Legendary & Ordinary Meltdowns

Eno Sarris

Sometimes things don't go my one-year-old's way, and he gets a little frustrated. Maybe he'll throw a car and shout a dinosaur scream. Sometimes things don't go our way when it comes to closers. Maybe we'll shout a cuss word and drop a player prematurely. Sometimes things don't go Miguel Olivo's way and he takes it out on equipment.

We have to vent, after all. Some of us vent better than others, or at least more explosively.

So, in honor of all the meltdowns that we're seeing in bullpens around the league, we'll name the tiers after epic destruction. Because it's fun.

Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Carlos Perez and The Water Cooler" Tier.)

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

The best detail in this story is that Carlos Perez "struck the objects 14 times before disappearing into the tunnel." The author must have watched the video a few times to get that number right, and enjoyed Carlos Perez going absolutely nuts over and over and over again.

Craig Kimbrel finally got a Kimbrel -- three strikeouts and no base runners -- but he's been great without them. Joe Nathan started the year with a Kimbrel, and has only one walk all season, that's elite. Aroldis Chapman has a two Kimbrels and is humming right along with 21 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.

And now, going Carlos Perez on the league for one final time, Mariano Rivera deserves to be in the elite tier. After a good week -- six strikeouts in three and a third innings, with four saves -- his swinging strike rate is back up to normal, he's striking out more than a batter per inning, and it's just his ground-ball rate that's missing. And we know he has Hall-of-Fame style leash. No way they're going to take him out of the role this year.

Tier 2: Rock Steady (6) (AKA: The "George Brett and The Pine Tar" Tier.)

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

This one is no lesser in terms of bat guano crazy eyes, but it is different because Brett had a better reason. Since we all know the details, and could perhaps put ourselves in his perplexed state, we know that this isn't really as crazy as it gets. Just mad.

Sergio Romo is the look in George Brett's eyes right now. He's fire. As a fastball/slider guy with barely 90 mph velocity, he looked like a ROOGY at one point -- a righty one-out guy that could only get righties out. But he's developed a change up and has worked on his two-seamer so that he has more weapons against lefties, and it shows. He's excellent.

Two years ago, Rafael Betancourt had eight strikeouts in a full year. This year, he already has six. It's still safer to assume that he'll go back to elite walk rates, but coupled with a career-worst velocity and swinging strike rate, there's definitely worry here. The handcuff isn't obvious either. Well, it's probably Rex Brothers, who has been groomed for the role, has the best strikeout rate in the pen (other than Adam Ottavino), and has the most gas in the pen -- those are the thing best associated with closer changes. Also, Brothers has the most holds, so he's being used in high-leverage innings. Might be a good pickup if you're looking for saves and have to be ahead of the game.

The Grilled Cheese Incident, Jason Grilli, kept his velocity increase despite his advanced age, and now he has 17 strikeouts in 11 innings. He even owns a Kimbrel. He just gave up his first earned run, and the Pirates are giving him save opportunities by the bushel. You never know with that team in the stretch run, but if they can keep scoring enough runs, Grilli will be the value of the year.

Tier 3: OK options (8) (AKA: The "Hal McRae and The Phone" Tier.)

Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

Really, this one is just funny. I mean watch that video. He hits the reporter with a phone! That's great. Doesn't seem really crazy. It's funny!

I'm worried about J.J. Putz. I won't throw the phone at him, but I'm worried. He blew the save last night by allowing a home run to Pablo Sandoval, but the problems have been there all year. He has excellent control typically, but is walking five per nine this year. The last time he walked this many batters, he ended up missing half of 2009 with injury. His velocity is at a career low, and the team has a ready-made replacement that is signed past the end of the season in David Hernandez. Right now, Hernandez is showing better control and more gas, if not more strikeouts, and he hasn't let one of his own base runners score all year. Hernandez is a decent pickup.

We have to move Casey Janssen up. I don't understand how he wrings that strikeout rate out of that middling stuff, but he does have excellent control. He hasn't walked a guy all year. Perhaps he has excellent command, too, and that's getting the most out of a 90 mph fastball, 89 mph cutter, and 74 mph curve ball. Sergio Santos isn't even healthy, and Steve Delabar can't find the zone. He's safe. I don't get it, but he's safe.

Fernando Rodney is Fernando Rodney again. I've been saying it since the end of the season last year when I did the keeper closer rankings and left Rodney to the very bottom. His last year with the Angels, Rodney walked 7.88 batters per nine. This year, he's walking 7.56 batters per nine. It's safe to say he'll walk fewer batters -- or lose his job -- but the preponderance of the evidence suggests that he just doesn't have great control. He's getting the first pitch strike, though, and so his walk rate should get better. But remember the old Fernando Rodney. The old-old one.

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

Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Roberto Alomar and The Spit" Tier.)

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels

Robert Alomar was really mad, and sort of crazy, but the whole thing was really just more sad and disgusting once spittle was involved. A garden variety Scream At The Ump gone wrong.

Greg Holland is the king of the iffy crowd, as he survived a bad stretch, is throwing with more gas than anyone on here, and strikeout out a whopping 17 batters per nine. He hasn't walked a guy in six appearances, and has two Kimbrels over that stretch. He's another good week away from moving up.

