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Saves and Steals

The Thinning Herd

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

The herd is thinning. For a while, these rankings were looking very deep top to bottom. Each week has seen a new reliever fall down the standings. With Koji Uehara struggling, Sean Doolittle on the disabled list, and several noisy blown saves in the last week, the top three tiers now contain fewer than half of the closers for the first time since I took over the rankings.


Much of this can be attributed to the rigors of the 162 game schedule. Guys get injured or tired or lose focus on one important pitch. This is why baseball has such a long schedule in the first place. Just as a full season separates the wheat from the chaff for playoff considerations, so to does it distinguish which relievers are truly excellent and which were simply on a roll for a brief period.


Clumping in the lower tiers means we could see plenty of spot saves over the final month of the season. We discussed setup men for every team last week. Those remain largely unchanged, so be certain to pick up a few of the best if you need a couple extra saves. http://www.nbcsports.com/edge/articles/mlb/48197/235/saves-and-steals


Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Baseball League for Wednesday night's MLB games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7:10pm ET on Wednesday. Here's the FanDuel Link


Tier 1: Elite (5)


Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox


Last week's scare might have been a false alarm. Not only did Chapman appear in three straight games, he pitched two innings in the middle contest. Over the four innings, he walked none and struck out nine. It seems like he's fine.


Holland and Kimbrel appeared just once, and they both locked down easy saves. Jansen picked up two saves, both of which included two strikeouts.


Uehara blew both save opportunities. The first was a five run slaughter that ended with a loss. Later in the week he allowed inherited runners to score. He ended up winning the game when the Sox squeaked out a run against Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez. In any case, Uehara is up to four straight disappointing performances. I went back and forth on his placement in this tier.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (3)


David Robertson, New York Yankees

Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels


Pitching on a third consecutive day, Robertson blew the save last Sunday when he allowed a solo home run to Avisail Garcia. The three day stint featured a win, a save, and a loss. Home runs have been the only thing preventing Robertson from posting elite numbers. Over 15 percent of his fly balls have left the park, whereas most top relievers keep that rate below 10 percent. His xFIP of 2.12 looks a lot better than his 3.06 ERA. It's worth noting that he's never had home run troubles, so this looks like a one year fluke.


Perkins allowed a walk off yakker to Alex Gordon last night. He did pick up a three batter save earlier in the week and had another solid performance in a non-save situation. Sometimes, good players hit home runs off good pitchers.


Tier 3: Rock Steady (5)


Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins


Allen is yet another pitcher who appeared in three straight games in the last calendar week. The first outing was one to forget. He allowed four unearned runs, including a home run. Whether you subscribe to traditional or advanced defensive metrics, the Indians are the worst defensive team in baseball. I'm only surprised this kind of thing didn't happen sooner. Allen responded by earning a win and then a save.


The good news for Rodney - he picked up two scoreless saves. The bad news is he walked three batters in those two innings. I've been saying all season to watch out for Rodney walking guys – that's when he gets in trouble. It's probably too late to buy or sell on Rodney, so you just have to hope these walks were a blip on the radar.


Benoit and Britton both pitched two innings and combined to face the minimum number of batters. Benoit saved two and Britton picked up one save.


The Marlins and Rockies had a well fought game last Saturday. With the score tied at three, LaTroy Hawkins allowed a run in the Marlins half of the ninth inning. Cishek coughed it back up when he allowed a solo shot to Corey Dickerson. The Marlins later won the game in the 13th inning, but it was another blown save for Cishek. If he wasn't struggling overall, I would dismiss a home run at Coors Field. It happens. As it stands, I'm not putting too much weight on this particular poor performance. I did demote him within the tier.

Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (5)


Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals


McGee snagged a win and a save in the last week, but the interesting thing in Tampa is that Brad Boxberger also picked up a save – his second of the season. McGee is called on to pitch two innings with some frequency. While he's clearly “The Guy,” those multi-inning appearances limit his availability. That means some of the Rays saves will go to guys like Boxberger. Act accordingly.


Papelbon had a busy week with five appearances. He did allow his second home run of the season – a solo shot. The damage didn't affect the game outcome. He closed the door on four saves and held a tie in the other outing. Prognostications of doom from internet writers (including this one) have yet to bear fruit.


Rodriguez has walked 13 guys on the season. He's allowed 11 home runs. The quantity of long balls is unacceptable from a closer, even one that pitches at homer friendly Miller Park. He's gotten the job done more often than not, but the Brewers have to be worried about his sky high 22 percent HR/FB ratio. It's the latest in a multi-year trend of worsening home run rates.


