Going All Out For Saves

Eno Sarris

Bryce Harper forgot where he was for a second. It only cost him a few stitches and a game or two. But we were provided with quite the spectacle.

There have been quite a few outfield run-ins with walls in the past, and since all of these guys are okay, let's do the most natural thing we can with them: rank 'em. This is not to promote collisions, or to laugh at others' pain. This is meant just to have a little fun now that the dust has cleared.

So the tiers this week are named after notable outfield collisions. In honor of their sacrifice for our enjoyment.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Rodney McCray" Tier.)

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

Rodney McCray is the king of outfield collisions. He's the one that ran through the wall to make the out. If you're not familiar, check out the video. It's highly impressive work.

These guys are still doing impressive work. Consider this: Mariano Rivera just reached 16 saves faster than he ever has before. He's 43. Coming off ACL surgery. Let's not mention that he he's only struck out one guy in his last six appearances. That might not matter this year. Aroldis Chapman has walked four guys in his last four appearances, too: the five strikeouts make it better, but it's worth remembering that he has had control issues. (And then forgetting.)

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "Aaron Rowand" Tier.)

Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron Rowand might be the name that most immediately came to mind. He made the big catch in a tight moment and sacrificed his nose. That's fine, he got a good contract for it.

Jim Johnson didn't respond to his promotion that well -- a blown save -- but he's still showing the best strikeout rate of his career. And one of his lesser ground-ball rates. It's true: there's a choice between strikeouts and ground balls to an extent. Ground balls come on balls low in the zone, and strikeouts come on balls higher in the zone. Generalizations aside, he's having a good season even if he cedes two strikeouts per nine on the average closer. His blown save Tuesday night does highlight the risk of allowing balls in play, however.

He's moving above the two struggling veterans. And it may not look like Jonathan Papelbon is struggling by ERA and WHIP, but his strikeout and whiff rates are at a career low. By almost half. And so is his velocity. Not by half. Rafael Betancourt is in the same exact situation, but his whiff and strikeout rates are better off. (And so is his team -- since they score more often, it probably means more save opportunities, too.)

Oh and hey, Jason Grilli got a Kimbrel! His second of the year.

Tier 3: OK options (6) (AKA: The "Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson" Tier.)

Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

This one suffers from a bout of realism. When this one happened, nobody was sure that Johnny Damon would be okay. He ended up on a stretcher and in an ambulance, and it turned out to be a concussion, but it was pretty dicey in the moment. Not much enjoyment, despite the spectacular collision. Certainly Jermain Dye didn't enjoy it, as he was thrown out at second, somehow. 

These guys are all good. But there's a little fear that they won't work out completely right. Like, I've been worried that Casey Janssen's strikeout rate would eventually match his terrible velocity, but it hasn't. Not so far at least. He's given up one hit in his last nine appearances even. Of course, he's also only struck out seven guys in those appearances, so maybe his strikeout rate is dipping, but with Sergio Santos having surgery, and everything looking free and easy for Janssen now, there's less to worry about.

Grant Balfour looks fine, but his control has been missing recently -- he has six walks in his last eight appearances, and his slider has been missing spots. Glen Perkins has a Kimbrel this year, but only eight saves and a team that might go south soon. Addison Reed's strikeout rate is back up into elite territory even though his gas is down a tick, but with his great first-strike rate and long minor league track record of outstanding control, he should show a better walk rate soon. Should.

Fernando Rodney is obviously a risk, but he's settled down some. He has two walks in his last four appearances -- and a Kimbrel! -- but of course if you go five appearances back you get a two-walk blown save with a home run to boot. He's four walks away from matching his 2012 walk total, and he's already given up as many home runs as he did last year. No matter what, it won't be a repeat.

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

Tier 4: Question marks (7) (AKA: The "Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran" Tier.)

Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Huston Street, San Diego Padres

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to have two center fielders on the same team? You think it's all well and good until they both think they can get to a ball and boom one of them is having facial reconstruction surgery.

Some might have Edward Mujica higher than this, and there's reason for that. He's got 15 strikeouts against one walk and a history of great control. Here's my one tiny problem -- he's throwing the split-finger 64% of the time. That could be some sort of modern-day record. That pitch has a terrible called-strike percentage, so it depends on him being ahead in the count. With his excellent control, maybe that's fine. But if he slips at all, he'll have to rely much more on his fastball, and will lose strikeouts because of it. Also, he has one of the best setup men in the league behind him in Trevor Rosenthal, and that might matter eventually… just look to Los Angeles.

Some of the guys in this tier are settling into their old selves after some turbulence. Greg Holland's rates are all looking just like last years (with a few more strikeouts to boot!), and he just needs to stop giving up hits on 45% of balls in play (30% is the league average) to improve his WHIP and ERA. This is pretty much Steve Cishek, too, if you subtract a few homers. And that park should help him subtract those homers eventually. The team won't score enough runs to give him many save opportunities, though. Bobby Parnell is a better pitcher than Cishek, but he's got even fewer saves, thanks to his team. His team can score a few more runs, though, so expect him to end up with a better saves total. Ernesto Frieri would move up, based on his strikeouts and the possibility that his team turns things around and offers him save pops, except that Ryan Madson lurks and his walk rate is almost two per every three innings. No matter, Frieri has only blown four saves in 34 chances with the Angels, and he's probably got a little leash.