Bobby Parnell might move back up soon. His blown save Monday was a bit of a tough luck blown save, with an assist from some iffy defense from his team. And though Brandon Lyon took the ball in a save situation Tuesday, it might have been because Parnell had pitched two nights in a row. So when Lyon blew that save, it probably made Parnell a little safer. There's a little worry that Parnell has blown two saves against two successful saves, and that he's only struck out three batters in his last six appearances, but he's still the closer there.

The rest of these guys are still closers, but they've all hit some bumps. Well, Brandon League has only blown one save, but he also only has four strikeouts in eleven innings. That'll cost your team no matter the format. And it's a lot of balls in play. Sometimes those balls will find grass. Steve Cishek gave up two home runs over the last week, but only lost one game. Huston Street had a clean slate week and might just be able to make the reduced velocity work, with excellent control and good stuff. Ernesto Frieri throws the ball five miles per hour harder, but has control problems. He's walked a guy in all but three of his ten appearances, and three in a two, and he blew the save in Monday's epic game. Ryan Madson inches closer.

Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Milton Bradley and The Knee" Tier.)

Edward Mujica (first chair), Trevor Rosenthal (second chair), St. Louis Cardinals
Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Veras (first chair), Rhiner Cruz (second chair), Hector Ambriz (third chair), Houston Astros
Andrew Bailey (first chair), Joel Hanrahan (second chair) Junichi Tazawa (third chair), Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde (first chair), Joaquin Benoit (second chair), Bruce Rondon (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Kevin Gregg (first chair), Carlos Marmol  (second chair), Chicago Cubs

Now that Milton Bradley thing -- where he went all nuts on the umpire and tore a knee ligament in the process -- was all kinds of crazy, and angry, and definitely a meltdown. But the result just makes you feel dirty about your fandom, in a way. Were we complicit in that episode somehow? Could we have done something so that it didn't happen? Probably not, but it can make you feel icky.

Like rostering some of these closers.

Well, Edward Mujica will move up with another good week. It's just that Trevor Rosenthal has the gas and strikeouts to make his owners nervous, so I'm going to wait one more week. And Jason Motte is actually throwing, too. Jim Henderson is doing nothing wrong, but John Axford is getting better, and getting mentioned by his manager. Jose Veras is just a mediocre pitcher in a pen so bad that he's the best pitcher. And that team won't give him a ton of save opportunities.

The Hammer is back, but without a save opportunity, we can't be sure he's going to get back in the role. He gave up a run in his first outing, too. But they traded for him to be the closer, and hamstring notwithstanding, he's usually healthier than Andrew Bailey. Not that we're saying a ton there. Once he gets going, all it will take is a few walk-less outings to get his role back, but of course that's no given either. For now, it looks like it's Bailey.

I'll continue to say I don't believe in Jose Valverde. It's a three-inning sample, but his swinging strike rate is no better than it was last year, and his velocity is even worse. He's not even throwing the split finger for some reason, and we know we can't believe a zero walk rate from the Big Potato. Joaquin Benoit even got a save since Valverde has been up. I bet the Tigers will be looking to upgrade that spot this year.

In some ways, it's nice to see the goggled Kevin Gregg back in this piece. He was a favorite whipping boy, as we correctly predicted he wouldn't finish his first season as an Oriole in the closer role, and have always pointed out how bad his control is and how middling his strikeout rates are. But this year he's bettered both of those and looks resurgent in Chicago. It's five innings. It's nice to see him throw a ton of splitters, but it's still five innings, and the best long-term bet is still on Kyuji Fujikawa.

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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Kyuji Fujikawa (forearm), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Blue Jays

Kyuji Fujikawa is throwing, and could begin rehab on Sunday. Ryan Madson should face live hitters soon, maybe. Sergio Santos is throwing, and targeting mid-May. Jason Motte actually felt no pain the last time he threw!

The Deposed

Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals

John Axford is itching to get up off this list. Would be unfair to put Andrew Bailey here because 1) that would be premature and 2) he was just a fill-in closer.

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The Steals Department

With steals still down around baseball, it's tough out there. Most of my waiver wires boast three-steal candidates as the best available. So, even though Andrelton Simmons only has one steal, maybe he's worth picking up. He's improved his walk rate this year and is starting to stake his claim to a spot at the top of the lineup. With better batted ball luck, he should be able to hit .275+ the rest of the way, and if he's atop the lineup, he could still steal twenty with double-digit home runs. Or, if Juan Pierre is out there, you just stomach the lack of playing time against lefties, the total lack of power, and roster the dude while you wait for his batting average on balls in play to stabilize -- and hope he isn't traded to a contender to fill a backup role.

It looks like the big winner while Jason Heyward is out will be Jordan Schafer. And if he can keep his strikeout rate around the 20.6% he's showing now, he actually has a chance of hitting around .250, with an on-base percentage over .310. Add in real speed, and you've got a guy you can use in deeper leagues. If you don't ever let him bat against lefties, you might even be able to push that OBP up to .325+.

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