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Saves and Steals

Pressly on the Mend

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: June 2, 2022, 3:46 am ET

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Josh Hader and Ryan Pressly led the week with three saves apiece. As a result, Hader and his 18 saves squeezed past Taylor Rogers (17) atop the seasonal leaderboard. Jordan Romano (16), Liam Hendriks (14), and Kenley Jansen (12) round out the top five.

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: Crème de la Crème (3)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Taylor Rogers, San Diego Padres

Rogers suffered from what I’m calling the Curse of the Crème. When I promoted Jansen a couple weeks ago, he promptly had a bad week. Rogers lost his last two appearances – one via the Manfred Man and the other due to a three-run home run. We’ll excuse yesterday’s loss – after all, he didn’t even allow a hit.

Tier 2: The Elite (7)

Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

Iglesias and Diaz remain right on the cusp between the first and second tiers. It could go either way. They have big strikeout ability, but they also weren’t at their sharpest in May.

By pure stuff, this version of Romano isn’t quite as nasty as the guy who broke out in 2020 and 2021. Still, he’s plenty effective and appears to have learned some tricks of the trade along the way.

Pressly might not be inducing strikeouts, but he’s still generating plenty of swinging strikes. The punch outs will come. His velocity is still climbing towards his normal range. Don’t be surprised if his knee requires another stint on the shelf later in the season. Knee issues tend to be a cyclical battle with inflammation.

Jansen’s walk issue has returned. Maybe. He’s now issued a free pass in five of his last six innings. Of course, it was a couple singles and a sac fly that burned him on Tuesday. He blew the save in an eventual Braves loss. The walk came after the run scored.

On Monday, Bednar blew a save in the eighth inning against the Dodgers then stuck around to pitch a clean ninth after the Pirates retook the lead. There’s a case to be made for Bednar ranking a few spots higher.

Tier 3: Reliable (7)

Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals

Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
Clay Holmes, New York Yankees
David Robertson, Chicago Cubs
Camilo Doval, San Francisco Giants
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers

Kimbrel had himself a bad week. He logged three innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits and two walks. He also recorded four strikeouts. This demotion in the tiers might prove hasty. Kimbrel was on the wrong side of Bednar’s blown save victory on Monday.

So much for the Gallegos solo tour. Both he and Helsley pitched on Monday and Tuesday. Gallegos worked parts of the sixth and seventh innings on Monday with Helsley working the ninth. Helsley allowed his first earned run of the season while protecting a four-run lead. Then, on Tuesday, Gallegos was again called upon ahead of Helsley. This time, Gallegos blew the save in the eighth inning via a two-run homer. Helsley worked a clean ninth. The Cardinals won it in extras. I still think Gallegos will draw the bulk of the save opportunities.

I must say, I never expected to find Barlow ranked so highly in the tiers. Maybe Scott, but not Joe. Barlow is turning to his slider as his primary offering. Relievers who can command a breaking ball as well as he is right now tend to be passable closers.

It’s possible Holmes should rank much lower due to the presence of Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees erstwhile closer has resumed throwing and should return around mid-month. Holmes is a flatly superior pitcher to Chapman. In fact, he profiles as a slightly better version of Clase because he induces even more whiffs and ground balls.

Doval is in the midst of a mini-slump. Surprisingly, walks haven’t been an issue. Perhaps this is like last season when Alex Reyes found better control and instantly became less effective. More likely, this is just a small blip on the radar for Doval. The only issue is Gabe Kapler’s past eagerness to use a closer by committee approach. Fortunately for Doval, Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers aren’t pitching well at the moment. Dominic Leone might be next in line. Of the six runs Doval has allowed in his last four appearances, three have been unearned.

Tier 4: Uncertainty with Upside (9)

Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Corey Knebel, Philadelphia Phillies
Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Diego Castillo, Seattle Mariners
Tanner Rainey, Washington Nationals
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles
Emilio Pagan, Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
Dany Jiménez, Oakland Athletics
Mark Melancon, Arizona Diamondbacks

Staumont pitched ahead of Barlow last Thursday. The win went to Staumont with Barlow notching a two-inning save. This is still a double-fireman situation. Speaking of firemen, we haven’t gained any clarity in Seattle. Ken Giles is working his way back to further muddle the mixture. In Minnesota, Pagan picked up the Twins most recent save. Tyler Duffey fumbled an outing so he’s back out of the picture. Jorge Alcala will return soon.

