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Saves and Steals

Miller Time Is Over

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

After a few weeks of utter mayhem, the closer tiers were finally stable. The only “news” is the Indians' continued use of Andrew Miller as a late-innings fireman. He's so frequently used before the ninth inning that I've dropped him from the list of closers. We'll discuss in more detail soon.

 

The closer leaderboard is topped by Jeurys Familia with 40 saves. Zach Britton has 37 with Kenley Jansen's 35 saves checking out in third overall. Over the last week, seven closers tied for the top mark with three saves apiece.

 

On the stolen base front, a month-long splurge from Billy Hamilton has placed him atop the standings with 51 steals. Jonathan Villar has 46 steals. Starling Marte - 41 steals - is the only other player anywhere 40 swipes. Incidentally, Hamilton fell four steals short of Jose Ramirez for the weekly lead. Ramirez stole a crazy seven bases in eight attempts. Rajai Davis took five in six tries with three others notching four bags.

 

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Tier 1: Elite (4)

 

Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cubs

Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

 

Chapman pitched five times including two saves in yesterday's doubleheader. Overall, he tallied three saves and seven strikeouts across four innings. The Cubs bullpen is coping with some injuries. Don't be surprised to see Chapman take a few multi-inning opportunities. The Cubs do have a tidy 12.5 game lead in the NL Central so perhaps they'll play it safe with their relief ace.

 

Betances also had a great week – three saves and eight strikeouts in four innings. He crossed the 100 strikeout threshold in the process. If there's a blemish to his season, it's an unusually high .363 BABIP. Sometimes that means a pitcher is throwing predictable middle-middle pitches. Other times, it's just bad luck. We usually expect dominant relievers like Betances to post a BABIP below .300.

 

Jansen saw sporadic work this week. He tossed just one inning across two appearances. The first outing was a disaster. He was uncharacteristically wild in a non-save situation against the Phillies. Three runs scored on two walks, a single, and a bases clearing double. Jansen received a one-out save in his other appearance. Even with the blow up, he still has a 1.80 ERA on the season.

 

Britton's name came up this week as a potential AL Cy Young contender in a wide open race. Britton hasn't allowed a run since April, and his 37 saves are tops in the AL. Britton is very much a unique pitcher, combining solid strikeout skills with extreme ground ball and soft contact rates. This isn't anything new. Check out how Britton blew his saves last season. He pretty much only fails via swinging bunts.

 

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (7)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Ken Giles, Houston Astros

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays

Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

Mark Melancon, Washington Nationals

Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

 

Last week, I bumped Kimbrel from the elite tier for the first time since I took over the column from Eno Sarris years ago. A recent knee injury and a four walk appearance had me worried about his health. After taking a couple days off, Boston used their relief ace on three of the last four days. He earned three saves and four strikeouts. Monday's outing got off to a bumpy start though. I'll move him back to the top tier with another strong week.

 

Diaz saved two in a pair of perfect innings. He “only” added two strikeouts. Given his 16.36 K/9, that's practically a bad week. If he keeps pitching like this, he'll be in the elite tier before long.

 

Herrera rebounded from a shaky early-August with two clean innings and one save. Wade Davis is making some progress in his recovery from his forearm strain. Since the Royals are nearly dead in the water, they may want to play it safe with Davis. These seemingly minor forearm and elbow issues frequently turn into Tommy john surgery. Keep an eye on the situation since it affects Herrera's value.

 

Melancon allowed his first run as a National, but he got the save anyway. Overall, he's netted three saves in the last week.

 

Familia failed to protect a 2-1 lead against the Padres on Saturday. Wil Myers delivered a solo home run. Familia may lead the league with 40 saves, but his peripherals are merely good. He rebounded with a save last night.

 

Tier 3: Good Veterans (4)

 

Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Seung-Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals

Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants

 

When the Indians paid a steep price to acquire Andrew Miller, it was assumed he'd be the staff closer. Traditionally, that's where you put your best reliever. Sabermetric theory suggests that your best reliever should pitch against the opposing team's best hitters – regardless of inning. And that's how Terry Francona has used Miller.

 

Miller will still get a couple saves between now and the end of the year. His ratios are worth owning even without any saves. However, he hasn't slammed the door since August 6. Allen has three saves since then. As for Allen's performance, he tossed three no-hit innings, earning two saves in the process.

 

Oh had a strong week, tossing 5.2 scoreless innings across four appearances. He earned three saves to go with 12 strikeouts. The performance raised his season strikeout rate by almost an entire strikeout per inning.

 

I swear, every time I stick my neck out in support of Casilla, he has a meltdown outing. He took the loss on Sunday after allowing a three-run home run to Jonathan Schoop. Casilla had three other solid appearances including two saves. I'll leave him here for now, but he could easily fit in the next tier down too. Casilla's 3.21 ERA is back above 3.00 for the first time since 2010. He has time to recover.

 

Tier 4: The Mid Tier (6)

 

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers

Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers

Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres

Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates

Fernando Rodney, Miami Marlins

 

Robertson, Dyson, and Rodriguez were demoted from the third tier in last week's column. Their struggles continued into this week. Robertson blew another save last Wednesday. He's since closed out a couple easy games. Dyson began with two low pressure saves before blowing last night's contest. The Rangers eventually won in a wild seesaw finish. Check out the game graph. Rodriguez was the only one of the trio to fully recover. He saved his lone appearance.

