Disappointments in the Pen

Eno Sarris

The trade deadline was a dud, even among recent duds. So let's use this year's fantasy duds to name the tiers. The worse the letdown, the higher the tier. Our number one bust will lead our elite closers, if that makes any sense.

Just making up rules as I go along here.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Matt Kemp" Tier.)

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

We could have gone with Ryan Braun, but that's a sticky wicket. Matt Kemp has just taken a pass on this year. He was hurt and had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and that sapped his power for the first half of the season. Right when he was about to get going, an ankle felled him. And other body parts failed him. And yet, he could come back next year, refreshed and ready to 30/30 again. Baseball!

Craig Kimbrel has three Kimbrels on the year -- his last outing had the requisite three strikeouts, no base runners -- and 25 straight saves. Not bad. Recently, Aroldis Chapman hasn't been quite as dominant as he's been all year, but he's still awesome. Mariano Rivera has dialed it up a bit recently, and he moves ahead of Joe Nathan, who has six walks against five strikeouts in his last six. That's not great.

We have a new elite reliever! Well, he's been elite his whole career, but it's just taken him a really long time to put a death grip on the closer job in Los Angeles. He had to survive the slings and arrows hurled at him by his own general manager -- Brandon League, Matt Guerrier, Javy Guerra, Mike MacDougal -- and even his own heart failed him for a bit. Jansen is fifth in the league in strikeout rate and has whittled his walk rate down every year of his career. To the point where he's now second in baseball in strikeouts per walk. It's true that he throws his cutter almost 90% of the time, and I've pointed to Edward Mujica's split finger (over-?) usage in the past, but the cutter is different than the split finger. The cutter has a great strike rate, gets grounders, and also has a pretty famous champion residing one rung ahead of Jansen. Jansen is not quite Mariano Rivera yet, but he could be. He could even add more strikeouts than Mo!

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Justin Verlander" Tier.)

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

Justin Verlander is still a great pitcher, just maybe not as Rock Steady as we thought. He'll probably get it together, just maybe not this year. His season may have something to do with all the extra innings he's pitched over his career, especially since his velocity is down a tick and a half. At least he's healthy and didn't lose the year to the knife?

Sergio Romo drops a tier. His problems against lefties continue. Last week, we warned that lefties were enjoying him a bit too much, and then Monday night in San Francisco, lefty Juan Francisco took him deep. As in, to one of the deepest parts of the park, on a cold night in AT&T park. As much as Romo has tried to refine his arsenal to deal with lefties -- he's added a changeup, and focuses on the sinker more when he's facing them -- his career strikeout rate drops in half against southpaws. This year he's not even getting ground balls from them, and also giving up a homer and a half per nine innings against them. He can survive his at-bats against lefties, but he doesn't thrive, and that's what happens when you're a right-hander that throws your slider more than your fastball.

The rest of the tier is just rock steadying right along. Greg Holland's newfound control is holding, Glen Perkins is looking for love in all the wrong places, Grant Balfour righted a ship that was barely in trouble, and Edward Mujica has seven strikeouts in his last ten innings -- but no walks and only nine hits. Koji Uehara slips ahead of him because he strikes everyone out, doesn't walk anyone either, and oh yeah has given up four hits in his last twelve innings and 27 on the year. He can get homer prone, but he hasn't given one up since June.

Tier 3: Okay options (6) (AKA: The "Bryce Harper" Tier.)

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

Even in the outfield, players like Giancarlo Stanton and Jason Heyward have probably been bigger busts. A good last two months could still make Harper a .280/25/10 guy for the year, and even if that's not a high second-rounder most years, it'll do. So Harper is a mild disappointment for a mild tier. Still has major upside going forward, based on our power expectations.

Addison Reed hasn't gotten many chances to right the ship since he blew his fifth save of the season on the last day of July. He's only thrown two innings since. He gets an incomplete. Jim Johnson has gone back to not striking anybody out -- two strikeouts in his last seven innings, and seven in 13 innings since the end of June. He's also only given up one run and walked three guys since the end of June, so it's working again.

We welcome two very different closers to the tier in Casey Janssen and Jim Henderson. Janssen is still making it work by getting strike one and then using his plus-plus command to frustrate hitters, while Jim Henderson is still blowing 98 mph fastballs by the hitter (without knowing where it's going all the time). I'm not into skinning cats, so let's just say there are many ways to float a boat.

Rafael Soriano: still looks hurt. His velocity is still down and his swinging strikes are gone, and he's using the slider about half as much as he has over his career. He's had elbow trouble from time to time over his career, to boot.

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

Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Evan Longoria" Tier.)

Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies
Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels

Barely a bust, Evan Longoria is showing the worst strikeout rate of his career for some reason. The exact same swinging strike rate as last year, but he's strikeout out 5% more often. He's been healthy, and he might still hit 30 out, and all of baseball's batting average is down, but still. A .260-.270 average would keep him from being elite.

If Rafael Soriano looks hurt, Jonathan Papelbon looks broken. His velocity chart not only looks scary in that it's down, but it's also all over the place.  Why so erratic? Because of the split finger, his swinging strike rate is still there, but dropping from averaging 95 mph with the Red Sox to 92 mph this year has really hurt his ability to set up hitters for the strikeout. He's given up 17 hits in in 14 innings since the end of June, and it's worse recently -- ten in his last five outings. Problem is, his overall stats still look okay, and with Antonio Bastardo taking a 50-game vacation, the team would have to trust Justin De Fratus and his poor control with the job. Until news of injury comes, Papelbon will keep Papelboning.

