A Shaky Hand

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It was another relatively slow week on the saves front – at least with regards to actually compiling the stat. We’ll have plenty to talk about as we review the tiers! Kenley Jansen and Brad Hand were the only relievers to reach three saves. Seven others nabbed a pair. Mark Melancon retains the season lead with 16 saves. Alex Reyes’ miraculous 14-save season ranks second while six others are tied with 11 saves.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (3)

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox

Chapman allowed his first earned run of the season on Sunday. He coughed up a solo home run to Andrew Vaughn. The Yankees came back and won in the home half of the ninth. It was his second win of the week. Hendriks, it should be noted, was partially responsible for the loss, although you might not notice on his stat sheet. He entered the game with one out and the bases loaded. A walkoff walk to Aaron Judge quickly ended things. Aaron Bummer was officially handed the loss and charged with the run, but Tony La Russa should take most of the blame for trying to unnecessarily squeeze a second inning out of Bummer.

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Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros

Both Kimbrel and Pressly allowed costly unearned runs on Sunday versus the Cardinals and Rangers respectively. For Kimbrel, the Cubs quickly responded, gifting him a win. Pressly was stuck with the loss. Otherwise, it was a quiet week in this tier. Barnes issued a walk in each of his appearances. Keep a close eye on it. If the walk rate regresses to his norms, it’ll be time to sell high and grab more Adam Ottavino shares.

Tier 3: Core Performers (9)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals

Pitching with a two-run deficit, Iglesias allowed a pair of home runs on Friday. He really does struggle in non-save situations. For his career, he has a 2.45 ERA in save situations and a 3.58 ERA in all other appearances (that does include 21 starts from 2015 and 2016). His 5.19 ERA this season is rather unfortunate, but I’m more interested in his ERA-estimators which suggest he should have a mid-2.00s ERA.

Walks plagued Jansen earlier in the season, but he seems to be settling down. Another clean week and I’ll return him to the second tier. He got away with his earlier struggles because he isn’t allowing many hits. A .103 BABIP is ludicrously fortunate. Luckily, if he’s back on track, he won’t have to deal with any painful regression – the walks will be replaced with singles. In fact, with his daily velocities continuing to sit at career-bests, this could turn out to be his best season since his 2017 campaign.

The Indians have recently dealt with hiccups from Karinchak and Clase. On Monday, Clase saved the day while pitching around a single and a pair of walks. Since May 12, he’s issued eight free passes in just 6.1 innings. He’s usually stingy. Karinchak has a longer history with high walk rates. He’s handed out eight walks in his last 7.2 innings. The Twins tagged him with a loss on Sunday. He’s pitched three of the last four days so look for Clase to work tonight.

Last Wednesday, Castillo came on in a “big spot” to protect a three-run lead from the middle of the Orioles lineup. In the ninth, Pete Fairbanks picked up the easy save. Castillo should earn most of the Rays saves. He picked up a wild extra-innings win on Friday and a save on Saturday. He’ll likely bleed a few to Fairbanks and the like.

There’s no update on Smith, he pitched fine this week. However, Chris Martin is building his way towards more high leverage work. They entered the season expected to share the job with Martin taking on the bulk. He’s an unusual closer but can be counted on to get the job done when healthy – kind of a budget Melancon.

Hand had a volatile week, allowing three runs on a pair of home runs in four appearances. He ended on a high note with a couple relatively low stress saves. While he has the tools to rebound, his performance to date suggests he should be on the hot seat. Daniel Hudson, long a pitcher I’ve advised against investing in, has seemingly found another gear. Perhaps it’s the new baseball. His fly ball-centric approach is yielding easy outs and more whiffs than ever before. Breaking from this column’s tradition, I recommend stashing Hudson.

Tier 4: Upside (5)

Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Taylor Rogers, Hansel Robles, Minnesota Twins

Reyes was finally touched for a home run on Sunday. It cost the Cardinals the game. Despite his deal-with-the-devil caliber good fortune, it’s going to take several more missteps before he loses his job to the vastly superior Giovanny Gallegos.

Dylan Floro inked a rare save on Monday. Garcia was resting from a busy span. Both pitchers have performed similarly. Garcia offers some strikeout upside but could turn homer prone at any moment. Floro’s high ground ball rate is a stabilizing influence. Garcia remains the sole closer in Miami.

The Twins bullpen was busy this week. Rogers appeared four times, picking up a couple holds and a save. Alex Colome tossed a couple clunkers for the first time since he was demoted. Hansel Robles also came on in a save situation on Sunday. He blew it but the Twins offense was kind enough to bail him out for a win. Notably, Rogers pitched before Robles in that game. As warned, this is looking like a committee.

Tier 5: Assorted Messes (9)

Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Kyle Zimmer, Kansas City Royals
Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Jordan Romano, Tyler Chatwood, Rafael Dolis, Toronto Blue Jays
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Sean Doolittle, Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Stefan Crichton, Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Daniel Bard, Carlos Estevez, Mychal Givens, Colorado Rockies

Staumont labored to a long, ugly blown save on Saturday. Both he and Barlow were resting yesterday when Zimmer was called in to salvage a for a two-out save. He’s pitched quite a bit like Floro this season – a 2.65 ERA with 8.47 K/9, 3.18 BB/9, and a 51.3 percent ground ball rate. He’s relied on soft contact to bolster his run prevention. Staumont is still failing to induce sufficient swing and miss rates.

