With Zack Wheeler's good start last night (even with a few too many walks), it looks like the Mets might have two good young starters finally. Of course, Dillon Gee and his 88 mph fastball at the letters is the meat in that sandwich, so maybe it's a little bread heavy.
One sandwich comment and I'm hungry. And really, there's nothing better than a sandwich: portable, with a meat filling, and a few vegetables to keep the significant other happy. Perfection, and you can grab it with one hand and even eat it without missing any game action.
So our closer tiers this week are named after appropriate sandwiches. Hopefully you like a piece of protein between two carbohydrates as much as I do.
Tier 1: Elite (6) (AKA: The "Breakfast Sandwich" Tier.)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Make the protein an egg, especially a runny one, and then add some accouterment (my favorite is homemade barbecue sauce, tomatoes, and blue cheese), toast the bread, be prepared for a bit of a mess, and you've found a way to my heart. It's the combo of soft, hard, crispy, runny, dairy and veggie that plays up so well… almost like the interplay of a soft sinker against a hard slider you'll find when you watch Sergio Romo for a bit. (Romo did walk two and blow a save last week, but it was the first time he'd walked two in an appearance since 2010!)
Aroldis Chapman was in the news a bit for headhunting, but until he bites off a hunk of head cheese with one of those triple-digit fastballs, he won't face suspension time. Joe Nathan gave up his first run of June, but it didn't matter. Mariano Rivera has walked a batter in four straight. Does it matter yet? Jason Grilli has 51 strikeouts to seven walks, though, and Rivera only 24 strikeouts… Maybe Mo needs to go down a peg. All that leash is worth something though. At least another week in the top tier.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Ground Beef Sandwich" Tier.)
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Edward Mujica, St. Louis Cardinals
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
More commonly known as a "hamburger," the ground beef sandwich might be your favorite. You might not even call it a sandwich. But I ask you: is it not a protein between two pieces of beef? I've had Daniel Boulud's $30 burger, the Shake Shack's best, Keith Hernandez' MexBurger, and had a burger for father's day that had braised pork belly and brie on it. But I'll take a burger off your grill, or one from In and Out (animal style, with medium well fries) and enjoy myself heartily. And I'll enjoy watching most of these pitchers do their job.
Not much to report with most of this tier. There's some lusting after Jonathan Papelbon going on in Detroit, and I suppose that could happen, given Jim Leyland's preference for veterans and that team's need to win now. Mike Adams is struggling and isn't a long-term solution at closer, but he'd probably be first in line. Antonio Bastardo is under team control for another two years, but he's a lefty. Justin DeFratus used to have great strikeout rates in the minors, if he can re-capture some of that magic, he could be a dark horse for the role. He still throws 93 with good control.
Addison Reed blew a save, but it was his second home run allowed this year, and it was Jose Bautista. Happens. Edward Mujica managed to get his last two saves, but he allowed home runs in both and they didn't look easy. He's never really had a home run problem, but then again, he's never thrown more than 60% split-fingers, so we're in uncharted territory really. Nobody throws that many splitters. Rafael Soriano has his strikeout rate looking more respectable after six strikeouts (no walks) in his last three outings. His velocity is even up a bit. Casey Janssen is still the lowest-velocity closer, but his great control is making it work. Uh-oh, three of his four walks on the season have come in the last two weeks. Could that mean something? It's not like he's completely without risk.
Greg Holland will probably never again get his walk rate under three per nine. That's okay when he's striking out double-digit guys per nine innings. But the 3.8 walks per nine he's allowing now? That'll do. There's a little bit of worry -- he's still ten percent worse than the league average at getting strike one, and he's had some terrible walk rates in the past -- but what he's doing now seems sustainable. His walk rate now is the same as his career rate, for example. Before he ever got a save, we liked Greg Holland here at Saves and Steals, and we're sorry we doubted him when he decided to walk the lineup.
Tier 3: OK options (5) (AKA: The "Deli Sandwich" Tier.)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Now you're introducing questions. How clean is the deli. What kind of meat do they have. Who supplies their bread. How long does it all sit around, and is there a good sneeze guard. Most of these guys have questions too.
Glen Perkins might have the least worrisome question. It's really only about how many save opportunities that Twins team will give him. And he'll be valuable even with 32 or 33 saves, given his rates and ratios. Ernesto Frieri is probably fine, but he has a worse career walk rate than Greg Holland, and his walk rate this year is worse than anyone that's closing. At some point, you'd think walking a guy more often than every other inning would come back to haunt you. Jim Johnson seems to have survived his scare, but how valuable is a closer that cedes two to three strikeouts every nine innings to the average closer?
