Saves and Steals

Kennedy On The Mend

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: June 17, 2021, 2:04 am ET

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It was a big week for Craig Kimbrel. He locked down four saves in 3.1 innings. Edwin Diaz, Josh Hader, Kenley Jansen, and Liam Hendriks notched a trio of saves. This is an elite half-dozen of closers who have been around for years. Meanwhile, most of our draft-season value plays have struggled to turn a profit on their modest price of admission. For the season, Mark Melancon’s once-imposing lead has dwindled. He still sits atop the leaderboard with 19 saves followed by Kimbrel (18), Hendriks (18), Hader (17), and Alex Reyes (17).

Rangers closer Ian Kennedy is expected to be activated today. The 36-year-old right-hander will try to build upon the 2.53 ERA, 10.55 K/9, and 2.95 BB/9 he posted prior to missing time with a hamstring strain. If he pitches well enough, he may turn out to be the top reliever on the trade block this summer.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (5)

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

Kimbrel and Hader had near-perfect weeks. Kimbrel is now 6.1 innings into a reliever no-hitter. He started the season with a similar no-hit streak. Hendriks had a small hiccup on Friday, blowing a save against the Tigers. The White Sox charged back to hand him a victory. Diaz rejoins the top tier as promised. After an uneven start to the season, his strikeout and swinging strike rates are increasing towards career norms.

Chapman had the hardest time of the group. He coughed up four runs on Thursday while sitting at a season-low 96.7-mph with his fastball. The good news is he’s appeared twice since then, averaging 98.7- and 99.4-mph in those latest outings. Still, I am slightly concerned about the drop in velocity – it’s the second time since May 28 he’s averaged under 97-mph. He’s checked in at 98.3-mph or higher for 23 of his 26 appearances.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Fun with arbitrary end points: since May 11, Jansen has a 1.35 ERA, 10.80 K/9, and 3.38 BB/9. He’s also regularly averaging at least 93-mph with his fastball and running it up beyond 95-mph on some occasions. If he maintains this heat, he’ll finish the season with a career-best average velocity. The effectiveness of his stuff has always been closely tied to his heat.

The rest of this tier had an uneven time of it. Barnes pitched thrice, earning a win and a save. He also coughed up a run on two occasions. That makes four of his last seven outings with an earned run. An unearned run stung Pressly on Tuesday, but the Astros were able to charge back with the aid of a Jose Altuve grand slam. Iglesias allowed solo home runs in back-to-back outings over the weekend. Like Barnes, he was fortunate enough to net a win and a save.

Tier 3: Core Performers (6)

Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cleveland Indians
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals

Last Wednesday was unkind to Smith and Hand. Smith was saddled with a loss via a walkoff, two-run home run. Hand was dinged for a pair of runs in a two-inning outing, but he managed to vulture a win. He’s since pitched three times without incident. His velocity remains steadily above 93-mph.

Both Clase and Karinchak have shaken whatever devils plagued them a couple weeks ago. Individually, they would rate adjacent to Jansen in the second tier. Together, I can’t justify a higher ranking due to their shared saves total.

Neris might be in one of his slumps. I’ll need more than two bad outings to get a better sense of it. On Thursday and Saturday, he struggled to find the strike zone (three walks) and made mistakes over the plate (two home runs, four earned runs).

After another week without a negative consequence to his ludicrous walk rate, I’m hesitantly moving Reyes into this tier. Presently, his .203 BABIP is allowing him to survive 7.91 BB/9 – much like Jansen earlier in the season. Unlike Jansen, I don’t have any hope for Reyes to solve these command woes before he’s bitten by the salty teeth of regression. He’ll eventually make a slew of mistakes over the heart of the plate, imploding his fantasy managers’ ratios in the process. I still say “sell high.”

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Tier 4: Upside (8)

Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Yimi Garcia, Miami Marlins
Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners
Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, Tampa Bay Rays
Tyler Rogers, Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Taylor Rogers, Hansel Robles, Minnesota Twins
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies

Garcia was tagged for a loss after failing to defend a tied game. His principal competition, Dylan Floro, was saddled with his own loss on Monday. It’s been a rough couple days for Miami’s high leverage arms. Garcia is seemingly safe, but it’ll take a bad week or two to upend the pecking order.

Graveman has allowed runs in each of his two appearances since returning from the COVID-list – his first two runs of the season. As we know, COVID can have all manner of lingering effects. His velocity was slightly down from earlier in the season. We’ll want to keep a close eye on him.

Monday showed us the whole Rays late-innings crew. Feyereisen tossed two innings and notched the win. Castillo locked in a hold while Fairbanks finished the save. On Saturday, Castillo was the one to earn the save with Fairbanks working setup. It seems we’re probably back to Castillo and Fairbanks for the most critical innings.

It was an eventful week for the Giants tandem. Last Wednesday, both Rogers and McGee scuffled their way to a loss. They both pitched again on Saturday. Rogers appeared prior to McGee who wound up earning the win. Extreme fly ball pitcher Caleb Barager was needed for an extra innings save. McGee was back in the closer’s chair on Monday. Rogers was called upon for the save on Tuesday. All of which is to say – this very much remains a committee.

