It feels good to be watching real, meaningful baseball. While Spring Training can stave off baseball withdrawal, the games still feel like watching a glorified men's league. Anyway, we're here to talk closers and stolen basers. So let's do it.
We knew Andrew Miller's success as a multi-inning relief ace would convince other teams to loosen up their bullpen plans. We've already seen a number of teams showing a preference for closer committees, specifically the Angels, Athletics, and Reds. I have little doubt that more will join the trend.
Most teams have only played two games thus far - the Tigers and White Sox played their first yesterday. Three closers share the top of the leaderboard with two saves apiece: Cody Allen, Greg Holland, and Ken Giles. On the stolen base front, 23 bases have been stolen in 33 attempts. Eduardo Nunez, Xander Bogaerts, and Aledmys Diaz temporarily share the lead with two each. George Springer also wanted to steal two bases. Instead, he leads the league with two caught stealings.
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Tier 1: The Elite (3)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
There's very little news to report with regard to the elite closers. There's some concern that Britton's command isn't as sharp as usual. He battled an oblique injury during Spring Training and may be shaking off the rust. Chapman had a typical appearance while protecting a five run lead. He fanned two as part of a one-two-three inning. Jansen has yet to appear.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (8)
Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners
Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals
Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants
Addison Reed, New York Mets
Ken Giles, Houston Astros
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Diaz, Herrera, and Reed have yet to appear. Of the five who have pitched, the results are a mixed bag. Craig Kimbrel looked like his vintage self. He struck out two while locking down a save versus the Pirates. I'll be watching him closely to determine if he deserves a promotion back into the first tier. His command may be the deciding factor.
Both Oh and Melancon scuffled in their debuts. Oh worked his way out of an inherited jam in the eighth inning only to surrender a game-tying three-run home run to Willson Contreras in the ninth. The Cardinals even got him a couple insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out two in 1.2 innings. As for Melancon, he failed to protect a one-run lead en route to a blown save loss. The Diamondbacks chained together four hits for the walkoff victory.
As noted in the intro, Giles and Allen have been busy over the last couple days. Today could be an off day for both of them. Luke Gregerson also worked both days. Try Will Harris if you want a speculative save from Houston. Andrew Miller is probably on tap for the Indians. He also pitched both days, but he made short work of the competition. Giles was excellent – five strikeouts, one walk, and one hit in two innings. Allen twice struck out the side. He did allow a couple doubles and a run yesterday.
Tier 3: The Mid Tier (7)
Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Sam Dyson, Texas Rangers
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Colome picked up the very first save of the 2017 season. He struck out Gary Sanchez in a perfect inning of work. Davis made his Cubs debut yesterday. He earned the save while working around a walk.
Bedrosian also earned his first save of the season. Manager Mike Scioscia is calling it a committee with Andrew Bailey and, eventually, Huston Street. Given Bailey's mediocrity and Street's terrible 2016, Bedrosian should still get the nod most days. Scioscia strikes me as the sort of manager who will resist the multi-inning relief ace model.
Dyson failed to protect a 5-5 tie against the Indians on Monday. Three of the four hits he allowed were qualified as hard contact. The Rangers have a deep bullpen featuring several closer quality arms. Dyson could quickly find himself demoted to the middle innings. However, let's not overreact to one lousy outing.
Iglesias pitched well while keeping the Reds within three runs of the Phillies. The ploy almost worked out too. Cincinnati plated two runs in the home half of the ninth.
We're still waiting to hear from Ramos and Robertson.
Tier 4: Questions (5)
Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers
Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies
Blake Treinen, Washington Nationals
Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves
K-Rod earned a save yesterday with a clean frame. He was set up by Bruce Rondon. The hard throwing righty remains the most likely backup closer in Detroit – at least until Joe Jimenez works his way onto the roster.
The other guy with two saves, Holland was a tad fortunate on Monday. Nolan Arenado turned what should have been a hit into a double play. Holland was sharper yesterday, recording two strikeouts. Adam Ottavino pitched well too. Remember, the real test of Holland will come at Coors Field.