 

Maurer was also recovering from a rocky week, and he did little to assuage doubts. The Mets walked off against him last Saturday. He did earn a save on Friday, and he also looked fine on Wednesday.

 

Watson appeared four times, tallying three saves over 2.2 innings. He began the week with a couple one-out saves. The lone blemish was an unearned run in a non-save situation on Saturday.

 

Rodney was dinged for a solo home run on Sunday, but he was protecting a two-run lead. He notched a couple saves in three innings.

 

Tier 5: Questions (5)

 

Tyler Thornburg, Milwaukee Brewers

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies

Jeanmar Gomez, Philadelphia Phillies

Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins

Jake Barrett, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

The Brewers haven't produced many save opportunities in recent weeks which is the only thing holding me back from promoting Thornburg to a higher tier. His 2.03 ERA, 12.21 K/9, and 2.96 BB/9 would fit right in with the third tier. The only detraction is a short track record performing at this talent level. Thornburg has added considerable velocity and whiffs to his profile this year. Just watch out for a high hard hit rate. That could turn into homeritis.

 

Ottavino is another guy who could climb the tiers with continued success. He threw another 3.1 scoreless innings, good for a save and five strikeouts. He's yet to allow a run in 15 frames.

 

Gomez pitched thrice for a total of two saves and four strikeouts. He struck out the side on Saturday while allowing a couple base runners. The Rockies got to him for a couple runs on Sunday, but Gomez had a comfy three-run lead to protect.

 

Kintzler is possibly the least exciting closer in the game, but he nabbed another couple of saves while allowing one unearned run. The Twins have been playing better, meaning they've supplied more save opportunities than earlier in the season.

 

Barrett has some competition in his bullpen – mainly Enrique Burgos and Randall Delgado. Burgos was only recently recalled to the majors while Delgado hasn't been very good since the start of July. Barrett's also had his share of hiccups including a blown save last Wednesday.

 

Tier 6: Roller Coasters (4)

 

Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves

Fernando Salas, Los Angeles Angels

Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics

Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds

 

While I genuinely doubt Johnson's ability to remain this good, the fact remains that he's pitched well since early-June. If you split the numbers selectively enough, he has a 1.30 ERA, 8.13 K/9, and 2.60 BB/9 over his last 27.2 innings. That's good enough to close for anyone. With Arodys Vizcaino set to return in a few days, we could have a minor closer controversy in Atlanta.

 

Salas recorded his first save since May as part of a three appearance week. He allowed just one base runner. Look for middle relief numbers out of Salas.

 

Madson had one of his better weeks. He earned a save and pitched three scoreless innings (two appearances). Anyone hoping Ryan Dull might get saves this year should probably move on to more fertile waters.

 

Cingrani recovered from his earlier five run meltdown with two decent innings this week. He allowed a couple base runners in each appearance en route to the save.

 

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Injured

 

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins (shoulder – out for season)

Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta Braves (right oblique)

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox (sore shoulder)

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels (knee)

Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals (forearm/elbow)

A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins (broken finger)

Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels (finger tendonitis)

 

As noted above, Vizcaino is expected to return in a few days. Davis is also throwing off a mound. He may move to a rehab stint soon. Uehara is still working on flat ground, as is Street. They're on pace to return in late-August or September. Doolittle is out on a rehab assignment.

 

Bedrosian was re-evaluated recently. He's yet to be cleared to resume throwing. If and when he returns, he'll probably regain the closer role. There's a small chance a healthy Street could re-take the job.

 

The Deposed

 

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, Washington Nationals

Will Harris, Houston Astros

Steve Cishek, Seattle Mariners

Jeremy Jeffress, Texas Rangers

Tyler Clippard, New York Yankees

Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies

Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

 

As we discussed above, I've flipped Miller and Allen due to Francona's usage. While Miller is obviously the Indians relief ace, he's being used whenever the best hitters come to bat in a close game.

 

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The Steals Department

 

No pitcher has allowed more steals than Noah Syndergaard. His next start is at San Francisco. The top of the Giants lineup is populated by a couple elder rabbits – Denard Span and Angel Pagan. Assuming one or both of them can manage to reach base, they're very likely to run. Span has 12 steals in 489 plate appearances while Pagan has taken 13 bags in 366 plate appearances. They're both high contact hitters which should counteract Syndergaard's big whiff rates.

 

If you need a widely available base thief, I have two options for you. The first is Keon Broxton. The Brewers are giving him another look as a semi-regular outfielder. The long term outlook is bleak. No speed-first player can succeed with a strikeout rate over 30 percent. And no matter how hard I squint, I just can't see an obvious way for him to cut the K rate below 28 percent. That won't fly either. In the meantime, he'll have a couple workable matchups coming up.

 

Kevin Kiermaier has easily exploitable weaknesses as a hitter. He has a pull heavy approach with a high infield fly rate – both of which contribute to his .250 BABIP. He also features just enough power and speed to contribute to multiple categories. The Rays have been using him as their regular second hitter so he'll produce runs too. Just don't expect any help in batting average.

Brad Johnson

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