Valdez’s gimmick might be losing its effectiveness. Since May 11, he’s allowed six runs and 12 hits in 3.2 innings. Or maybe he’s just be ultimately unlucky (.600 BABIP). The Orioles don’t have any reason to care, but it should be noted that Cole Sulser and Paul Fry are pitching well. Hunter Harvey is on the rehab trail too.

Sunday was a rough day for closers. Fulmer took the loss via a two-run home run. Soto filled the setup role. Also on Sunday, Chatwood picked up the rare hold-and-loss combo meal. He was credited with allowing four runs, although some of those scored after he left the game. It was his first shaky outing of the season. I still consider him the best closer candidate in that bullpen. Romano is heating up (18.00 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 1.29 ERA since May 13) while Dolis is scuffling.

The Reds bullpen remains a mess. Antone is a true relief ace. He would rank soundly in the second tier if he were the Cincy closer. Since he’s also an above average starter, the club is being cagey about giving him a high leverage role beyond “stopper.” I think we’ve likely passed the point of no return – Antone looks like the latest in a long line of could-have-been-starters who got stuck in relief. He recently touched triple-digits on the gun. Saves will continue to be distributed between Antone and the other three listed here.

The Mariners are without Graveman due to illness. Middleton seems like the first choice for saves, but he’s only been used on consecutive days once this season. Given his injury history, that’s likely not a coincidence. Neither he nor Montero have pitched well this season. Soria has performed respectably since returning from injury. He should recover the closer job from Crichton imminently. Add him while you still can – just don’t expect an exciting stat line. Estevez earned a save on Monday. Bard was unavailable after pitching the previous two games. He’s rebounded lately.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners (COVID-list)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 4 SB (11 SB total)
Jurickson Profar, San Diego Padres, 3 SB (8 SB total)
14 Others, 2 SB

Tatis has now attempted 13 steals (including two caught stealings) in 133 plate appearances. That’s easy math – a steal attempt every 10 plate appearances. It’s not like we can do anything with this situation. You either already have him or you don’t.

Profar offers a juicier hook for analysis. Despite entering the season as a bench player, he’s compiled 162 plate appearances. Recently, he’s hitting near the top of the lineup. He’s only rostered in 27 percent of Yahoo leagues. It’s been a weird season for him. His solid .255/.350/.328 batting line is backed by career-best plate discipline and a career-worst contact profile. Among qualified hitters, only the likes of David Fletcher, Nick Madrigal, Nicky Lopez, Myles Straw, Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman, and Elvis Andrus have made less hard contact. That puts Profar squarely in the company of occasionally decent, often mediocre utility men. Still, as long as he’s hitting near the top of the Padres lineup, he’s usable in 10-team leagues and deeper.

Of the folk with two steals, a few interesting names can be found. Amed Rosario is getting more chances batting second. Odubel Herrera is batting near the top of the lineup against right-handed pitchers while Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are out. Jonathan Villar is the Mets leadoff hitter while they try to stay afloat through injury Armageddon. The Rays figuring out a way to squeeze value from Brett Phillips is perhaps the most Rays thing I’ve seen since they traded a top-flight pitching prospect for a not-quite-starting outfielder named Randy Arozarena. Oh yea, he’s on the list too!

Speed Spotlight

Let’s circle back to one of the names above. Odubel Herrera was dismissed from the Phillies 40-man roster back in 2019 due to a domestic violence allegation. He wasn’t invited to the 2020 alternate site and was a grudging inclusion on the 2021 Spring Training roster. Had the club adequately addressed center field, he likely would have been dismissed prior to the season.

However, the Phillies did not address center field, instead opting to rely on the likes of Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, and Herrera. That’s not gone well, although the late inclusion of Herrera (he was first recalled on April 26) has ameliorated the damage. In 103 plate appearances, he’s batting .258/.343/.382 with two home runs and three steals. It’s passable production by any measure and a big upgrade on the pitcher-caliber output of the club’s other center fielders. Herrera has even chipped in adequate center field defense.

On the surface, this is a typical season for Herrera. He typically performs in this range. A closer examination reveals career-best plate discipline and a career-low launch angle. By Statcast measures, he also has a career-best 45.2 percent hard contact rate (other sources disagree, crediting him with a normal-for-him 29.2 percent hard contact rate). A 112.5-mph max exit velocity is slight worse than his norm but still well-above league average.

All of which is to say he’s hitting well, seems to have made real improvements, and could have another gear to unlock. A little more loft in his swing would greatly bolster his extra base hit contact, especially with Citizen’s Bank Park to help fuel a few extra home runs.

We’re here to talk about speed though. He ranks in the 70th percentile per Statcast, tied with the likes of Harper, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Tim Anderson, and Brett Phillips. These are speedy players even if they aren’t elite runners. It gives us a sense that a 20-steal pace is within reach. Further bolstering the case, Herrera also happens to have the 31st-best home-to-first time at 4.24 seconds. As a left-handed hitter, that can be slightly misleading. However, it demonstrates that his upper sprint speeds are quickly accessible. For instance, teammate Alec Bohm can reach the same sprint speed as Herrera. However, his 4.55 second home-to-first speed is considerably slower and helps explain why he isn’t a stolen base threat.

Herrera has seemingly seized the everyday center field job. With luck, he’ll also lay claim to a top of the lineup role. With the right breaks and adjustment, another 12 home runs and 20 steals could be within reach along with a positive batting average and run production. To be clear, these are very aspirational targets; a best case scenario. Given his basically free acquisition cost in all formats, it’s worth the risk.