Joaquin Benoit seems to have survived the Jose Veras acquisition, so good for his owners. Veras may only get saves when Benoit has pitched in back-to-backs.

Ernesto Frieri is just barely hanging on. His manager is talking about his confidence, and his fantasy managers are handcuffing him with Dane de la Rosa. 12 earned runs in his last seven outings will do that to you. Unfortunately for prognosticators, he's still got the velocity and strikeout rate of a closer, and he even struck out the side with no walks against Toronto on the second of August. That wasn't so long ago. His poor control and homeritis are now at the worst points of his career -- regression says they'll return closer to career rates and he'll be fine. If not, de la Rosa has more control, 95 mph gas of his own, and four pitches to avoid platoon splits. He'd be next.

Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Stephen Strasburg" Tier.)

Huston Street (first chair), Luke Gregerson (second chair), San Diego Padres
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks
Danny Farquhar (first chair), Yoervis Medina (second chair), Seattle Mariners
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Blake Parker (second chair), Pedro Strop (third chair), Chicago Cubs
LaTroy Hawkins (first chair), David Aardsma (second chair), New York Mets
Josh Fields (first chair), Jose Cisnero (second chair), Houston Astros

Stephen Strasburg: Not a bust. Dude has a great ERA and WHIP, and more than a strikeout per inning, as a starter. Sure, only five wins. He doesn't control that. So: Washington Nationals, a bust. Stephen Strasburg: not a bust.

Still think Huston Street is hurt, he always is. Still think J.J. Putz is about to take the job from Brad Ziegler, that's just how it goes for sidearmers with terrible strikeout rates and bad platoon splits.

We told you last week that Danny Farquhar was the guy if Tom Wilhelmsen got popped. What's good news for our new Farquhar owners in the readership (other than that dirty, dirty last name) is that Wilhelmsen is now starting in the minor leagues. With Yoervis Medina still showing unsightly platoon splits that he earned with his arsenal, Farquhar looks like he'll be the closer the rest of the way. He doesn't have the velocity of the guys around him in that pen, but with four pitches and a ton of swinging strikes, he's the man, and his ERA will show it once he his batted ball luck irons out.

Kevin Gregg's strikeout and walk rates are back to where they've been forever. Thanks to 14 walks (and only eight strikeouts) in 15 innings since July first, he's looking very Gregg-ian. Maybe he'll keep his job and do it ugly for the rest of the year. That could pretty much be the title of his autobiography. Blake Parker is ready to give it a shot if the team wants to look forward. He's been better than Pedro Strop recently, and he doesn't walk the lineup.

David Aardsma has the strikeouts, based on a platoon-neutral split finger. LaTroy Hawkins has the velocity by a tick or two, and the control. And a platoon-neutral arsenal. If only he got the strikeouts, too, he'd be an easy pick for the closer. It might depend on how long Parnell will be out. Would the team look to a 40-year-old if Parnell had surgery and might miss a long time? More likely, they'd try out the 31-year-old with a bit of upside remaining.

Good luck divining the Houston bullpen. And actually, shallow mixed leaguers, maybe you should take a pass. There is such a thing as a below-replacement level closer. If the pitcher doesn't strike out a batter per inning, has an ERA over four and a bad WHIP to boot, and only gets occasional save chances… that's not helping. A reliever with pristine rates and no saves would help more. Cisnero has a starter's arsenal, but Fields is the future closer that got the last save. It's his until his control and homeritis lose it for him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


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

No news on Sergio Santos and suddenly he's in the bigs. Ryan Madson got released, so he's not on this list any more. Rafael Betancourt wants to throw a bullpen Friday, and thinks he's on track to be back in a week or two.

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

Jose Veras. But the team affiliation makes it look really weird.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Steals Department

Jonathan Villar got some love from us in the deep league section of the department, but is he making a case for mixed leaguers? I'll make the case for no. It's not clear he's a major leaguer, for one. Even if the gets a chance to make it work, he's striking out in one third of his at-bats. More than 40% of his balls in play are landing for hits, and that won't continue. When it drops closer to the 30% that the league averages, his batting average will drop closer to .200. And it's only .245 as is. He has no power, so now you're talking about rostering a .200 hitter for his steals. Hey, if you're desperate. But if you're that desperate, you're probably in a deep league. (And yes, it was *awesome* when Villar stole home.)

Not to be a negative ninny, but I'm also seeing some love for Rajai Davis as a mixed leaguer and I'm not buying. Over 2400 plate appearances into his career, Davis is a .258 hitter with no power or patience against right-handers. And if you watch the game log closely, you'll see he doesn't quite play every day. A no-power no-patience corner outfielder who's bad against two-thirds of the pitchers in the game is not a mixed league play. Unless you're desperate. I sense a theme.

One guy that is making a case for the jump from deeper leagues to shallower ones is Leonys Martin. With Nelson Cruz popped, Martin has to play every day. We don't have a long major league track record that says he can't hit lefties, and in the minor leagues, his OPS was actually higher against lefties. If he can manage them, even just a little bit, he's an everyday play in all leagues.

An exciting pickup for shallower leaguers that missed out on Villar is his teammate Robbie Grossman. Grossman strikes out a bit too much, but not as much as Villar (23.7%). His batted ball luck is a little lucky-looking, but not as crazy as Villar's either. He's come back from the minors stealing bases in handfuls, and even added a home run Tuesday night. He could hit .250 with power and speed the rest of the way and shouldn't be on wires in deep leagues, particularly in dynasty formats.