Andrew Bailey is probably fine. There's just no peripheral to get worried about… if he's healthy. Yes, he's blown two saves in June, and allowed three home runs in his last four outings. Yes, he has six walks against his six strikeouts in June, and yes, his walk rate is more than a walk per nine worse than his career average. Yes, it's looked a little shaky, and I've seen some Junichi Tazawa pickups in my leagues. But I'm not worried yet. His strikeout rate is the best of his career, his velocity is fine, and other than using his curve ball less, his pitching mix is about the same. There's no reason for him to be giving up two homers a game. His manager says he's still the closer… for now.
We'll drop Bailey to the bottom of the tier, behind ascending Bobby Parnell. If Glen Perkins can head this tier up, then Bobby Parnell can be a member. He might only get 30 saves or so, but his control looks good, and he's almost at a strikeout per inning. Add in the ground balls and complete lack of homers, and he's looking solid. Not spectacular, but "okay" and that's the name of the game in this tier.
Read about the more volatile closer situations on the next page.
Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Leftover Sandwich" Tier.)
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Veras, Houston Astros
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
I make these all the time. Take some leftovers, add mustard, and put it between two slices of bread. Sometimes -- think meatloaf sandwich -- it's awesome. Sometimes -- think Thai food leftovers -- it doesn't quite work. I'd say the likelihood of the sandwich working out is actually a little more favorable than some of these guys, but you never know. You're nervous, and you should be.
Kenley Jansen moves up, and people wanted him to debut higher. It's fine, I get that, I love Kenley Jansen. But the last time he got the closer's role, he never recorded a save before losing it again. This time, since being named closer, he has one save and has blown a save. He doesn't have leash like others have leash, not with his manager, not in that market with that team. But he does have a great cut fastball, and he's found the ability to command it now that the former catcher has been pitching a while, and with a great first-strike rate, everything looks like all systems go for Jansen. He could keep ascending all season. But I debut new closers at the bottom for a reason. They don't have great leash.
Fernando Rodney: still closing. And yet, in the last week, he's had one strikeout against one walk in two innings, and given up four hits and two runs. I own Jake McGree three times.
Huston Street is back, but I'm not going to debut him any higher despite being an established guy. His stats suggested that something -- something more than a strained calf -- was wrong with Street. His swinging strike, strikeout, walk, home run and velocity numbers were all at or near career worsts. His velocity hasn't returned since he came off the DL, and we'll have to wait to see what's going on with the other numbers. Street is only turning 30 this year, but his peripherals look terribly post-peak.
I got the J.J. Putz call wrong. I'm no doctor, and I put my doctor hat on, and it is looking like it didn't work out. My thinking was this: J.J. Putz has looked hurt all year, he's had elbow trouble in the past, and the last time his numbers looked like this, he lost the year to elbow surgery. The numbers tell us that past DL stints predict future DL stints, and that past elbow troubles predict future elbow problems. I was mostly going by what was known to the public. What was known to Putz' doctors, however, was that he was feeling better. And now he's almost back. This is what fantasy baseball does to normal people, is make them try to divine what is going on in a man's elbow thousands of miles away. And all I can say is, if you want to stay ahead of the RotoWorld ticker, you're sometimes going to need to make calls like this and try to decide how hurt you think a guy is. Sometimes the bear will eat you, though.
Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (6) (AKA: The "Knuckle Sandwich" Tier.)
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Carter Capps (second chair), Yoervis Medina (third chair), Seattle Mariners
Jim Henderson (first chair), John Axford (second chair), Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Valverde (first chair), Joaquin Benoit (second chair), Drew Smyly (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Rex Brothers (first chair), Wilton Lopez (second chair), Colorado Rockies
Vinnie Pestano (first chair), Joe Smith (second chair), Cody Allen (third chair), Cleveland Indians
Steve Cishek (first chair), Mike Dunn (second chair), Miami Marlins
You might say it's not a sandwich at all, but 1) it is, and 2) I could be talking about beef knuckles, you never know. And, either way, it's not enjoyable. Neither is owning these closers.
