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Saves and Steals

Reyes Versus Regression

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: April 28, 2021, 8:19 pm ET

Three pitchers compiled a trio of saves in the last week: Josh Hader, Richard Rodriguez, and Alex Reyes. All three pitchers have another thing in common; they’ve yet to allow a run this season. Hader, as we well know, is a monster. Rodriguez is nearly perfect through 10.1 frames, allowing just one hit and one walk. He’s an early frontrunner for best reliever available at the trade deadline.

Reyes is an entirely different animal. He’s allowed 16 baserunners in 10.1 innings – 10 by walk and six by hit. He’s also uncorked four wild pitches. For successful relievers, high walk rates usually go hand-in-hand with high strikeout rates. Reyes has just 9.58 K/9 backed by modest swinging strike rates. Command has long been a shortcoming for this oft-injured pitcher. While his stuff was exceptional back in 2016 when he debuted, now it’s commonplace. Something has to give. Optimists will hope for a spike in strikeout rate accompanied by a more tolerable 4.00 BB/9. A likelier outcome is these walks begin to sting. As a fly ball pitcher who has yet to allow a home run, there’s another painful kind of regression looming. If Reyes is on your roster, this might be your last best chance to sell high.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (4)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

For Hendriks, a pair of solo home runs marred back-to-back appearances against the Rangers. He still earned a save and win while recording seven strikeouts in 2.2 innings. I’m sure most of his fantasy managers don’t mind the aberrant ERA. Diaz gets less forgiveness. He was saddled with a loss while defending a tied game last Thursday. His strikeout and swinging strike rates have crashed this season even as his velocity has climbed to career highs.

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Tier 2: Strikeout Kings (7)

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Pressly was busy. He tossed five innings, earning a vulture win and two saves. He’ll be unavailable tonight after pitching on Monday and Tuesday. Look for Ryne Stanek in a save situation.

The poor performance of Alex Colome is a boon to Rogers’ managers. To date, he’s posted 10.61 K/9, 0.96 BB/9, and a 0.00 ERA in 9.1 innings. In terms of expected output, he’s not dissimilar to a left-handed version of Pressly. Although he only has a league average swinging strike rate, his relentless torrent of tough-to-barrel pitches in the strike zone help him to post more than a strikeout per inning. He’s also seemingly prone to slumps as we saw last season. Pitching in the zone as often as Rogers does leaves little margin for error.

Although James Karinchak earned a save on Tuesday, it was only because Clase had pitched three of the previous four days. At this point, it’s seems safe to declare the committee dissolved. The tyrant Clase has risen to rule. Manager Terry Francona said workloads would be carefully monitored, but this is already the third time Clase was used three times in a four-day period. Since he thrives on inducing hapless contact, his strikeout rate plays below other closers of his pedigree.

In the last Saves and Steals, we celebrated Jansen’s improved velocity. This week, he lost his edge. The drop to 92-mph heat was accompanied by his first loss of the season. He’s also back to issuing free passes. His current 6.97 BB/9 is nearly three times higher than his career rate.

Tier 3: Core Performers (7)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates

My continual warning regarding Barnes is that as-yet absent walks and home runs are his kryptonite. Both stung him last Friday when he melted down for three runs. He’s since rebounded with a couple flawless saves.

Castillo, McGee, Neris, and Smith all had mixed weeks. Castillo tossed a couple clunkers with a brief stint on the COVID-19 list sandwiched in between. McGee has coughed up a home run in three of his last four outings. Despite the sudden bout of homeritis, he’s looked sharp. Neris always feels like he’s walking a tightrope, although I’m inclined to excuse the loss he incurred at Coors Field last Friday. Smith has walked five and struck out six in his last four innings. He had some command issues in the zone last season. All things equal, it’s better to miss out of the zone than over the heart of the plate.

Tier 4: Upside (5)

Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Lucas Sims, Sean Doolittle, Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Yimi Garcia, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins

Trivino and Diekman are used as matchups dictate. I’m not sure either of them would play up if handed the full role. Keep a careful eye on Garcia. ERA estimators think he’ll settle in the 4.00 ERA range. Floro is clearly superior in my opinion. I also have my eye on Jordan Holloway as a dark horse to stash in very deep formats.

The Reds mess continues to fester and ooze. Amir Garrett has a 14.21 ERA. Incredibly, it’s supported by a 13.34 FIP. He really has been this bad. I don’t think we’re fully done with Garrett in a high leverage role, but he certainly needs a breather to decompress. He’s out of options so he’ll need to do it in lopsided games. Doolittle and Sims aren’t exactly setting themselves apart, although they at least have strong peripherals behind ugly ERAs. Doolittle notched the most recent save on Tuesday. Antone is unquestionably their best reliever. He might also be their best starter. In terms of stuff, he’s right up there with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle. The Reds are carefully managing Antone’s workload. I strongly suspect they don’t want him used in short bursts lest he go the way of Jonathan Papelbon, Roberto Osuna, and countless other quality starting pitcher prospects who made themselves too valuable as closers.

