Jansen's Second Wind

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·11 min read
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Rowan Wick and David Bednar were the only relievers to notch three saves over the last week. Wick is subbing in for David Robertson who is currently on the COVID-list. He should return soon. Josh Hader and Taylor Rogers share the seasonal lead with 14 saves apiece. Jordan Romano (12) and Liam Hendriks (11) are the only others with double-digit saves.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (3)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves

Hader has held opponents scoreless over 13.1 innings this season. He’s allowed just two hits and five walks.

Hendriks allowed another run which eventually led to a vulture win. He also notched a couple saves. This has served a sore spot for me because an elite pitcher of his ilk shouldn’t have a 4.15 ERA. However, as I say every week, this column is about the future, not the past. There are few reasons to believe he’s not neck-and-neck with Hader for best reliever. Hendriks has worked three of the last four days so look for a Kendall Graveman save on Wednesday.

Jansen began a subtle transformation after the 2020 season. He struggled with uncharacteristic free passes in 2021, but those appear to be a thing of the past this year. He’s recovered his typical command while maintaining some of the best stuff in the league. He’s particularly stingy about allowing any sort of high-quality contact. That’s why hitters have a .210 BABIP against him dating back to the start of 2021.

Tier 2: The Elite (5)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians

Iglesias’ longstanding homeritis finally struck last Saturday. He coughed up a walk-off three-run homer. Despite an elite swinging strike rate, his 10.80 K/9 is rather ordinary. Diaz also allowed a home run, but it was only a solo shot while defending a four-run lead. He struck out eight batters in three innings and recorded two saves.

Romano is currently sidelined with a non-COVID illness. He’s expected to return within the next few days. In his absence, Adam Cimber has been handling saves.

Clase was tasked with maintaining a one-run deficit on Tuesday. He failed, allowing one run to score. That proved costly as the Guardians tied the game in the bottom of the ninth then lost in extra innings.

Tier 3: Possibly Elite (6)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

On the one hand, Kimbrel’s seven strikeouts in three innings of work were exactly what I’ve been asking to see. He had just 8.22 K/9 prior to this week. On the other hand, he allowed three runs spread across two outings. Both still turned out to be saves – the Dodgers handed him sufficient padding. I’m ambivalent about his placement atop this tier or at the bottom of the second tier. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – it’s the same ranking after all.

Gallegos and Ryan Helsley both got into a spot of trouble on Tuesday night. Helsley allowed his first run (unearned) and second hit of the season. Gallegos pitched into then out of a jam. This closer-setup man relationship remains unchanged.

The Pirates have finally discarded all pretense of a closer committee. Bednar has all the characteristics of an elite closer including an elite 19.6 percent swinging strike rate. One worrying sign is a hefty fly ball rate which can quickly turn into a home run problem. Since the start of 2021, he has a 1.94 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.

Doval has worked three of the last four days. The Giants bullpen in general has been heavily leaned upon. It’s not quite clear who might be available for a save tonight. Tyler Rogers tends to be treated as the most-rubber-armed of their relief corps.

Chapman’s in a spot of trouble – one entirely of his own making. All year, I’ve sounded the alarm regarding his command. It’s rapidly deteriorating as he ages. Over the last week, he pitched four times and allowed one run in each appearance. The Yankees have a nice bit of padding atop the AL East, but they know they can’t afford to give away wins in that division. They have alternatives too. Clay Holmes has spontaneously developed into an elite reliever ever since New York stole him from Pittsburgh last season. Michael King is thriving in a multi-inning role. Chad Green is humming along.

Tier 4: Cromulent (8)

Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Emilio Pagan, Jhoan Duran, Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins

Those paying attention will note both Knebel and Kittredge were bounced from the third tier this week. In Knebel’s case, it has less to do with the two-run loss he sustained on Sunday than tepid ratio production. If he’s not going to have a standout category besides saves, then he’s not “possibly elite.”

Kittredge seems to be in a slump of sorts. He’s allowed a home run in three of his last five appearances. His ground ball rate has evaporated too. He’s in danger of sliding out of the first-chair in Tampa Bay. Who is likeliest to snag the seat? Well, the right answer is probably a shrug. Of their relievers, only Ralph Garza Jr. is wholly unqualified. For what it’s worth, Kittredge has three wins and five saves. Even with a bad strikeout rate and middling support to ERA and WHIP, he’ll be a fantasy giant if he keeps up this 12-win, 20-save pace.

While Soto is definitely “the guy” in Detroit, he’s only a bad week or two from losing the job. He needs to get a grasp on his walk rate (6.35 BB/9) or those bad weeks will be on the way very soon. Unlike when Jansen and Alex Reyes succeeded in 2021 despite bad walk rates, Soto doesn’t stymie hard contact as effectively.

Despite a lingering slump of his own, Castillo recorded the Mariners most recent save. Sewald pitched the eighth in a bigger spot. The M’s actually tried to get Drew Steckenrider the save, but they had to remove him. He allowed four hits to five batters faced. I overlooked this previously: Seattle is very carefully managing Munoz’s workload. For this reason, he’s unlikely to compile the win and save totals I had previously hoped to see – at least not in the first half of the season. He remains an elite arm when he plays.