We're right in the middle of this thing in Seattle. Tom Wilhelmsen was to be given a couple days off of the closer's role, but then he found himself facing Albert Pujols with the game on the line in the eighth inning last night. That he gave up the game-tying homer was bad, but then he went on to retire four more guys, keeping the game tied. Charlie Furbush came on to get a lefty and send it to extras. Extra-inning games are strange, because you never know what the manager is thinking when it comes to keeping pitchers around for future innings. Carter Capps was looking like the guy who was going to come in for Wilhelmsen, but he had pitched in two straight games and given up six runs in less than two innings in those two outings. Has he completely removed himself from the closer's role? If so, Furbush is not the ideal guy, with less-than-closer velocity and the fact that he throws lefty. Capps himself has bad platoon splits, perhaps due to the fact that he doesn't have great command and his secondary pitch is a slider. To top it all off, it was Yoervis Medina that got the save last night, but he has terrible control and also features a slider as his secondary pitch. Maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe Capps was just sitting to rest his arm after two straight. Maybe Wilhelmsen will be fine. I'm betting that Wilhelmsen, who still owns some of the best gas in the pen, and also the best control, will recapture the role. He's lost his fastball command for now, but he's lost and regained that aspect of his game before. This situation is worth tracking, nightly.
Until Francisco Rodriguez gets his two saves, we'll keep Jim Henderson down here. But there's no secondary metric that favors Rodriguez over Henderson, so once the marketing push is over, there's little reason to doubt the Canadian will get his role back. Call him co-first-chairs for now if you must, but K-Rod has little long-term value on this team. He's on a one-year contract, and they need to look to the future.
When your manager is asking the reporters who should close out games, it's not a good sign. We've been saying here that we don't believe Valverde's new-found control, that his home run rate is not a good sign, and that his career-worst velocity (and second-worst swinging strike rate) is a sign of worse to come. His manager says he's still the closer, but also says that they will use him until the team has somebody else better. Could Brian Wilson still resurrect his career? Could Francisco Rodriguez be shipped to Detroit (if so, why didn't they just sign him)? Or maybe these Papelbon rumors have legs. Until Joaquin Benoit is more comfortable pitching in back-to-backs, there's probably not a veteran that will satisfy Leyland on this team.
Rex Brothers is a temp, but he'll probably be the closer there next year. Vinnie Pestano is a temp, and his long-term future is less settled. But Chris Perez got rocked in his first rehab start, so don't drop Pestano yet. Three homers in one inning in Double-A (with a hit batter) is not a great sign that Perez is healthy. Steve Cishek? Still a mediocre pitcher on a bad team.
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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
J.J. Putz (elbow), Arizona Diamondbacks
Chris Perez (shoulder), Cleveland Indians
Rafael Betancourt (groin), Colorado Rockies
J.J. Putz is going on rehab this Thursday. For more on that, look up. Chris Perez is on rehab, but he's looked bad doing it. Rafael Betancourt will probably go on his rehab assignment this weekend. Ryan Madson may start throwing this weekend. Or he may not.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Tom Wilhelmsen's got a toe in this water.
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The Steals Department
With Troy Tulowitzki out, plenty of owners are looking for middle infield replacements. This could be a time to also try to get more speed out of the position. Josh Rutledge is probably the best replacement in terms of five-category upside -- with normal batted ball luck, Rut-Rut should hit .270 or so with power and speed, and he could have more than ten steals left in him. Nick Franklin has similar upside, really, so if Rutledge is gone, look north for a replacement. Andrelton Simmons is starting to attempt to swipe more bags (three in the past two weeks), but he doesn't quite have the stick of the names listed so far. Alexei Ramirez doesn't play in the two-hole every day, but when he does, he tries to steal bags. He'll hit a career high in that category this year.
There might be some short-term deep league adds in the middle infield, too. Everth Cabrera is hurt -- his hamstring, which sucks for his owners -- so the Padres need a shortstop. Alexi Amarista looked pretty terrible at shortstop on Tuesday night, so it could be Pedro Ciriaco getting the call there while E-Cab tends to his busted wheel. Ciriaco has 30-steal upside in a full season, which is a little more than a steal a week. Hey, it's something. Eric Sogard is also playing often enough to matter in Oakland, but his speed upside is not as exciting. He's good for just short of 15 steals a year, so you'd be lucky to squeeze double-digits out of him. At least he's a lefty, and so he's in there 2/3 of the time. DJ LeMahieu doesn't have many skills, and if Josh Rutledge plays well while Troy Tulowitzki is out, he probably won't have a job soon. But for now, he's playing most days in Denver's lineup, and he gets on base, and he can steal double-digit bags. This is the deep league paragraph!