Soriano calmed down with three clean outings since landing on the hot seat last week. A double play even allowed him to face the minimum number of batters. He still needs to rebuild trust.


Tier 5: Questions (6)


Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays

Chad Qualls, Houston Astros

Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants


It was a good week for Rondon, who hurled three perfect innings. I think he's pretty well locked into the job despite the presence of competition. Rondon could be valuable in some specific keeper leagues. The Cubs appear to be nearing an inflection point – I'm cautiously optimistic that they could win more than they lose next season. More save opportunities combined with solid strikeout and walk rates could propel Rondon up the rankings.


Rosenthal saved three games last week, although he did walk two batters and allow a solo home run. His grasp on the closer job is weak, although the club seems hesitant about using Pat Neshek in the role. St. Louis could use some relief reinforcements for the playoffs, but those could come from within the system.


Janssen pitched four times. Aside from the first outing, his results were bad. He blew the save on Saturday, recorded one out while allowing two hits on Sunday, and took a noisy four run loss last night. Aaron Loup appears to be next in line, but he doesn't have any redeeming qualities for fantasy owners. Brett Cecil has an excellent strikeout rate, but his left-handedness might prevent him from getting a second chance.


Chad Qualls apparently was claimed off waivers by the Tigers, but it doesn't look like a deal will be reached. If something does happen, I think Tony Sipp will get the ninth due to Josh Fields' recent struggles.


Tier 6: Roller Coasters (6)


Eric O'Flaherty, Luke Gregerson, Oakland Athletics

LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies

Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets

Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

Jacob Petricka, Chicago White Sox


With Doolittle on the disabled list, O'Flaherty is the man to own in Oakland. The ground ball specialist lefty has only 14.1 innings in the majors this season. I expect a mid-3's ERA with unimpressive peripherals. Gregerson was the more obvious choice to fill the role, but he profiles as a right-handed version of O'Flaherty. Keep an eye on this. O'Flaherty is a weird choice.


Hawkins saved three games in four appearances. The fourth game was the aforementioned seesaw affair with the Marlins. He struck out five batters, which addresses his biggest weakness to fantasy owners.


With a laundry list of health issues, Mejia is uncertain to hold down the closer job for the remainder of the season. Jeurys Familia and Vic Black are the best backup targets. Mejia did lock down an easy save last night.


Feliz picked up three saves, even though he also allowed two solo home runs last Wednesday. He looks like a middle reliever to me.


After allowing runs in three straight outings, Nathan finally had a perfect inning last night. Keep an eye on Joakim Soria as he works his way back from injury.


Petricka took two losses via home run. He allowed five runs in total. Even with the possible saves, he ranks around the 100th best reliever in my book.






Jesse Crain (calf, biceps), Houston Astros

Bobby Parnell (elbow), New York Mets

Jim Henderson (shoulder), Milwaukee Brewers

Joakim Soria (oblique), Detroit Tigers

Sean Doolittle (intercostal strain), Oakland Athletics


Losing Doolittle is a big blow for the A's, but he should only be sidelined for a couple weeks. Soria is moving closer to a return at which point he'll have to push past Nathan for save opportunities.


The Deposed


Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers

Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs

Josh Fields, Houston Astros

John Axford, Cleveland Indians

Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics

Jason Grilli, Anaheim Angels

Ernesto Frieri, Pittsburgh Pirates

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays

Ronald Belisario, Chicago White Sox

Joe Smith, Los Angeles Angels

Joakim Soria, Detroit Tigers

Zach Putnam, Chicago White Sox




The Steals Department


September is a tough time for pure steals types because they can get pushed into pinch runner roles while their club evaluates more dynamic options. Some players who could see a downgrade in playing time include Carl Crawford, Jordan Schafer, Sam Fuld, and Jarrod Dyson. Eric Young has already been relegated to running duties.


Craig Gentry is back for regular starts against left-handed pitchers. The A's have to be happy to get his elite defense and surprisingly useful platoon bat. I've noticed Michael Bourn floating around a lot of waiver wires. The oft injured outfielder could still worm his way into a regular role atop the Indians solid lineup.


If you want a shot at a little production across the board, David Peralta is a kind of poorest man's five category player. He's liable to go something around 10/3/10/4/.275 over the rest of the season. Another Arizona outfielder – Ender Inciarte – could snag several bases. We'll cover the call ups next week.

Brad Johnson

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