In the Opening Day edition of Saves and Steals, Greg Holland was ranked the very worst closer in the league. He’s outlasted several more highly rated relievers, moving steadily up the tiers. Last week, he was the last closer in the third tier, good for 17th best. His upward mobility went against my better judgment, but it can be hard to argue against positive results. Now it’s time to re-reassess Holland.
Over the last month, he’s posted a 6.75 ERA in eight innings with 4.50 K/9 and 7.88 BB/9. An unlikely .050 BABIP was necessary to avoid a complete disaster over the span. The worst came to pass on Tuesday night. After retiring the first two Dodgers he faced, Holland walked four consecutive batters, tying the game. He was lifted for southpaw T.J. MacFarland who proceeded to dispense a walkoff walk.
For our purposes, the implications of Holland’s meltdown are somewhat contrary. The Diamondbacks are probably trade deadline sellers. If he continues to struggle, Holland won’t be attractive to contenders. He’ll remain with Arizona – the only place he’s likely to continue earning saves. Of course, if he stays put, it means he’s blowing up his owners’ ERA and WHIP. Kind of a lose-lose situation, huh?
Switching gears, no closer earned more than two saves in the last week. The seasonal lead still belongs to Kirby Yates with 27 saves. Brad Hand, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen are tied with 23 saves.
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Upper Elite (3)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Hader was called upon for a potential two-inning save on Monday. At the time he was nursing an 11.1 inning hitless streak. He proceeded to allow a pair of runs. Jeremy Jeffress was summoned in the ninth inning for his first save of the season. There’s no cause for concern with Hader, he remains uniquely potent despite a modest homer problem.
Tier 2: The Lower Elite (8)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Last Wednesday, Diaz delivered his second disasterpiece of the season, a two-home run, five-run blown save loss to the Phillies. This followed a Hector Neris blown save. Diaz now has a 4.64 ERA – hardly an elite figure. ERA estimators suggest he should have a sub-3.00 ERA which, when paired with 14.73 K/9, is still deserving of a spot among the elite.
The rest of this tier barely pitched over the last week. Doolittle was the only one with a busy week. He allowed a run in a non-save situation. He earned a save of Sunday and a win on Tuesday. Oddly, given his reputation for rarely walking hitters, he surrendered a free pass in each appearance.
To date, Giles has top five closer numbers despite a mere 12 saves. With a 1.24 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 15.83 K/9, his owners should be quite pleased. Three factors have me cautious about an overly aggressive promotion. He has a history of deep and painful slumps – typically one per season. His current performance is heavily slider reliant which could sour if he loses feel for the pitch – as he did for nearly all of 2018. Second, the Blue Jays are very likely to trade Giles who is arguably the top reliever on the market (Smith and possibly Yates or Vazquez being the other candidates). It’s not certain Giles would close with a new club. Third, he’s only recently recovered from a minor elbow injury.
Tier 3: Core Performers (8)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Diaz’s ugly blown save (discussed in the Tier 2 writeup) was proceeded by a poor outing by Neris. He rebounded on Tuesday by striking out the side. Iglesias’ struggles continued on Sunday. He managed to earn a save despite allowing three runs over two innings. He notched a win on Tuesday. Colome had one of the busiest weeks among closers, picking up a win and two saves in four innings.
Three relievers escaped the mess hall. Even though he was promoted a tier, Martinez was leapfrogged by Jackson and Hendriks based on usage. His only outing of the week was a 2.2 inning appearance against the Padres. As a former starter, the Cardinals may look to use him infrequently for longer outings.
To my eyes, it’s pretty likely Hendriks will retain the Oakland closer role even if Blake Treinen returns. Hendriks hasn’t allowed a run since June 5. In a particularly torrid streak since June 8, he’s posted 16.78 K/9, 0.73 BB/9, and only 10 baserunners in 12.1 innings. Jackson isn’t as hot, but his skill set is perhaps more sustainable. As a ground ball pitcher with a hefty strikeout rate, he’s the most useful new closer to emerge this season. Now, he just needs to convince Atlanta to forgo buying a closer on the trade market.
