Saves and Steals

Fry in the Mess Hall

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: June 9, 2021, 5:13 pm ET

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Lucas Sims was the surprise saves leader in the last week. He was the only closer to polish off three games. Twelve others finished two saves. Mark Melancon retained his stranglehold atop the seasonal leaderboard with 19 saves. Alex Reyes (16) and Liam Hendriks (15) round out the top three. Aside from a few minor injuries, things have remained quite stable in Closerland.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (4)

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

No news to report here – just a bunch of clean, dominant outings. If we’re really squinting for something to discuss, it’s a tad concerning that Chapman has walked eight batters across his last 12 appearances.

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Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Only Barnes tripped up this week. He pitched three consecutive days. On the third, after a pair of clean outings, he issued two walks and a hit to allow a run. The offense bailed him out to supply a win. Pitchers really ought not work three days in a row so I usually overlook these sorts of incidents – except as a temporary indicator of increased injury risk. Barnes’ backup, Adam Ottavino, also worked three in a row and had his own third-day misadventure. Fortunately, he was protecting a three-run lead so he hung on for the save.

Tier 3: Core Performers (5)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals

Again, there isn’t much to report. Neris missed a chunk of the week on paternity leave. Smith was particularly busy, pitching on four occasions. It wasn’t his sharpest performance. He allowed a run in two of the outings. Neither cost the Braves a win. He’s worked three of the last four days so we might see Chris Martin close tonight. Hand has continued his recent trend of working in the 93-to-94-mph range with his fastball. That’s on par with his career-high set in 2017-2018 (93.5-mph).

Tier 4: Upside (9)

Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, Tampa Bay Rays
Tyler Rogers, Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Hansel Robles, Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
Lucas Sims, Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds

The Blue Jays haven’t produced any save opportunities lately, so we have no new information about their preferences. Romano also hasn’t appeared in a week. Rafael Dolis pitched a couple times in lopsided games.

Rodriguez botched a save on Saturday in what turned out to be an exciting 12-inning contest. He’s now allowed a run or more in three of his last four appearances.

Reyes pitched once in the last week. He allowed a solo home run in a tied game and was handed the loss. His ridiculous walk rate remains a looming problem. It’s simply not possible to succeed in the Majors for a full season while issuing a free pass per inning (8.10 BB/9).

Clase had a couple solid appearances while Karinchak showed up to face one solitary batter who he retired without issue. Hopefully both are sharper going forward thanks to the rest. They’re both premium relievers trying to escape mini-slumps.

Last Wednesday, Garcia faced seven batters and recorded only one out. He allowed three runs in the process. He’s since rebounded with a couple solid outings. He did allow an extra-inning rule runner to score, but they hardly count (don’t worry fantasy managers, they’re unearned runs). His competition, Dylan Floro, was treated to a similar drubbing the next day. I’d say Garcia is pretty safe for now.

Feyereisen was briefly atop the Rays pecking order. Whatever metrics the Rays have that suggest otherwise, he’s continued to perform like a below average reliever. Although he’s gotten away with it, he’s totaled six walks over his last 2.2 innings. Castillo has earned the Rays two most recent saves with Fairbanks also rounding into late-2020 form.

As handedness tends to dictate, Rogers has emerged as the most-days closer for a surprisingly competitive Giants club. It feels silly to say this about a large market club… they’re the Rays of the AL West with the Dodgers and Padres playing the roles of the Yankees and Red Sox. Rogers isn’t the sharpest fantasy asset because of his nonexistent strikeout rate. McGee alone would rank somewhere around Hand or Romano.

Robles and Rogers had nearly mirrored weeks. Each earned a loss, a save, and a hold in three appearances. Rogers’ loss was more galling. He allowed two runs on three hits. Robles fell afoul of an error although he did walk two batters. Walks have plagued him in general this season (5.74 BB/9).

The Reds late-innings picture has simplified recently. Sims has five saves in his last six appearances, indicating he is the closer du jour. While he’s pitched well over that span, it hasn’t been without hiccups. For instance, he’s coughed up two hits in three straight outings. Antone continues to lurk as a multi-inning fireman. Disappointingly, the Reds have opted to leave him in the bullpen while lesser pitchers like Vladimir Gutierrez join the rotation. If that’s the master plan, they should just get it over with and name Antone the closer. He’d instantly rank in the third tier.

Tier 5: Mess Hall (8)

Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Paul Fry, Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles|
Josh Sborz, Brett Martin, Joely Rodriguez, Texas Rangers
Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Stefan Crichton, Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trivino’s hold on the Athletics closer role is strengthening. Since a five-run disaster on Cinco de Mayo, he hasn’t allowed a single earned run in 10.1 innings. It’s not a sustainable sort of success though – he’s recorded just six strikeouts and five walks in the same period.

Staumont had a blissfully brief stint on the Injured List. In two appearances since returning, he’s allowed two runs on three hits and a homer. His fastball was back down in the 94-mph range for his most recent outing. This is a recent trend and likely indicates an injury issue. Healthy or not, I don’t understand why Barlow isn’t closing. He’s a legitimate high-octane reliever with two above average breaking balls.

