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Saves and Steals

The Manfred Man Strikes

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: June 9, 2022, 1:04 am ET

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Our favorite pesky, extra-innings ghost runner aka the Manfred Man was busy over the last week. Among the casualties, four closers were stricken with losses for baserunners they did not allow. While there’s something unappealing about starting innings with a runner on base, there’s no question the rule has accomplished its goal. Meandering extra-inning contests have become a rarity.

Emmanuel Clase and Kenley Jansen both notched a trio of saves last week. Eight others finished off a pair. The seasonal lead is shared by Josh Hader and Taylor Rogers with 18 apiece. Liam Hendriks (16), Jordan Romano (16) and Jansen (15) round out the top five.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (3)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

The Phillies touched up Hader for a couple home runs on Tuesday night. This was the first outing of the season in which he recorded a loss, blew a save, allowed a home run, or allowed a run of any flavor. He hasn’t even permitted a Manfred Man to score. There’s no cause for concern.

Diaz rebounded from a mini-slump with two dominant weeks.

Tier 2: The Elite (6)

Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

Over the period of May 28 through June 2, Rogers recorded the loss in all three of his appearances. He also allowed eight runs (seven earned). Since then, he’s recovered with a couple solid outings. He allowed the Manfred Man to score on Sunday, but he was working with a three-run lead.

Pressly allowed a run as part of his save last Wednesday. He needed help finishing his inning on Sunday. He recorded only two outs and allowed another run. He polished off a clean save on Tuesday. His velocity remains just below where he sat last season.

Jansen is piling up saves for a surging Braves club, but he’s also coughed up a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings since May 15. His latest mistep came at Coors Field, a solo home run.

Tier 3: Reliable (8)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Clay Holmes, New York Yankees
Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
David Robertson, Chicago Cubs
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers

Kimbrel is currently on paternity leave for a couple days. Look for Daniel Hudson to fill in. Kimbrel had two acceptable outings. Though he was saddled with the loss on Sunday, it was due to the Manfred Man scoring. He did allow a well-struck double and later escaped the inning thanks to a line drive double play.

Iglesias lost his perch atop the second tier for a couple reasons. First, since the start of May, he has an 8.10 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Normally, I ignore actual results in favor of expected performance. In this case, there’s been a change in projection. Iglesias has resumed his home run issues (2.70 HR/9 since May 1), and his swinging strike rate declined to 14.7 percent over the same period. That’s consistent with the 2018-2019 version of Iglesias when he was more of a good-not-great closer. He stepped up in 2020-2021 through the end of April. He’s missing a tick of velocity which, if searching for a simple explanation, seems the likeliest culprit.

Aroldis Chapman is aiming for a bullpen session within the next few days. His eventual return will be a test of the Yankees preferred role for Holmes. Injuries have left the club a tad short in the middle innings. They might decide Holmes has more value to them as a fireman. After all, Chapman is unfamiliar with non-closing roles. If Holmes retains the closer gig, he’ll rank adjacent to Clase.

Both Helsley and Gallegos pitched on Saturday and Tuesday. Helsley faced 10 batters from the sixth through eighth innings on Saturday. Gallegos worked the ninth. Then, they reverse roles on Tuesday. Gallegos handled the eighth and Helsley finished up the ninth. Neither reliever had a save opportunity. The short story: this is a two-man committee.

Barlow was dinged for a blown save loss last Friday then immediately rebounded for saves on Saturday and Tuesday. He’s pitched well this season, but he’ll soon need to contend with the likes of Jonathan Hernández and José Leclerc, both of whom possess a more closer-ish mien.

Soto was among those burned by the Manfred Man in the last week. He took the loss on Saturday. His week was bookended by flawless saves.

Tier 4: Uncertainty with Upside (4)

Jhoan Duran, Emilio Pagan, Minnesota Twins
Andrew Kittredge, Colin Poche, Tampa Bay Rays
Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz, Seattle Mariners

These four fluid bullpens could yield relief aces if the teams in question ever settle into a predictable pattern. Pagan took the loss in his only appearance of the week. It’s only a matter of time before he reverts to an appropriate middle-innings role. Duran is one of the nastiest relievers in the league.

Since returning from the injured list, the Rays have twice thrown Kittredge into the fire in non-save situations. They might have gained some comfort using Poche in the ninth. Kittredge’s command hasn’t been quite as sharp as last season.

Staumont set up for Barlow on Saturday. The Royals four-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth eliminated the save opportunity for Barlow, but he pitched anyway.