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (7)

Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Staumont, Greg Holland, Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Stefan Crichton, Kevin Ginkel, Arizona Diamondbacks
Gregory Soto, Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers

Oh look, a struggling Coors Field closer. The ironic part is the two home runs he’s coughed up both came on the road. Still, Bard looks the part of a Tier-3 closer but for his home venue. Facing the Dodgers and Padres extra times doesn’t help either.

In his only appearance since returning from the Injured List, Romano walked two and recorded just one out en route to a loss. His velocity was down two mph. We need to keep a close eye on him. Dolis should continue to earn the bulk of the saves. The Jays use their relievers when they’re needed which sometimes means their third or fourth best guy is all that’s left in the ninth. The likes of David Phelps and Anthony Castro could net the odd save.

Staumont picked up the two most recent Royals saves. Holland got a hold in one of those games. Staumont has lost the elite swinging strike rate which presaged his emergence last season. He’s also missing a tick on the radar gun. If he doesn’t recover his 2020 form, he’s probably a 5.00 ERA pitcher. Consider selling high.

Graveman pitched the seventh inning on Tuesday down two runs to the Astros. Neither he nor Montero pitched a save situation in the last week. Treat this as a committee. And don’t sleep on Anthony Misiewicz.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks (calf strain)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Chris Martin, Atlanta Braves (shoulder inflammation)

Soria has progressed to a rehab assignment. He’ll return soon to rescue the DBacks bullpen. Martin is about five days behind Soria.

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 4 SB (4 SB total)
Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins, 4 SB (7 SB total)
Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres, 3 SB (5 SB total)
Austin Slater, San Francisco Giants, 3 SB (5 SB total)
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals, 3 SB (8 SB total)

The Padres ran all over Will Smith last week. He’s generally not regarded as an exploitable catcher. Austin Barnes also had a rough game with Walker Buehler on the bump. Grisham and Tatis Jr. also snagged a couple off Omar Narvaez who has long struggled to control the running game.

Chisholm entered 2021 as the deeply discounted version of Adalberto Mondesi. He’s making a case to become the rich man’s Mondesi. Let’s not forget, Mondesi himself had a torrid spell in 2018 before the reality of his whiff rate reasserted itself. Chisholm has better plate discipline and makes more contact, but the same wheels might fall off the bus. While a part of us should remain cognizant of the risks, we also ought to enjoy this sizzling debut while it lasts.

Merrifield is now tied with Laureano for the league lead. As I warned, Laureano happened to steal a bunch of bases early despite his speed, not because of it. Merrifield, meanwhile, is a more traditional and established thief.

Slater cut his strikeout rate in 2020. Unfortunately, he’s regressed to his norms this season. Slater has also lost the improved launch angle he showed last year. He is getting consistent play in the Giants lineup, but the recent acquisition of Mike Tauchman might spell an end to it.

Speed Spotlight

The latest blistering burner with increasing playing time is Mariners utility man Sam Haggerty. Mostly used as an outfielder, the switch-hitter has the fifth-best sprint speed in the Majors at 29.6 ft/sec. That’s tied with Garrett Hampson and behind only Trea Turner, Tim Locastro (injured), Eli White, and Leody Taveras (alt-site). For his career, he’s stolen seven bases in as many attempts. He’s compiled just 101 plate appearances to date.

As a hitter, Haggerty’s stand out talent is speed. His resemble a classic profile for a speedster, relying mostly on ground ball contact. However, it’s not fair to call him a slap hitter. In a small sample, he’s made frequent hard contact with a 12.5-degree average launch angle, a potential sign he could hit for a high average. The biggest issue to date has been with pulled contact, but he isn’t easily shiftable. He has enough bat control to shoot it the other way when opponents use a full shift.

Presently, the Mariners are only carrying three bench players, one of which is the backup catcher. Haggerty cracks the lineup against most left-handed pitchers. If Taylor Trammell continues slumping, he’ll start to face more righties too. Haggerty is best deployed against southpaws because it’s harder to shift him when he bats right-handed. He might simply have a better swing from the right side too. For now, he rates as a predictable streaming target for stolen bases on the waiver wire. He should steal at roughly the same per PA rate as Myles Straw but with better supporting statistics.

Brad Johnson

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