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Saves and Steals

Waiting For Relief

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

Uncertainty abounds in the realm of closers, but reinforcements are on their way. Top names on the mend include Greg Holland, Sean Doolittle, Jake McGee, and Kenley Jansen. The law of averages suggests at least one of them will either struggle or re-injure themselves. Even so, the top tiers should look a little deeper within the next few weeks.


In the meantime, a few teams continue to deal with an unstable bullpen. A couple would-be contenders – especially the Blue Jays – must be feeling some urgency to address the issue. Despite these few problem children, most of the league should be comfortable with their ninth inning reliever.


Base runners have continued to succeed at a high rate. Teams have stolen 362 bases in 501 attempts – a 72.3 percent success rate. The league wide success rate has declined steadily by one percent per week. Billy Hamilton remains the top thief with 13 stolen bases. Nobody has reached double digits (or exceeded eight). Hamilton is tied for the most steal attempts with Dee Gordon (14). However, Gordon has been caught stealing six times.

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Tier 1: Elite (2)


Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Craig Kimbrel, San Diego Padres


Based on the early results, Chapman might deserve a tier all by himself. The lefty pitched four times since we last convened with seven strikeouts, one walk, and two hits in 3.2 innings. He's yet to allow a run.


By comparison, Kimbrel has been merely good this year. Don't panic about his 2.16 ERA, 10.80 K/9, and 3.24 BB/9. His strikeout rate should climb back into the 13.00 K/9 range and his ERA should decline as a result.


Tier 2: Nearly Elite (3)


Andrew Miller, New York Yankees

Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox


Miller has eight saves in nine appearances with 16.39 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, and no runs allowed. If it weren't for Dellin Betances lurking in the wings, I'd promote Miller to Tier 1. After walking six in his first three outings, Betances has settled down. He's held opponents scoreless over 11.1 innings.


Davis has picked up right where he left off last season. He appeared twice last week with a save and two strikeouts. Holland is nearing a return. He could be back in action next week after throwing a bullpen yesterday. Davis should continue to provide plenty of fantasy value as an eighth inning reliever.


The White Sox helped Robertson to a win and a save. He notched seven strikeouts in three innings, although his Sunday appearance included a couple hits. To date, he's been the best reliever in baseball with 19.13 K/9, 1.13 BB/9, and no runs allowed. His numbers are so extreme that he has a negative 0.73 FIP.


Tier 3: The Upside Crowd (6)


Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Jason Grilli, Atlanta Braves


Allen allowed two hits, a walk, and a run in his only appearance. While I completely believe in the stuff, the results are becoming worrisome. He's piled up the strikeouts with 15.00 K/9, but a lofty 10.50 BB/9 and .579 BABIP have led to a 13.50 ERA. He needs to tighten up the command and control. Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister are the names to watch.


Britton blew a save on Saturday, but it was preventable. The Red Sox got lucky with a couple bleeders. That's always a risk with Britton since he's a sinkerballer. His strikeout rate remains high which should help to prevent these types of outings.


Boxberger and Rosenthal were busy early in the week with three appearances apiece. Boxberger picked up two wins and a save to go with five strikeouts. Rosenthal nabbed three saves and four strikeouts. Both faced the minimum number of hitters.


Grilli took the blown save loss last night. He allowed a three-run home run to Dan Uggla. His ERA ballooned in the process. Grilli is still a solid option for strikeouts and ratios. You might be able to buy low today, especially if his owner remembers last season.


Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (8)


Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins

Joakim Soria Detroit Tigers

Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels

Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners

Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros


The Twins finally offered Perkins some save opportunities – four of them. He converted all four with ease while allowing just one hit. The lefty slider specialist isn't a strikeout monster, but he offers respectable numbers across the board.


Soria now has some job security with Joe Nathan out for the season. Soria picked up three saves in three opportunities. He did allow a solo home run to David Murphy, but the Tigers had a three run lead at the time.


Street notched three saves. They weren't the smoothest outings, nor were they fraught with peril. He allowed two hits and two walks in three innings.


Last season, Papelbon allowed his first home run on July 22. This year, he only lasted to April 26. Despite the big fly, he picked up saves in both of his outings. Sooner or later, a desperate team will bite the bullet and acquire him. I'd bet on “sooner.”


I've taken to sitting Uehara on the day after he pitches. That turned out to be fortunate for me. Uehara picked up a two hit, two strikeout save last Friday. He then turned around and blew the save on Saturday. He earned the win on Monday. Uehara is leaning heavily on his splitter due to reduced fastball velocity. I'm not sure how much he has left in the tank.


Rodney added three saves in four appearances. He also gave up four hits, walked two, and struck out five. His job seems secure.


Gregerson picked up his first vulture win as an Astro. He allowed two runs on three hits last Friday, but Houston was able to turn the tide in extras. He recovered for a clean inning on Sunday.