Lately, Rogers has been pitching after Robles. The latter reliever hasn’t exactly dominated this season. He’s prone to walks (5.76 BB/9) and got dinged for a game-losing homer on Monday. If the Twins were to simply trust Rogers, he’d rank between Pressly and Iglesias in the second tier. Robles is pulling down the average in this committee.

On Monday, Bard allowed earned runs for the first time since May 12. Despite the Coors Field-aided blip and the risk of similar issues in the future, there’s something to be said for having a relatively safe job. My impression is that he won’t provoke a sufficiently tempting offer to spur a trade deadline deal.

Tier 5: Mess Hall (7)

Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Oakland Athletics
Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Lucas Sims, Sean Doolittle, Cincinnati Reds
Michael Fulmer, Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Paul Fry, Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles
Josh Sborz, Brett Martin, Joely Rodriguez, Texas Rangers
Stefan Crichton, Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trivino is on a hot streak thanks to 0.56 HR/9 and a .244 BABIP. He projects for an over-4.00 ERA going forward. He locked down saves on Sunday and Monday. Diekman worked setup duties both days.

Staumont is still missing zip on his heater. I worry he has some meltdown outings awaiting in his future. I’m thoroughly convinced Scott Barlow is a far superior reliever.

I think the Reds would probably call Sims their first choice for saves. Unfortunately, the way they use relievers tends to mean he’s only available some of the time. Amir Garrett stumbled into a one-out save on Tuesday. He’s now worked three days in a row, although he’s only faced five batters over that span.

Fulmer worked the eighth inning of a blowout game in his return from the injured list. He faced the top of the Royals lineup without incident. I believe he’ll return to closing duties moving forward. He’s a middle relief caliber pitcher so his hold on the job isn’t especially firm.

The Orioles didn’t produce a save situation to provide us with any clarity. The Rangers finally did on Tuesday. Sborz came within one strike of finishing a save. Instead, he allowed a game-tying oppo-boppo to Carlos Correa. Still, it’s encouraging to see Sborz was the first choice to close over more boring alternatives like Martin or John King. As noted in the outset, Kennedy should return imminently.

Stick a fork in ‘em, slather ‘em in sterno, and light the whole mess on fire. Crichton and Soria are in a closely pitted race to the bottom of this dumpster fire bullpen. The scary part is the other options are legitimately worse.


Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (thoracic outlet syndrome)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers (hamstring)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (forearm inflammation)

Antone’s inflammation is concerning at a time when the club was pondering relocating him to the rotation. They may still take advantage of a rehab assignment to do so. His injury is said to be minor. Merryweather has a chance to return in late June.


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

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 5 SB (15 SB total)
Tim Anderson, 3 SB (13 SB)
Cedric Mullins, 3 SB (12 SB)
12 Others, 2 SB

Kiner-Falefa has proven to be shockingly decent for fantasy purposes. Last season, it was his catcher eligibility that really set him apart as a useful player. This year, he’s lost his all-so-important eligibility. As a shortstop and third baseman, he’s still producing three above average categories (38 R, 15 SB, .290 AVG). With five home runs and 26 RBI, he isn’t a total zero in the others categories either. By Statcast, he’s only an above average runner. His batting profile – he has a nearly 60 percent ground ball rate with too much soft contact – seemingly is maxed out. Now is a great time to sell.

I wouldn’t sell Anderson, a mutant who has maintained extreme BABIPs for three straight seasons now. That in turn has fueled his batting average run production. Overall, his production is eerily similar to Kiner-Falefa. The big difference is in supporting cast.

Mullins is a well-rounded player who is starting to remind me of Michael Brantley. He’s learning to work counts and jump on hittable pitches. His quality of contact has taken a huge leap forward along with his plate discipline. He has more raw power than Anderson and Kiner-Falefa.

Speed Spotlight

The Royals haven’t yet given up on center fielder Michael Taylor. The former Nationals fourth outfielder is batting .232/.288/.343 with five home runs and four stolen bases. Although his output is right in line with career norms, his 20.2 percent swinging strike rate portends a potential collapse. Even if he continues plodding along at this pace, the Royals have a better center fielder skirting around the edge of the roster: Edward Olivares.

Speed is the core of Olivares’ game, but he’s no one-dimensional rabbit. The 25-year-old eviscerated Triple-A pitching to the tune of .370/.452/.610 with six home runs and eight steals in 115 plate appearances. He’s off to a modest start in the big leagues. After batting .240/.267/.375 in 101 plate appearances last season, he’s hitting just .261/.292/.261 in 24 plate appearances this year. Like many unestablished players, he shows symptoms of trying too hard. He’s taking pitches over the plate and swinging at balls. Hard contact has proven elusive too.

In the short term, Olivares might shuttle between Triple-A and the Majors, picking up spot starts until he finally clicks at the plate. His sprint speed of 29.3 ft/sec is tied for 16th-best in the league. He’s faster than Taylor and has similar power and defensive ability. Once he adjusts, his contact skills should prove demonstrably superior to the in-house competition. As a base thief, Olivares is a threat for 20 or more steals over a full season. With luck, he’ll learn some tricks of the trade from teammates Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi.

For standard sized leagues, Olivares is merely a same-day streaming target. If he catches a heater and ascends to a regular role, he may merit rostering on a more regular bases in 12-team mixed formats. I recommend speculating now in very deep formats (i.e. 20-team mixed dynasty). He’s a fringy stash target in 15-team formats like NFBC.