May Monsters

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·10 min read
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Continuing a common trend this season, only two pitchers closed out more than two games this week. Both Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks checked in with a trio of saves. Hendriks won AL pitcher of the month while Kimbrel’s teammate Ryan Tepera took home the NL honors. On the season-long leaderboard, Mark Melancon (17) and Alex Reyes (16) have a comfortable lead over Kimbrel (13) and Hendriks (13). The first three still have a sub-1.00 ERA while Hendriks “lags” at a 2.05 ERA.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (4)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

The top spot really comes down to a matter of preference with Hendriks and Kimbrel striving hard to throw their names in the ring. I’ve returned Hader to the throne for nitpicky reasons – his velocity is trending back upwards while Chapman has dealt with a mix of diminishing velocity and an uptick in walk rate. The “issues” for Chapman aren’t concerning yet – they’re just an excuse to jostle the rankings.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Diaz has a case to be in the first tier. Over his last five appearances, he’s induced elite swing and miss rates along with a more typical-for-him 16.20 K/9. His mysteriously vanishing strikeouts were the reason why he got demoted in the first place. He blew a save on Tuesday.

Pressly had an eventful week. He dealt with some neck discomfort then pitched on back-to-back days Friday and Saturday. The first outing was fine, but he was left in for nearly 40 pitches the next time out. He coughed up three runs. This looks like a classic case of mismanagement – one who had only narrowly avoided the injured list in the first place. Houston hasn’t used him since then.

Barnes didn’t hand out any walks this week, but he did allow a run on two hits last Saturday. Iglesias joins this tier since the only thing holding him back from elite production is an improbable 2.14 HR/9.

Tier 3: Core Performers (5)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals

Melancon had issues against the Astros, blowing a pair of saves on consecutive days. San Diego managed to eke out wins in both games including one credited to Melancon. Jansen’s velocity dropped back to 93-mph so we’re leaving him here too. He botched an extra innings outing against the Giants.

Hand allowed a run on a hit and a walk on Tuesday. He’s in the midst of a slump – a 7.71 ERA over his last 9.1 innings. Lately, his velocity has surged, twice topping a 94-mph average for an outing. I think he’s fine or perhaps even entering a modest renaissance if you want to speculate on him. I also remain impressed with Daniel Hudson’s work despite a disasterpiece against the Brewers on Saturday.

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Tier 4: Upside (9)

Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Diego Castillo, J.P. Feyereisen, Tampa Bay Rays
Hansel Robles, Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

Romano pitched the last inning on three occasions, earning two saves. He finished the other game without allowing a run, but he did load the bases. You might recall, I’ve rated Romano up in the Melancon-Jansen region in the past. The Giants ninth-inning has devolved into a straight two-man committee based on opponent handedness.

I can only shake my head at Reyes’ continued success. His 8.07 BB/9, 0.31 HR/9, .220 BABIP, and 95.9% left on base rate all speak to painful regression. Even if we believe that Reyes is probably more of a 4.50 BB/9 pitcher, allowing more hits, homers, and baserunners to score will yield something like a high-4s ERA.

Rodriguez had a regression week, surrendering a trio of runs across two appearances. A modest strikeout rate and impending trade sometime in the next two months make this an excellent time to sell high if you’re still holding him.

Ranking Clase and Karinchak is a challenge since they’re among the most talented pitchers in the league. However, they’re both struggling and neither has a firm grasp on the bulk of saves. Clase is the sharper of the pair at the moment. He’s still dealing with an elevated walk rate. Karinchak has allowed nine runs (seven earned) over his last four innings (five appearances). Walks have plagued him too – 11 in his last 11 appearances. Either pitcher could emerge as a Top 5 candidate.

Garcia’s job security isn’t in danger yet, but we need to keep an eye out anytime he takes a loss. Chain a few of those together and it’ll be Dylan Floro time.

The Rays are doing Rays things. Castillo is a fine closer but now J.P. Feyereisen has snagged three saves since May 23. Castillo’s last save was on May 22 and Pete Fairbanks hasn’t finished one since May 19. Feyereisen might honestly be their worst reliever so I consider this a temporary fad. He has poor command of a three-pitch repertoire. His slider and change do induce high whiff rates. However, working around his below average fastball remains an obstacle.

Robles set up for Rogers on Saturday. The order was reversed on Monday with Robles locking down the save. Both have experienced their share of hiccups, perhaps opening the door for Alex Colome or a surging Tyler Duffey.