Tier 5: Questions (8)


Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

Tyler Clippard, Oakland Athletics

Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants

Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers


I considered promoting Familia to Tier 4, but let's wait one more week. The early results have been quite valuable. He picked up three saves last week and now has nine on the season. He also has 13 strikeouts, three walks, and four hits in 10.2 innings.


Melancon recorded saves on three consecutive days last week. His velocity continues to hover around 88 mph, and his strikeout rate is a career worst 4.82 K/9. The velocity loss can be partially explained by his pitch selection – he's throwing cutters and curve balls this year. In any event, his job remains at risk. Monitor Tony Watson and Arquimedes Caminero.


Clippard took the blown save loss on Sunday. He'll be shifting back to the eighth inning before long. Those of you in holds leagues could try buying low. When with the Nationals, Clippard was the most consistent source of holds.


Cishek appeared five times in the last week. Four of those outings were fine. The fifth was a seven batter mess that included three hits, a walk, and a three-run home run off the bat of Daniel Murphy. Cishek's velocity has declined over two mph from last season. Scouts are now saying he's a middle reliever. The Marlins don't have anybody breathing down his neck. A.J. Ramos and Bryan Morris are the most likely to take ninth inning duties. Carter Capps is probably the highest upside reliever in the system.


Start lining up Reed's backups. Those include Brad Ziegler, Evan Marshall, and Randall Delgado. Reed allowed a run in each of his last two outings. He's proven rather hittable this season. His usual swing-and-miss stuff is AWOL.


Feliz managed to lock down a two inning win on Sunday. His velocity was back down to 93 mph. Few pitchers are as frustratingly inconsistent.


Casilla blew a save on Saturday. He bounced back last night for a three batter save. As I mention every week, Casilla is among the least intimidating closers in the league. All the same, he'll probably hang onto the job.


Tier 6: Roller Coasters (3)


Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

John Axford, Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies

Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays


Garcia is a fly ball pitcher with elite whiff rates on his 92 mph fastball. He also has an above average slider and a rarely thrown changeup. Garcia's tenure as closer should be brief. Kenley Jansen is on the rehab trail. Garcia has 15.19 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, and a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings. Grab him if he's available.


Axford got his wish. He signed with Colorado because he could see a path to the ninth inning. Ineffectiveness from LaTroy Hawkins and an injury to Adam Ottavino has cleared said path. Axford now has three saves on the season. Betancourt is the eighth inning man for now, but those roles could reverse if Axford has a couple bad games.


Sayonara Miguel Castro. The Blue Jays have opted to move their young flame thrower into a lower leverage role. Cecil is back as option 1A. His velocity is down this season. His biggest issue is an unseemly 40 percent HR/FB ratio. Typically, that number is around 10 percent. Of greater concern are his platoon splits. If Cecil fails again, Toronto may try Osuna in the ninth. It's thought that the Jays can't afford Papelbon, but perhaps they could field an offer for Joaquin Benoit.






Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics

Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

Bobby Parnell, New York Mets

Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies


Nathan was preparing to return to action last week, but now he's out for the season. While that's tragic news for Nathan, it might be for the best from the Tigers perspective.


Jansen, Doolittle, McGee, Parnell, and Holland should all be back in action by mid-May. Holland is expected back next week.


Ottavino is the newest addition. He has a triceps issue and elbow inflammation. No word yet on the severity of the elbow issue. Keep an eye out for updates.


The Deposed


Chad Qualls

Joaquin Benoit

LaTroy Hawkins

Miguel Castro


Castro wasn't able to run with the ninth inning duties so Cecil was able to reclaim the job.




The Steals Department


Billy Hamilton is pulling away from the pack with 13 stolen bases. The next highest total is eight, shared by Dee Gordon, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.


That last name is of particular interest. Springer was supposed to be a power and speed threat similar to vintage Alfonso Soriano. He swiped just five bags in 345 plate appearances last season. This year, his eight have come in 91 plate appearances. Batting average will remain a problem area for Springer. Even so, he's a four category fantasy monster.


Dexter Fowler's ownership remains curiously light. He's just 40 percent owned on Yahoo. The Cubs leadoff man has six stolen bases. He can hit for some power, a decent average, and he'll score a bundle of runs hitting ahead of Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler. Even if he's not on your waiver wire, it could make sense to put in an offer.


If you're looking purely for stolen bases, a handful of cheap options are available. Jose Iglesias is healthy and swiping bags. He's at five steals on the season. He's a high contact guy who could post an empty batting average. Right now, a .414 BABIP makes him look like a hero. He bats down in the Tigers lineup, but his shortstop eligibility helps his value.


Nori Aoki is largely ignored despite usually hitting atop of the Giants lineup. Aoki is a patient contact hitter who boasts a solid average and on base skills against right-handed pitchers. Look for him to platoon with Justin Maxwell once Hunter Pence returns to action. Even then, he's a strong three category option for those of you in deep leagues.

Brad Johnson

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