Buying Lo on Closers

Eno Sarris

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You know, last week we did busts and snuck in some fantasy analysis into our tier names. Why don't we do 'buy-low' players this week for our tiers and do the same this week? The better the buy low, the better the tier. Many of you still have some time before your trade deadline expires.

Hitters first!

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Giancarlo Stanton" Tier.)

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

Giancarlo Stanton's power is down. His team is in shambles. His owners are frustrated. This is the perfect time to swoop down and take advantage. Power numbers take the longest to stabilize -- imagine a slugger hitting three homers in one game and what that might do to a slugging percentage -- and Stanton's numbers make up a smaller sample size than most players today. The injuries that kept him out seem like they are behind him, and he's hitting the ball as far as he ever has. In fact, the batted ball distance on his homers and flies is longer than it was last season. He might get walked a few times more than he would if the lineup was better, but the Marlins will be in some close games just because all teams get into close games. Elite buy-low opportunity.

These are our elite relievers. Three that have been here all year without so much as a risky weekend, and one that should have been here for two years running. Aroldis Chapman has two Kimbrels in a row, so that's six straight strikeouts, no base runners. Should he be first? Joe Nathan is last. He has seven walks against six strikeouts in his last seven innings. Probably just one of those stretches.

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Jason Heyward" Tier.)

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

We're a tier down, so the buy-low opportunity with Jason Heyward is not as clear. For one, he's not stealing like he used to, and that part of his game may permanently disappear. He hasn't ever shown no-doubt elite-level power like Giancarlo Stanton, and he's not hitting in an RBI position. All of that said, there are plenty of good signs. He's striking out less, so he could hit for a better average once his batted ball luck heads closer to league average. Heyward's putting the ball on the ground a bit more, but he's also got the same batted ball distance on his homers and flies. He might be easy to acquire, and he might have 25-30 homer power with a few steals. That's worth a shot for some, depending on the price.

Mariano Rivera has elite leash. Mariano Rivera is an elite closer when looked at through the prism of time. Mariano Rivera probably won't lose his job. Mariano Rivera has blown three straight saves with three home runs. Mariano Rivera hasn't had an elite strikeout rate for a closer in a long time. These are the reasons why it was very difficult to move him off the elite perch, but it seemed warranted. Not just because of the recent work, but because he doesn't actually give you the strikeout rates of the top guys. His velocity is down a bit, and his line drive rate against is the highest it's ever been, but he'll still be Rock Steady, we think. (But you can't forget that Greg Holland has almost twice as many strikeouts, and only three fewer saves.)

Sergio Romo hasn't done enough to fall out of the tier, but he's slipping a bit. He's got a touch of the Huston Street / J.J. Putz problem: he won't ever throw 70 IP, will he. And once you remember those whispers of injury-prone-ness, and realize that his team is treating him with baby gloves, and then his recent work becomes a little more worrisome. One strikeout in his last five outings. Homers from lefties. Five appearances in August. Declining velocity. It's not definitive but it's something.

Tier 3: Okay options (6) (AKA: The "Brett Lawrie" Tier.)

Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals

Lawrie's stock has taken a hit, and he might be a better buy-low in keeper leagues given his age (still only 23), but the opportunity for power and speed at third is enticing. His swinging strike rate is up, and he, at one point, was striking out at ridiculous rates. He has that back to better than league average now, which is where he's been for most of his career. There's little reason to doubt that he can hit five homers and steal five bases the rest of the way -- with a .280-esque average, given the power, speed and strikeout rate -- and that's worth pursuing for some.

Jim Johnson leads the league in blown saves now. He also leads the league in saves. He also has a bottom-three strikeout rate among closers. What a strange closer. Like a good Brandon League.

Jim Henderson's walk rate will always harm his upside, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him too much presently. The secret to his walk problems is that he mostly walks lefties -- his walk rate is three times higher against southpaws. That's a heck of a way to avoid platoon splits on a fastball/slider arsenal, but it's better than giving up homers to lefties on sliders that drift too close to the heart of the plate. Maybe it can work in small stints. 95 mph covers a lot of mistakes.

Casey Janssen has none of that velocity, and he could have used it recently. Because if you allow balls into play like he does, you risk things happening like they did last week, when he allowed four runs to blow a game against Oakland. Josh Donaldson singled, Nate Freiman doubled, Alberto Callaspo doubled, Stephen Vogt singled, and Eric Sogard sacrifice flied, and that's your worst Janssen outing of the year. It's not quite a Jim-Johnson-esque problem yet, but if you're going to build me a closer, he's going to have fastball velocity and a wipeout change or curve -- those are platoon busters. (Then again, if you had both of those things, you'd probably be a starter -- that's why plenty of closers are fastball/slider pitchers.)

Read about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.

Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "David Freese" Tier.)

Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Huston Street, San Diego Padres

Freese is pretty far from the days of his postseason heroics. The problem is, very little has changed. He still hits a ton of grounders, strikes out at a league average rate, and has good-but-not-great power. It's not a package that adds up to .300/20 without some help from luck on his balls in play. Now his BABIP has calmed down, and we can see the player he actually was, really: a decent thirty-year-old third baseman that's probably more fantasy fill-in than fantasy star. The newly activated Aramis Ramirez makes for a better buy-low, even with his injury and power concerns, just because he has more upside.

Every time I consider moving Fernando Rodney up, something happens. Like the team acquires Jesse Crain. Or Rodney blows consecutive saves. Or he. Just. Keeps. On. Walking. People.