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (8)

Greg Holland, Scott Barlow, Kyle Zimmer, Kansas City Royals
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, Baltimore Orioles
Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Sean Doolittle, Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Stefan Crichton, Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies

Barlow was pitching like the Royals closer even before Josh Staumont went down with an injury. He’s turning into the Kansas City version of Giovanny Gallegos – passed over again and again. Holland is a tad better lately but still projects for over a 4.00 ERA. Zimmer is a passable middle reliever.

The Athletics feel destined to add relievers at the trade deadline, although the pool of game-changing options is thin. Diekman and Trivino continue to swap the job back and forth while occasionally running into trouble. Diekman’s been worked heavily so tonight is probably Trivino’s turn.

Cesar Valdez has slumped his way out of the ninth inning – perhaps his gimmick changeup is no longer effective. Sulser was a pop-up target last year who outpitched his peripherals before collapsing. This time around, he actually looks like the real deal. His command completely fell apart last season so watch out for similar disasters. Fry, a southpaw, is also an able candidate for high leverage relief.

Sims and Antone have captured the Reds last three saves. Antone would immediately rank somewhere between Iglesias and Melancon if he were named closer. He has valuable contributions in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. The others in the Cincy pen have weaknesses. I’m honestly surprised Doolittle hasn’t emerged from the dog pile yet.

Kendall Graveman should be nearing activation from the COVID-list which is good since both Middleton and Montero are pitching poorly. They each inked a save in the last week. Soria is building his case to take over in Arizona. Bard has pitched well since May 5 (0.75 ERA, 14.25 K/9, 3.75 BB/9 in 12 innings), but he still has Coors Field looming over his head. His April proves why he’s a dangerous addition. Even that 10-game hot streak comes with just three saves.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners (COVID-list)
Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals (sprained knee)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Trea Turner, Washington Nationals, 4 SB (11 SB total)
Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles, 3 SB (9)
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals, 3 SB (16)
Jean Segura, Philadelphia Phillies, 3 SB (5)
11 Others, 2 SB

Turner and Merrifield running wild shouldn’t surprise anybody. They’re among the most prolific base thieves of the last half decade. In fact, Turner is just three swipes behind Billy Hamilton and one behind Jonathan Villar for the lead since the start of 2016.

Mullins kicked off the season with an offensive tirade before cooling for much of May. He’s showing signs of heating up again. His instincts on the bases are questionable. Despite 88th percentile speed, he’s been caught four times. That’s a continuation of career trends – 19 steals in 28 attempts (68% success rate). Fortunately, the Orioles are bad enough that he’s not at risk of being constrained.

Segura’s lack of friskiness seemingly had to do with a stark decline in sprint speed. This after a rebound to his early-career norms last season. Perhaps he’s recently recovered some speed or else the Phillies just really want to make things happen. Four of his five steals have come since May 24. The other was on Opening Day.

Among the leftovers lurk typical speedsters like Ronald Acuna, Tim Anderson, and Randy Arozarena. More fun were the speedy post-post-hype prospects like Bradley Zimmer and Magneuris Sierra. There were some real prospects too, namely Jonathan India and Jarred Kelenic.

Speed Spotlight

Season Pass holders might know about my column The Fringes. I take a look through various lens for under-appreciated assets. One that I’ve been itching to write about for weeks now is Rangers infielder Yonny Hernandez. The 23-year-old has a chance to be something unique, and Texas’ irrelevance in 2021 should open the door for an extended trial.

All too often, the problem with slap dash speedsters is they either whiff too often or entirely lack patience. That’s not the case with Hernandez. In Triple-A, the switch-hitter has the contact rates of Willians Astudillo and Luis Arraez with the walk rate of Yasmani Grandal. We’ve seen versions of this before. For instance, Myles Straw performed similarly as a 23-year-old in 2018. The Astros never gave him much of a chance until this season. He’s played like a replacement level fifth outfielder.

Hernandez could suffer a similar fate. Presently, he’s behind the likes of Nick Solak, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Brock Holt, Charlie Culberson, and Anderson Tejeda on the depth chart. Not one of those is an insurmountable barrier to playing time. In fact, Holt and Culberson are sharing third base in what is hopefully a very temporary arrangement.

Hernandez has some advantages on Straw. As a switch-hitter, most of his plate appearances will come from the left side. Both players use all fields. For Straw, that means more easy plays for second basemen. Hernandez will put more pressure on left-side infielders to make a quick play. His contact skills also seem superior.

The dream outcome for this profile is an Arraez clone with a stolen base per 10 plate appearances. The biggest knock against Arraez is his lack of power and speed. Imagine if a player came along with everything Arraez does and 30 stolen bases. For now, this is a purely speculative analysis. If he’s activated and you need stolen bases, jump with both feet. After all, Arraez himself wasn’t really considered a prospect before his debut.