Sewald and Castillo were front and center for the surging Mariners. Castillo snagged two wins and a save to go with six strikeouts in four innings. Sewald was nearly as valuable, tallying a pair of saves and three strikeouts in 3.2 innings. Munoz is tossing a few too many middle-middle mistakes at the moment. Ken Giles returns soon to muddy the already murky waters.

Tier 5: Usable Scamps (5)

Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks

Knebel has struggled with command and control lately. On the surface, he had a great week, notching a win, two saves, and three strikeouts in three innings of work. The offense bailed him out on Sunday for the win. He pitched around three walks on Tuesday. Brad Hand is also walking the world, making Seranthony Domínguez the best in-house alternative should a change be required. Knebel’s only one meltdown from losing the job.

Lopez worked a second inning last Thursday and was burned by the Manfred Man. He hasn’t allowed a walk in his last four outings, improving to 4.33 BB/9 on the season.

Melancon is doing a Jekyl and Hyde thing. Most of his outings have been fine, but he’s really fallen apart when he’s off. Overall, he has a 6.87 ERA on the season. Ian Kennedy and Joe Mantiply are the internal competitors. They aren’t banging down the door.

Tier 5: Assorted Leftovers (4)

Tanner Houck, John Schreiber, Jake Diekman, Boston Red Sox
Dany Jiménez, Oakland Athletics
Anthony Bass, Tanner Scott, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins
Tony Santillan, Hunter Strickland, Cincinnati Reds

Somewhere, somewhen, I predicted the Red Sox would close with Garrett Whitlock or Houck – whichever wasn’t starting. Houck has predictably played up as a short-burst reliever. Boston management has begun to catch on that bulk relief is a waste of his talents. He runs the risk of turning into a permanent reliever if he begins closing on the regular basis.

Jimenez has stumbled through three of his last four appearances. Teammate A.J. Puk is in all ways a superior pitcher. A role change is on the horizon if Jimenez keeps flailing.

Scott has the Marlins most recent save, but that might be because Bass pitched 2.2 scoreless innings the previous day. Floro’s still missing velocity and failing to induce whiffs. He has just two strikeouts in 10.1 innings.

Santillan pitched the eighth inning on Saturday. Working with a one-run lead, he blew the save. Strickland entered for the ninth of a tied game and promptly allowed three runs. The latest name to watch is Joel Kuhnel. He’s worked to a 2.77 ERA with 10.38 K/9 and 1.38 BB/9 in 13 innings. He has the arsenal of a generic middle reliever.

Injured

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (Achilles tendinitis)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (bulging disc)
Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins (back)

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Steals Department

Marcus Semien reported for duty last week, mashing five home runs and stealing four bases. Semien is now up to six home runs and 10 steals on the season while batting just .221/.28/.355. Though he won’t come close to his 2021 power output, he should blow his previous high of 15 steals out of the water. Marlins speedster Jon Berti was the only other player to abscond with four bags. Julio Rodriguez, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Randy Arozarena, and Eli White checked in with three steals apiece.

Berti didn’t open the season as a regular for the Marlins. The absences of BrIan Anderson and Joey Wendle has opened up starts at third base. Wendle is expected to return in short order. Although Berti is among the more punchless hitters in the league, his blend of discipline and contact skills leads to a useful batting average and on base percentage. Of course, reaching base is the key to those stolen bases. He usually does well with runs scored too.

Speed Spotlight

Jake McCarthy made the Diamondbacks out of Spring Training, failed to impress, then tortured Triple-A pitchers to the tune of .400/.505/.693 batting line with more walks than strikeouts in 91 plate appearances. That was enough to earn him a second call to the Majors. He’s shown better this time around, posting an above average .267/.327/.444 triple-slash in 49 plate appearances. He also has a home run and a stolen base while batting between fifth and seventh in the lineup.

Arizona is an outfield rich club, featuring David Peralta, Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas, and Pavin Smith among their regulars. Jordan Luplow and Cooper Hummel have roles too, and uber-prospect Corbin Carroll is doing his best to force a late-season callup. This is a brief window for the Diamondbacks to try out McCarthy in order to decide if he’s a part of the future as a too-good fourth outfielder or enticing trade bait. The impending return of Carson Kelly will push Varsho back into the outfield rotation soon.

McCarthy stole prolifically last season, swiping 32 bases in 438 plate appearances split between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors. He ran at a similar pace in Triple-A this season – seven steals in nine attempts. With Arizona, he’s only attempted the one theft. Statcast metrics support him running wild. By sprint speed, he ranks 11th-fastest in the Majors, sandwiched between Edmundo Sosa and Amed Rosario. Statcast does not yet report his 90-ft splits which are more indicative of stealing ability than raw spring speed. That said, McCarthy’s history on the basepaths portends success.