The Phillies just can’t buy a win. Or an effective bullpen. Knebel is on the hot seat alongside his manager Joe Girardi. The problem is, only Seranthony Domínguez has pitched better than Knebel for the Phillies. He’s stretched thin trying to bridge the middle innings. Maybe it would be less soul-crushing for Bryce Harper and friends to lose in the seventh rather than the ninth?

Rainey is pitching well at the moment. We’ve seen these sorts of hot streaks from him before. Every time, either the command or health come crumbling down. This is a sell-high moment.

Melancon doesn’t really have upside, but he also comes with less uncertainty than the others in this tier. He belongs in this group more than the assortment below. He’s worked two straight days so look for Ian Kennedy to close on Wednesday.

Tier 5: Assorted Leftovers (4)

J.P. Feyereisen, Colin Poche, Jason Adam, Tampa Bay Rays
Tony Santillan, Art Warren, Hunter Strickland, Cincinnati Reds
Anthony Bass, Cole Sulser, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins
Jake Diekman, John Schreiber, Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

Poche saved the day on Saturday. Feyereisen notched a five-pitch save on Sunday. As expected, it’s all-hands-on-deck in Tampa Bay. Of their nine relievers, only Shawn Armstrong and Ralph Garza aren’t plausible candidates for a save.

Santillan tallied the Reds two most recent saves though Warren and Strickland also picked up saves in the last week. Warren also tossed another disasterpiece so he’s probably temporarily out of the picture again.

Sulser had the Marlins only save of the last week. He and Bass also blew saves. Floro doesn’t yet look like himself. Tanner Scott is hanging around too.

By some miracle, the Red Sox are winning games despite this travesty of a bullpen. Schreiber has, by far, pitched the best of the bunch. It comes down to a .167 BABIP which will probably vanish in due course, exposing him as a 4.00 ERA reliever.

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Injured

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (Achilles tendinitis)
Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays (lower-back strain)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (bulging disc)
Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins (back)

Steals Department

Victor Robles has a pulse! He stole four bases in the last week. Christopher Morel joined him as the only other player to swipe four bags. Five others – Jose Ramirez, Marcus Semien, Nico Hoerner, Jose Siri, and Dee Strange-Gordon – netted three bags apiece. Strange to see Strange-Gordon playing with some regularity in the Majors. The Nationals have a thing for busted middle infielders of yore (Alcides Escobar). The seasonal lead still belongs to Julio Rodriguez and his 14 steals. Harrison Bader (13), Jorge Mateo (13), Tommy Edman (12), and Cedric Mullins (11) round out the top five.

Back to Robles for a second before we put the spotlight on Morel. Since late-April, Robles is batting .299/.367/.377 in 90 plate appearances. While that’s relatively punch-less output, it matches the original scouting reports from half a decade ago. He was supposed to hit for average with only enough pop to keep pitchers honest. Don’t rush to the waiver wire just yet. Robles has a pitiful 80.5-mph average exit velocity during his hot streak. Only 17.2 percent of his contact was “hard.” He’s not even a particularly speedy player. Statcast lists him as a 74th-percentile sprinter. If you happen to hold Robles in a dynasty league, this is a great time to sell. Perhaps your last chance to do so. In redraft formats, you could give him a whirl off the waiver wire if you need speed and the pickings are slim. Be ready to eject.

Speed Spotlight

Morel didn’t draw much attention heading into 2022. Despite a brief stint at Triple-A last season, the Cubs assigned him to Double-A to start the season. After batting .306/.380/.565 with seven home runs and three steals in 122 Double-A plate appearances, he jumped straight to the Majors. He’s shocked everyone with a .283/.387/.491 line through his first 62 plate appearances. He even has a couple home runs and five steals.

Chicago has developed Morel as a utility fielder in the mold of Chris Taylor. He has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game due to what scouts describe as an inflexible swing. Although it hasn’t happened yet, opposing pitchers will find glaring weaknesses to prey upon for strikeouts. When he does connect, Morel makes loud contact. He profiles as a low-average hitter who could produce at a full-season pace of over 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. A full-time role might elude him, depending on the severity of his slumps.

From a speed perspective, not only has Morel proven he’s willing to attempt steals, he has the wheels to be quite good at it. Statcast measures him as having 93rd-percentile sprint speed. Including all levels, he stole 18 bases in 21 attempts last season. His 8-for-13 success rate this season leaves a bit to be desired.

For now, Morel is playing most days and has only one game in which he hasn’t delivered at least one hit. Ride the hot streak if you can then try to sell high if it looks like the scouting report has caught up to him.