Tier 4: Mess Hall (7)
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
Shawn Kelley, Texas Rangers
Kimbrel received a rude introduction to 2019. After a fairly tame debut, he was touched up for a pair of home runs in his second appearance. His fastball and curve are down about one mph from their usual velocity. He also has a history of command issues. There’s serious upward mobility for Kimbrel, but I’d first like to see a string of positive results.
Alvarado is back. He earned the save on Monday with Pagan notching a hold. As with the previous Alvarado-Castillo alliance, the pair will probably share save situations based on matchup.
Davis is at serious risk of losing his job. He now has an unsightly 5.76 ERA with 9.36 K/9 and 5.76 BB/9. I’m not convinced his command is quite so lost as his walk rate implies, hence his inclusion ahead of a handful of guys with better numbers. Coors Field sure doesn’t help. Now is a good time to stash Oberg - not that he's particularly talented.
Rogers is clawing closer and closer to a full claim on the Twins ninth inning job – just in time to be replaced with a trade acquisition. It’s all but certain Minnesota will put in offers for Smith and Giles. All that remains unknown is if they’ll win the bidding.
Tier 5: The Forgotten (4)
Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins
Elias snagged a loss on Saturday. While that’s not really a bad thing for a rebuilding a club, you have to figure they’ll want to experiment with Adams before too much longer. Elias is a viable placeholder, but Adams has posted mid-tier quality numbers through 23.2 innings including a luck neutral 2.66 ERA, 15.97 K/9, and 4.56 BB/9.
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)
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics (strained rotator cuff)
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays (shoulder impingement)
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (torn UCL, out for season)
Robertson and Morrow are nearing rehab assignments. Strickland recently threw a bullpen session and could be on the rehab trail before much longer. Treinen got tagged for three runs in a Triple-A game on Monday. Castillo is scheduled to re-join the Rays on July 12.
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
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs
Strop is the latest to lose his job to a more experienced alternative.
The Steals Department
Last week, I had this to say about Fernando Tatis Jr. - “while [he] isn’t stealing many bases, there is no shortage of clips showing off his antics.” Well, now he’s stealing bases too. He nabbed four in the last, tying Trea Turner for the weekly lead. The seasonal lead still comfortably belongs with Adalberto Mondesi at 28 thefts. And he’s back from injury to defend his territory. Mondesi is followed by Mallex Smith (21) and old friends Elvis Andrus (19) and Jarrod Dyson (19).
Tier 1: The World Beaters (3)
Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
As noted in the outset, Mondesi is back and Turner finally had a big week on the bags. He’s now in seventh place and just two swipes back of third place.
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (8)
Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
Jonathan Villar, Baltimore Orioles
Billy Hamilton, Kansas City Royals
Gordon is really struggling to reach base – to the point where his playing time is becoming imperiled. I foresee a future in which the Mariners trade Gordon to a contender who uses him mainly as a pinch runner and utility man. That same future could befall Hamilton or Villar.
Tier 3: Assorted Rabbits (6)
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
It’s tempting to assume Marte, 30, is missing a step. As far as I can tell, he’s simply playing more cautiously. He’s attempted just 15 steals – 13 of which were successful. This is a much tamer rate than the 47 he attempted last season in just 606 plate appearances. He was caught 14 times last year – an unacceptable rate. Perhaps this is an effort to improve his durability.
Story’s thumb injury turned out to be even less serious than originally anticipated. He’s already back with the club.
Tier 4: Names to Watch (9)
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Manuel Margot, San Diego Padres
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
This time last week, there was some hope Anderson wouldn’t miss much time. Sooner after publishing, it was announced he’d be out four-to-six weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Cain reaggravated a thumb injury which has been sapping his bat control. While he’s continued to play through the issue – my understanding is a surgical fix might cost him the remainder of the season – it’s affected his ability to reach base and thus his opportunities to run.