Bard suddenly has third tier caliber stats. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in nearly a month. I’m still wary of Coors Field. Since a disaster on May 2, he has a 0.60 ERA with 13.80 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, and a 57.1 percent ground ball rate.

Cisnero has two consecutive saves in Detroit. He’s pitched decently since the start of 2020, compiling around a 3.50 ERA, 11.00 K/9, and 3.15 BB/9 in just under 55 innings. He’s also a fly ball pitcher with a possible home run problem so don’t be shocked if he implodes.

Fry picked up the Orioles most recent save last Friday. Sulser played setup man and earned the win. Both look like passable closers who would rank higher if their role were cemented. However, the real news is the return of Hunter Harvey. After a forgettable rehab stint, he’s pitched three times to modest results. His fastball is sitting at a career-low 96.6-mph. It might take him a bit to get up to speed.

With Ian Kennedy temporarily sidelined, Sborz appears to be next in line. He features a 96-mph fastball and a pair of solid breaking balls. He probably fits best as a good middle reliever or adequate setup man. Martin is a different sort of pitcher, built on a hefty ground ball rate and nibbling edges. Rodriguez, despite an eyesore 7.71 ERA, would be my personal first choice if not for allowing 12 runs over his last 5.2 innings. This is mostly terrible BABIP luck and a couple ill-timed home runs. Rodriguez has one of the best combinations of high ground ball and strikeout rates.

The Middleton-Montero duumvirate is a mess. I’d still roll with them over Crichton.


Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners (COVID-list)
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers (hamstring)
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (strained shoulder)

Fulmer is expected to return after a minimum stay on the Injured List. Kennedy’s hamstring strain is described as “mild” which usually implies a Grade 1 strain. These usually clear up with modest treatment in a few days, although I’ve seen players stay on the shelf for up to a month – ostensibly to treat whatever underlying condition caused the strain in the first place. Graveman threw live batting practice a few days ago and should be nearing a return.


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

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Ronald Acuna, 3 SB
Tommy Pham, 3 SB
Derek Hill, 3 SB
8 Others, 2 SB

Continuing a season-long theme, stolen bases were rather uncommon this week. Acuna is among the league leaders with 11 swipes. Two of them came against the Dodgers and Blake Treinen. It’s good to see Pham off to the races. He had such a painful first quarter of the season. Since a promotion to leadoff on May 22, he’s hitting .276/.432/.500 with five steals (caught once) in 74 plate appearances. As for Hill, he’s long lurked in the Detroit farm system as a statistical compiler. While he has non-trivial power, his carrying trait is speed. His below average contact skills could relegate him to a sort of less one-dimensional Terrance Gore-like role.

Most of the two-swipe thieves are guys you’d expect to see like Starling Marte, Shohei Ohtani, and Victor Robles. The stunner on the list is Jorge Alfaro. He’s actually an above average runner with 77th percentile sprint speed. He also hits rockets, albeit with nonexistent plate discipline and an over-30 percent strikeout rate.

Speed Spotlight

After a bizarre failed experiment with Eugenio Suarez as their leadoff hitter, the Reds seem to have figured out something that should have been obvious all along – Jonathan India has both traditional and current leadoff hitter skills. He’s a patient, disciplined batter with an above average contact rate and 91st percentile speed. He tops out in the same range as Jarrod Dyson, Whit Merrifield, and Trevor Story.

The last of those is the best comp for his base running potential. While Dyson reaches top speed quickly, India takes a few strides to really get going. We can see this in his home to first time. His sprint speed is 45th in the league (of 436). His home to first is 103rd (of 331). While it’s possible his swing mechanics could contribute to the slower speed – and batting right-handed certainly does – this probably at least partially signals why he has only three steals in four attempts and 175 plate appearances.

So long as India sticks atop the order, he should have more opportunities to run. His season can be sliced into three acts. He began with a scalding first week, hitting .476/.480/.619 in 25 plate appearances. Then came the slump. From April 8 through May 12, he hit just .107/.239/.196 in 67 plate appearances. He spent several days on the bench and would have been demoted to Triple-A if not for other injuries on the roster. From May 13 on, he’s caught fire, batting .313/.439/.537 with four home runs and all of his stolen base attempts in 83 plate appearances. He’s also had more walks than strikeouts.

Everything about this hot streak is sustainable. He owns all of these traits – discipline, contact, power, and speed. Scouts credit him with A+ makeup too, meaning he’ll get the most out of them long term. As for this season, we all know rookies tend to be volatile. Today’s hot streak could be tomorrow’s slump. Or he could find yet another gear. Scouts were throwing breathless 70-grades on his raw power this spring! During this bender, he’s on pace to attempt about 30 steals per 650 plate appearances. If he keeps running like this, he could nab another 15 bags through the end of the season while providing juice in every fantasy category.