Rafael Betancourt is inching closer to return. But Rex Brothers might hold on to his job. The Rockies have a less than one percent chance of making the postseason, and that means more looking to the future. So do both Betancourt and the Rockies want him back for four-plus million mutual option next year? That's a tough one. The team might -- it's not a bad price, even for a setup man -- but the player might want to see what his last payday might look like. He's 38 years old, after all. Or maybe the team doesn't want to re-up after the injuries this year (and the reduced velocity). Seems like that opens the door for Rex Brothers to hold on to the job.

Mark Melancon looks great. Jason Grilli is going to play catch this week.

Huston Street's arm hasn't fallen off, the velocity is back a little, and he's even getting strikeouts. Maybe he'll survive the year with another 50 innings this year, just more meh than usual.

Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Josh Hamilton" Tier.)

Danny Farquhar (first chair), Yoervis Medina (second chair), Seattle Mariners
Dane De La Rosa (first chair), Ernesto Frieri (second chair), Anaheim Angels
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Pedro Strop (second chair), Blake Parker (third chair), Chicago Cubs
LaTroy Hawkins (first chair), David Aardsma (second chair), New York Mets
Chia-Jen Lo (first chair), Josh Fields (second chair), Houston Astros

Josh Hamilton may look like a buy low. Josh Hamilton is not a buy low. Sure, his batted ball luck may stabilize. His power may go up a bit. Then he'd play like the .250 hitter with 25-homer power that he's become. If someone wants to sell him at that level, maybe he's a buy low, but with the name power behind him, probably not. What we're seeing now is what happens when you build your game on athleticism (read: have no idea where the strike zone is) and you hit your thirties.

One more week, and Danny Farquhar will move up, most likely. He has the arsenal, the strikeout rate, and the control to keep the job, and the old closer is in the minor leagues. Yoervis Medina poses some threat, but he needs to find the zone against lefties if he wants to really compete. Dane De La Rosa is Farquhar-like, with multiple pitches and the right rates to stick in the role, but he has a little more velocity than Farquhar. Could he keep the role? Ernesto Frieri is out of the role for now, and even if he stops giving up homers (he has for most of his career), he's not likely to find the zone. Because De La Rosa is a little more ground-ball heavy (despite a nice swinging strike rate), and because Frieri is the struggling incumbent and is still on the Angels' 25-man roster, we'll move Farquhar ahead of the Angels group for now. Farquhar, Frieri, and De La Rosa should all be owned, however.

Still think Brad Ziegler's platoon splits and lack of strikeouts will come back to bite him. Still wondering where J.J. Putz is in close games.

Kevin Gregg is still holding on, but with a strikeout-to-walk ratio near one-to-one over the last month, he's barely holding on. The team needs to look forward to the future, too. As much as I'd like Blake Parker to get a chance, usage suggests that Pedro Strop is next. Walk rate doesn't always predict things -- just look at the last closer in Chicago -- and Strop's got the eighth. He'll be next and is a decent pickup if you're searching for saves.

Chia-Jen Lo is in the first seat, but not for long. Like the Houston outfield, it looks like the Houston bullpen will be a rotating cast of characters. The team gets to learn what they have for next year, and we get to try and divine what's happening on a daily basis. Josh Fields could get involved again -- he was once involved. Lo hasn't shown durability, but he does have velocity. And even though he only features a slider second, he didn't really have problems with lefties in the minor leagues. Maybe he can make it work. I'm not buying Lo unless all it takes is a waiver pickup and I'm dropping a reliever that's not currently a closer.

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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Jason Grilli (forearm), Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Betancourt (appendicitis), Colorado Rockies

Rafael Betancourt wants to be back in the bigs Friday. The guess is he takes his job back, but with the Rockies floundering, that's no lock.

The Deposed

Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Jose Veras, Detroit Tigers
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks

Brad Ziegler is on his way. He phoned ahead for a submarine sandwich, badumching.

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The Steals Department

With six weeks to go, it's about time to start fine-tuning the approach and looking at the schedule. We won't stream for steals just yet, but let's see if the upcoming schedules give us a clue about which marginal speedsters will be heading into friendly territory for base stealers. An advanced look at the catchers and how well they control the running game suggested that you want to avoid Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters and Miguel Montero, and that Russell Martin has saved the Pirates' backstops from ridicule this year. Joe Mauer has improved and is now among the elite.

Here are the worst baserunning defenders by the research at High Heat Stats by David Hruska -- Chris Iannetta, Kurt Suzuki, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Hundley, Alex Avila, and Buster Posey. They all average a stolen base in less than every 14 innings caught. Bad platoons include Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton (10 innings), and the group in Seattle (12.78). So that's eight teams worth targeting in Seattle, Anaheim, Boston, Washington, San Diego, Detroit, San Francisco, and Tampa Bay.

You could just try to get into the divisions that have two of these catchers -- the AL and NL West, and the AL East are well represented here. Perhaps this is another vote for Jonathan Villar in deep leagues, despite the bad strikeout rate. Maybe shallow leaguers can still buy Leonys Martin at a reasonable price, or take a shot on Robbie Grossman on the wire. Craig Gentry will get time against lefties, which might be enough for you deep leaguers. The NL West is tougher, but Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon have some wheels and are available in most leagues (Blackmon by a nose for me). Adam Eaton is a shallow league guy to pick up if you need speed, still has great upside and will face some limp-armed catchers in the final weeks. In the AL East -- but not in Boston or Tampa -- you have Nate McLouth for shallow leagues (just try to sit him against lefties), Ichiro Suzuki in a trade, or Eduardo Nunez in deeper leagues.