted him because Andrew Miller is nearly a month removed from his last save opportunity. There may still be scenarios in which Miller gets the ninth inning, but they mostly belong to Allen.
Tier 3: Good Veterans (5)
Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
Ken Giles, Houston Astros
Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
Tyler Thornburg, Milwaukee Brewers
Seung-Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals
Our third tier held opponents entirely scoreless. Take that tiers one and two! Giles led the way with three saves and six strikeouts in three innings. The Astros needed this clutch performance from Giles. They're two games back from the second Wild Card slot. Houston needs to leapfrog Baltimore and Detroit to reach the Wild Card game, and they'll need Giles to be perfect if they want a chance.
Colome and Thornburg went 2-for-2 on their save opportunities. Oh also pitched twice, earning a win and a save. Davis struck out the side in his only appearance.
Tier 4: The Mid Tier (4)
Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Rodriguez was a cheap acquisition in most leagues. His owners should be happy with 43 saves and a 2.59 ERA even if the strikeout rates leaves something to be desired. He added a couple more saves in 2.1 perfect innings.
Ramos was busy. He pitched four times, three of which resulted in easy saves. On Friday, Ramos was tasked with protecting a tie game over multiple innings. He coughed up a walkoff run in the 13th inning.
Watson allowed a solo home run on Friday, but it didn't prevent him from earning the save. He also locked the door last night. Robertson was credited with a win in his only appearance.
Tier 5: Questions (5)
Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres
Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies
Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers
Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves
Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins
Like Ramos, Maurer pitched four times with three good outcomes – all saves. His outing on Friday included five hits, three runs, and a loss. Maurer flashes closer quality stuff. Unfortunately, he continues to periodically flop.
Aside from a single five-run disasterpiece, Ottavino has pitched superbly. Since he calls Coors home, those massive disasters will always remain a risk. He picked up a win and a save in 1.1 innings.
Dyson filled up the score sheet with a pair of wins and a save across three innings. Johnson wasn't quite as efficient, earning one save, one run, and four strikeouts in three innings. As noted in the intro, both pitchers might be on the shelf tonight.
Kintzler blew a save in the 11th inning last Saturday via solo home run. He'll continue to close out games for the remainder of the season. Look for someone else to take over next year.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (6)
Sergio Romo, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith, San Francisco Giants Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics
Daniel Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
Andrew Bailey, Los Angeles Angels
Who's closing for the Giants? Well, it could be anyone. Strickland has flopped since he was given a brief chance at the ninth inning. Derek Law is the presumptive favorite long term, but he only just returned from the disabled list. Santiago Casilla could always recover the role, and Smith was the preseason pick to close in Milwaukee. With all those options, Romo was actually the only Giants reliever to earn a save in the last week. Personally, I'd bet on Romo or Casilla for the last few games.
In his last nine outings, Gomez has thrice allowed three or more runs. It's for this reason the club is considering promoting Neris. Gomez has regressed to a luck neutral 4.03 ERA. With his 6.04 K/9 and 2.69 BB/9, he's always looked the part of middle reliever. Neris isn't impervious to damage either. He occasionally loses feel for his split-finger, resulting in home runs. Still, a 2.47 ERA, 11.39 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9 looks an awful lot like a closer.
Madson has allowed runs in each of his last four appearances, three of which resulted in a loss. Over the last week, he was tagged for four runs in two innings. I'd like to say Sean Doolittle was poised to take back his job, but he surrendered a game losing run in the 10th inning last night.
Cingrani, Hudson, and Bailey are all disasters. Of the trio, only Hudson had a decent week – two scoreless innings and three strikeouts (no save opps).
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins (shoulder – out for season)
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels (knee – out for season)
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels (blood clot – out for season)
No changes on the injury front.
Drew Storen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jason Grilli, Toronto Blue Jays
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds
Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
Shawn Tolleson, Texas Rangers
Kevin Jepsen, Free Agent (Twins)
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jake McGee, Colorado Rockies
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays
Jonathan Papelbon, Free Agent (Nationals)
Will Harris, Houston Astros
Steve Cishek, Seattle Mariners
Jeremy Jeffress, Texas Rangers
Tyler Clippard, New York Yankees
Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies
Jake Barrett, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves
Enrique Burgos, Arizona Diamondbacks
Fernando Salas, Los Angeles Angels
Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Fernando Rodney, Miami Marlins
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
I'm not sure Strickland was closer long enough to count him as deposed. Similarly, Gomez hasn't officially lost the job yet.
The Steals Department
Desperate days call for desperate measures. That's how the saying goes anyway. The best play is to target stolen base prone pitchers. Nobody is more exploitable than Noah Syndergaard. The Phillies will face him on Saturday. Grab shares of Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Aaron Altherr, and anyone else you think might reach base.
The gap between Syndergaard and second-worst Jimmy Nelson is 20 steals. Nelson is on the bump tonight opposite the Pirates. My pick for stolen bases is Adam Frazier. The Buccos second baseman is a DJ LeMahieu clone in terms of plate approach (Frazier actually bats left-handed though). He reaches base frequently and has enough speed to put pressure on Nelson.
Another exploitable arm is pitching tonight. Orioles righty Ubaldo Jimenez has allowed the fourth most steals despite having pitched over 55 fewer innings than the guys around him (a couple Cubs surnamed Lester and Arrieta). Jimenez is opposed by the Red Sox – a station to station offense. Perhaps we'll see if Andrew Benintendi is feeling frisky following his minor knee injury.