The Royals tried to get two innings out of Barlow in a 3-3 tie on Monday. He allowed a home run to Luis Robert. The Manfred Man rendered it a two-run shot. Barlow had also worked the previous day so it probably wasn’t a wise decision to stretch him out a second frame. Staumont nabbed a save the next day.

After Pagan pitched three consecutive days, Duffey was called upon for the save on Monday. Duran was probably available but did not appear. For now, it seems the Twins prefer to have Duran slowly get his feet wet in the late-innings rather than cannonballing into the pool. Despite a 1.54 ERA, Pagan has pitched quite poorly. Duffey, meanwhile, has rebounded from a dreadful start.

Tier 5: Assorted Leftovers (8)

Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Dany Jiménez, Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
Alexis Diaz, Art Warren, Cincinnati Reds
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks
Anthony Bass, Cole Sulser, Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins
Hansel Robles, Matt Barnes, Jake Diekman, Boston Red Sox
Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs

All season, I warned you away from Bard. Last week, I finally caved in the face of some truly excellent stats. He burned us! He burned us bad! In three appearances (2.1 innings), Bard allowed four runs on four hits and four walks. On the plus side, he did notch five strikeouts. That’s small consolation to the Rockies who lost all three of those games – two due to Bard’s blown saves. For what it’s worth, I had this to say about Bard last week:

“I remain extremely wary of Bard as a fantasy asset. A Rockies hurler basically has to exist as two distinct pitchers – the one who works at altitude and the other guy who pitches at sea level. Bard himself has had a Jekyll and Hyde career. He hasn’t pieced together a fully successful season since his 2010-2011 peak. While I think he’s a ticking time bomb, there’s no question my advice to avoid him has not worked out to date. I’ll continue to monitor Bard as a potential source of lessons learned.”

The lesson I’ve learned is to trust my instincts.

Lucas Sims is once again on the injured list. Diaz has emerged seemingly out of nowhere. He spent the 2021 campaign in Double-A. A hard-thrower with decent command and a slider that induces whiffs, Diaz’s fly ball tendencies are ill-adapted to Great American Ballpark. He’s worth adding for temporary saves. Just don’t be surprised if things go awry.

Melancon has allowed 11 runs over his last five appearances (3.1 innings). He isn’t inducing strikeouts – an old problem. More concerningly, he’s issued more walks than strikeouts. Still, this mostly looks like bad luck – the kind that could lead to his removal as closer.

The Marlins haven’t produced a recent save, though Bender did record a win on Tuesday. He pitched parts of the fifth and sixth innings, making it clear he’s not the closer du jour. Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser worked the ninth with a four-run lead. My best guess is Sulser and Bass are the preferred high leverage relievers for now. It’ll keep mutating.

Wick accomplished more than could be expected with his brief time atop the closer depth chart. Robertson will return within the next couple days. He would rank above Knebel in the fourth tier.

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Injured

David Robertson, Chicago Cubs (COVID)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (bulging disc)

Robertson should return imminently. I’m uncertain of Sims’ timetable. It’ll at least be a couple weeks.

Steals Department

We got a tiny taste of speed this week from the likes of Jean Segura, Eli White, and TJ Friedl. They all swiped four bags. White routinely ranks among the fastest players in the league by sprint speed. Unfortunately, he has the twin downfalls of pitiful exit velocities and frequent whiffs. He’s been batting leadoff so it’s worth riding the wave if you want to nab a few steals before the Rangers come to their senses. Don’t expect help in any other category. Friedl has a little more bat and a lot less speed. He’s kind of like a poor man’s Steven Kwan, which is to say he’s a fourth outfielder. Still, he’s playing regularly, often batting leadoff. He’ll need to rapidly improve upon a .172/.242/.241 triple-slash to retain that role into next week. As for Segura, he’s having a truly incredible May, hitting .417/.472/.688 with four homers and four stolen bases. While locked in now, I wouldn’t expect more than the roughly .290/.350/.435 line he posted last season.

The seasonal leaderboard is topped by Julio Rodriguez (11). Jorge Mateo (10) is the only other player with double-digit swipes. Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader check in at nine bags apiece.

Speed Spotlight

Despite showing signs of breaking out of his early-season slump, the Angels discarded Jo Adell to Triple-A back in early-May. It proved a prescient move as Taylor Ward has continued to melt opposing pitchers with his flaming bat and laser eyes. However, fellow prospect Brandon Marsh has cooled.

Adell has made a mockery of Triple-A pitching. In 44 plate appearances, he’s delivered a .314/.455/.914 batting line with five home runs and a steal. Although his strikeout rate remains a tad painful (29.5%), that appears to be part of the package with Adell. You get high caliber quality of contact and more whiffs than you’d like.

While power is his first calling card, Adell can also burn you with speed. Per Statcast, his 90-foot-split is 19th-fastest in the league. While he doesn’t usually attempt many steals, he runs often enough to put up 10 to 15 swipes over a full campaign. This is a great time to buy low as he’s on the waiver wire in many 12-team mixed leagues. With this kind of production, a promotion has to be imminent.