Craig Kimbrel has appeared… at Triple-A. He carved through a trio of hitters in a manner befitting of a top major league reliever. While a formal timeline has yet to be announced, the Cubs are undoubtedly feeling impatient. They’re half a game back in the NL Central, and Pedro Strop stumbled his way to a loss last night.
Will Smith emerged from the dust of the previous week clutching four saves. Ian Kennedy and Kirby Yates were next-best with three saves apiece. In Smith and Kennedy, we have proof that even bad teams can produce occasional bursts of activity for their late-inning relievers. Yates (26) has a comfortable lead over Kenley Jansen (21) and Shane Greene (21) on the seasonal leaderboard.
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Upper Elite (4)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Yates has worked three days in a row and four of the last five. He’ll almost certainly rest on Wednesday. Craig Stammen is the guy to own in his stead.
The elite 14.13 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9 are what definitively identify Diaz as a Tier 1 reliever. His recent performance, including eight runs over his last 5.2 innings, has not been up to his usual standards. It’s funny, I raised the red flag earlier in the seasons due to a dip in velocity. He continued to perform at a high level. Then, almost as soon as he regained his typical heater, he ran afoul of a slump. I’m inclined to call this a fluky rough patch, but there’s certainly a chance he’s tipping pitches or making an otherwise predictable mistake.
Tier 2: The Lower Elite (6)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
While Osuna, Vazquez, and Jansen were a part of the first-tier last week, I’m not counting this as a demotion. Instead, think of this as a promotion for Hand and Doolittle with an arbitrary introduction of a new tier in the middle of the old first tier.
As I write this, Osuna has just taken a blown save loss to the Reds. No need to panic even if setup man Ryan Pressly has massively outperformed him since last trade deadline.
Working three days in a row, Jansen sandwiched his own blown save loss between a pair of saves. He’s had a couple days or rest and should be ready for normal usage.
I’ve resisted properly crediting Smith for his stuff. I find myself increasingly unconvinced by my own justifications. His tenure in the lower tiers was never about talent – it was about a terrible Giants roster and the likelihood of trade. I now see more contenders in need of a closer than I originally anticipated. I’m cautiously optimistic he’ll land on two feet.
Tier 3: Core Performers (8)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like Smith, Neris also possesses ace-like statistics. In this case, I still see hurdles in Neris’ path. He’s lost command of his splitter for a brief spell during every season of his career. He’s had some rough outings recently including a three-run clunker on Friday.
Michael Lorenzen earned the last two saves for the Reds. Iglesias received holds in those games. In both cases, this looks like a quirk of matchups. Obviously, I still believe this to be Iglesias’ job. It may be close to turning into a two-headed race.
I’m convinced Greene has devoured the soul of Fernando Rodney. This ludicrously unlikely 0.93 ERA is straight out of Rodney’s playbook. Greene has sharply lowered his hard contact rate which helps to explain why opponents are struggling to reach base (2019: .181 BABIP, career: .305 BABIP). There is no sign of a positive change – his fastball lost velocity. I’ll continue to call this a fluke until I see evidence to the contrary.
Tier 4: Mess Hall (8)
Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
Shawn Kelley, Texas Rangers
Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
The Braves have thrived in recent weeks despite tepid performance from Jackson. With a division lead, we can’t assume Atlanta will be complacent with their existing staff. Keep an eye on the trade market and A.J. Minter.
Since returning from the injured list, Davis has allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 4.1 innings. That’s… not good. The Rockies are only one game back in the NL Wild Card race so they can’t afford to be complacent with their closer. Re-stashing Scott Oberg could make sense in deeper leagues.
News has emerged that Jose Alvarado will need a mini-spring training before returning to the Rays. Castillo should get the bulk of the saves in his absence with Emilio Pagan absorbing most of the spillover. Don’t be surprised by, uh, surprises. After all, we’re talking about the Rays.
Nothing is simple in this Boston bullpen. Brasier has the most recent save while Barnes hasn’t locked down a game since June 6. As I’ve warned again and again, we cannot hold traditional expectations for these Red Sox relievers.
Blake Parker is on personal leave. In any case, the Twins seem more comfortable with Rodgers handling the tough outs. May is creeping into second place on the depth chart. I still believe him to be the most talented reliever on the roster.
Jose Leclerc can’t string together enough scoreless outings to rebuild his manager’s faith. Those who invested in Kelley should continue to ride the wave.
Tier 5: The Forgotten (4)
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins
In my mind, Bass is unquestioningly better than Elias. However, it’s Elias who recorded the Mariners two most-recent saves. Bass even blew a game on Monday in the eighth inning which won’t help his case.
Just when he regained his role, Givens fumbled his way to a loss via a four-run drubbing. He also coughed up two homers.
I initially though Biagini would fill in as the Blue Jays closer while Ken Giles is on the injured list. Instead, it seems Hudson is first chair in the proposed committee.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear – out for season)
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)
Arodys Vizcaino, Seattle Mariners (shoulder inflammation – out for season)
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain)
Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (family emergency)
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays (elbow inflammation)
Giles is expected to return when first eligible. The others continue to make interminable if not entirely unobservable progress.
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Anthony Swarzak, Atlanta Braves (deposed with Mariners)
Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox
Chris Martin, Texas Rangers
Steve Cishek, Chicago Cubs
Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies
It’s probably premature to remove Brasier from this list of ignominy. Let’s wait a week.