I'm glad the Nationals picked Treinen to close. He throws one of the best sinkers in baseball. In the past, the only thing holding him back is suspect command. He has the control to work both sides of the plate, but he's lacked the fineness to hit pinpoint spots. If he can polish that aspect of his game, he'll be every bit as good as Zach Britton. Even without command, he'll still be a viable closer. Treinen struck out two during his first save opportunity.
We'll eventually get a peek at Wat's son and John's son. Both have the confidence of their manager which is a euphemism for “short leash.”
Tier 5: Roller Coasters (7)
Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres
Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins
Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Dull, Oakland Athletics
Neftali Feliz, Milwaukee Brewers
Fernando Rodney, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, Toronto Blue Jays
Jeanmar Gomez, Philadelphia Phillies
Rodney's Diamondbacks debut was a classic disasterpiece. As often happens when Rodney struggles, his command completely disappeared. He'll find Chase Field to be a difficult home venue. There isn't anybody else around to take his job, but the fantasy numbers will hurt.
The Athletics have sure handed us a fantasy nightmare. Madson was twice used to retire Mike Trout and others in the eighth inning. Casilla snagged the save on Monday. Dull blew the save yesterday. And I still maintain that Doolittle is by far the best reliever in this bullpen. Madson will probably be used for the toughest late-inning outs. I expect him to get half the saves with the other trio splitting the remainder.
Roberto Osuna will return soon from a minor injury. Until then, the Blue Jays will match Grilli and Biagini out for the ninth inning. Grilli already lost one game while defending a tie. On the plus side, his velocity has rebounded.
Gomez's bend-but-not-break approach to closing was on full display on Monday. He allowed two runs while protecting a three-run lead. Manage Pete Mackanin has already shortened the leash. Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris are the short term speculative picks. If Gomez keeps the job for a couple months, look for Edubray Ramos to take the role.
Maurer and Feliz have not pitched.
Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
Osuna is on the 10-day disabled list with cervical spasms. He's expected to be ready as soon as he's eligible to return.
Technically, nobody yet. Madson, Bedrosian, and Gomez have short leashes. We thought Koda Glover might have won the job, but Treinen snatched it instead. Since Glover never actually had the role, he wasn't deposed.
The Steals Department
The stolen base market is well-stocked at present. While the base runners have no chance to keep up with the sluggers, early indications are that we could see a few extra steals in 2017. Let's talk about a few rabbits on the waiver wire.
After swiping 43 bases in 2016, Athletics leadoff man Rajai Davis has yet to jump on the leaderboard. Tomorrow, he'll face mid-tier lefty Tyler Skaggs. Davis is a career .288/.343/.437 hitter versus southpaws. He has a 79 percent success rate when running against lefties, attempting a steal once every 8.5 plate appearances. That includes many pinch running appearances too.
Andrew Toles is the Dodgers leadoff hitter versus right-handed pitching. The lefty has sneaky pop coupled with untested speed. Physically, he should be a threat to steal over 20 bases. However, the Dodgers have a high octane lineup which is not an ideal environment to learn the craft of base running. He'll likely restrict his efforts on the bases to lopsided games. Even if Toles isn't using his legs, your fantasy team will appreciate his ability to reach base and score runs.
Another leadoff man, Cesar Hernandez, remains widely available thanks to the depth at second base. The switch-hitter has a hint of power from the right side of the plate. However, he'll mostly spray the ball around the field. His plate discipline improved dramatically late in 2016. If he can maintain the high OBP, there's a chance he'll steal 30 bases. He was inefficient last season (17-for-30), but he has the raw speed to be a true threat.
Last but not least, Delino DeShields is back on the Rangers active roster. The quintessential fourth outfielder will receive a chance to start at some point. Nobody believes Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Gomez can stay healthy for a full season. Once in the lineup, DeShields' patience and speed could push him into the leadoff role. There's breakout potential if he learns to hit fewer ground balls.