Let's move Hendo up! That will, of course, guarantee a great week from John Axford and more talk of getting him back in the closer's role. The thing about Axford is that his walk rate is decent for him. His velocity is still down a couple ticks -- more 94 than 96 -- but the real problem is the home run. He's giving up almost four per nine. Jim Henderson's velocity is better right now, his strikeout rate is better, and his walk rate is great. He hasn't given up a home run either. Doubt his manager wants to change roles right now.

Huston Street blew a save last week. With his reduced gas, and whiff rate, that's news.

Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Bryce Harper" Tier.)

Kenley Jansen (first chair), Brandon League (second chair), Los Angeles Dodgers
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Kyuji Fujikawa (second chair), Carlos Marmol  (third chair), Chicago Cubs
Junichi Tazawa (first chair), Koji Uehara (second chair), Boston Red Sox
Heath Bell  (first chair), David Hernandez (second chair),, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jose Valverde (first chair), Joaquin Benoit (second chair), Bruce Rondon (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Jose Veras (first chair), Hector Ambriz (second chair), Houston Astros

I considered putting Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell on here because they managed to run into each other twice, but that's a bit silly. Bryce Harper's is a bit funny now that he's fine -- he missed the ball, and then had no idea the fence was coming. Whoops

We all had some idea this was coming in Los Angeles. The change hasn't been made official yet, but Kenley Jansen got the last save in L.A., and it was a long time coming. Brandon League always had the velocity on his competitor, but he didn't get the strikeout rates you like from a closer. That kept his upside down, and also allowed too many balls into play. In the end, it was the home runs that sunk his ship. And now Jansen, who throws his cut fastball 91 mph and almost 90% of the time, is there to try and replicate Mariano Rivera's success. No joke -- there's something to that comparison. Give him a watch. And make sure he's picked up in all of your leagues. (He probably was, a long time ago.)

Still don't believe in Kevin Gregg. Every peripheral is wrong. He's been extremely lucky on balls in play. He's a fly ball guy, and hasn't given up a home run. He has meh control, and always has. His velocity is at a career low, and at 91, his fastball (which he throws two-thirds of the time) is not impressive. The split-finger that he's throwing more often now might be helping his strikeout rate, but it's been since 2009 since he's struck out a batter per inning. With Kyuji Fujikawa on the mend, this pen's fate is not yet decided. Fuji has a 91 mph fastball, a great splitter, and way better control than Gregg.

We're still waiting on the first save of Junichi Tazawa's tenure, but we already have his first blown opportunity, as he gave up a home run to lose a tie game last week. Andrew Bailey is supposedly close to returning. You know what, though. Tazawa has a really nice pitching mix, and it's good to know he's next in line when Andrew Bailey gets an owie. Because he will get an owie.

Yeah I got the Arizona call wrong. I thought, after years of waiting on David Hernandez, and collecting five-plus saves a season along the way, that it was obviously his job once J.J. Putz went down. Looks like Kevin Towers likes his Heath Bell. Bell blew a save, but he got so much work (three nights in a row) that Hernandez needed to come in and get a save in his stead. Bell's velocity is not back to where it was when he was an elite closer, and neither is his whiff rate, but both are good enough to be a closer for a couple of months, provided fewer balls in play find grass in the future. The homer rate won't necessarily improve, though, considering his home park, and Hernandez is still a decent speculative play.

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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Andrew Bailey (biceps), Boston Red Sox
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
J.J. Putz (elbow), Arizona Diamondbacks

Sergio Santos is having elbow surgery. He'll be out six weeks, at least. Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson should be back within the week. Jason Motte and Joel Hanrahan are out for the year with their respective surgeries. J.J. Putz has a sprained UCL, and that could still mean surgery (despite the claims of the team), but for now, they're going to shut him down and wait. And the D-Backs are hopeful he'll be back this season.

The Deposed

Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers

Dunno if John Axford is any close to resurrection, but the other two look like they'll stay here. Too soon on Brandon League? Dunno, Ned, but that contract was a doozy.

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The Steals Department

Adam Eaton is close to returning, perhaps a week or two away now. It's hard to imagine he'll step right into center field duties, but that was the plan in the spring, so it wouldn't be that much of as stretch. In his favor is his defense. It's better than Gerardo Parra's defense, for one. And though A.J. Pollock has been good in the field, the Arizona Republic is reporting that he'll be sent down when Eaton is ready. Even in a half-season, Eaton could approach twenty steals, so he's worth a stash. Provided his elbow is healthy.

Aaron Hicks is percolating. He had a two-homer game this week, and has been striking out less in May. At 31%, he struck out too much in March to have a passable batting average despite his power and speed. At 22%, he might be able to approach a league average batting average. Considering the league's batting around .250 right now, that's not entirely impressive, but he does have some wheels and some pop. If they continue to leave him in every day -- and really they should, they aren't contenders this year -- fantasy owners might be able to benefit from a .250 batting average, double-digit home runs, and 15-20 steals over the rest of the season. That's worthwhile.

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