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Saves and Steals

Top Closers Injured

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: August 12, 2021, 1:30 am ET

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For a second straight week, our top closer hit the injured list. While Josh Hader should soon return from the COVID-list, it might be a bit before Aroldis Chapman recovers from elbow inflammation. The issue is reportedly minor, insofar as wear-and-tear on a 33-year-old elbow can be minor. Remember, pitchers who work in the upper-90s and beyond are believed to be at increased risk of elbow damage. We don’t yet have a firm timeline on Chapman. If the inflammation heals quickly, he could be back by mid-August. A more conservative timeline would call for a September return.

On the saves leaderboard, just two closers finished off three games – Raisel Iglesias and Alex Colome. We’ll have more to say about both pitchers later. Mark Melancon retains a commanding lead on the seasonal leaderboard with 34 saves. Liam Hendriks and Alex Reyes check in second-best with 26 saves. Iglesias has 25 saves.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (5)

Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Kimbrel was meant to set up for Hendriks last Friday. He wound up botching the hold and a three-run lead. Hendriks ultimately earned a win. Thus far, we still don’t know if the closer role belongs to Hendriks or will be shared between the pair. They’re not exactly platoonable – both pitchers have similar strengths and few weaknesses. For now, I’m betting on Hendriks landing most of the White Sox saves.

Diaz only pitched once last week due to paternity leave. He was asked to protect a one-run deficit and instead allowed a two-run home run. Barnes had a brutal week, picking up a save, a win, and three losses while allowing seven runs. He lost then won both sides of a doubleheader on Saturday. Pressly joins the top tier on the strength of his run prevention and WHIP. His strikeout rate isn’t on par with other elite closers. Iglesias has all the elite indicators but for one – he’s had issues with home runs over most of the last four seasons. Still, he’s a positive performer in every closer category.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays

Jansen flubbed an appearance in a non-save situation then responded with two clean outings. Encouragingly, his strikeout rate has spiked of late even as his run prevention has fallen apart. Jansen also didn’t walk anybody in his three outings. He’s had an unusual and atypical season to say the least.

Smith was saddled with a painful loss on Saturday. Overall, he pitched four times and picked up a pair of saves. So long as he avoids more meltdowns, he should retain the ninth-inning role. Richard Rodriguez lurks in the wings.

James Karinchak appears to have slipped into a setup role. His last save was recorded on July 21. Since then, Clase has finished off six saves. He’s also worked the final inning in six consecutive appearances. While Clase doesn’t come attached to a big strikeout rate, his domineering 68.9 percent ground ball rate ensures mostly positive outcomes.

Much to my surprise, it appears Romano will continue to close for the Blue Jays in lieu of trade acquisitions Brad Hand and Joakim Soria. It’s possible roles will adjust as manager Charlie Montoyo gains comfort with his new weapons. Romano kicked off the week with a rough outing in which he allowed two solo home runs while protecting a four-run lead. The Jays still won. He bounced back with three clean appearances.

Tier 3: Core Performers (7)

Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Seattle Mariners
Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler, Tampa Bay Rays

Every week, I get reader pressure to move Reyes and Melancon up in the tiers. Last Thursday, Reyes aptly demonstrated why he’s in the third tier. He faced a total of five batters, walking four and allowing three runs without recording an out. He was also dinged for a loss on Sunday, albeit without issuing a free pass. In fact, that four-walk disasterpiece accounts for his only walks in eight outings. If that becomes the norm, he will find himself in the second tier before much longer.

Melancon’s issue is simple – he’s a one-category pitcher. While he racks up saves now, he’s something like the fourth-best reliever on the Padres. If he ever stops outperforming his peripherals – roughly a 3.70 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, he’s liable to lose the ninth-inning job. The Padres can ill-afford late-game losses. Even as lucky as he’s been in the ERA department (2.19 ERA, 4.02 xERA), his current 1.16 WHIP is only fantasy-average.

Tyler Rogers has drifted towards working the seventh and eighth innings on a more regular basis. McGee lost his reliever perfect game in the “eighth” inning. He allowed a ghost runner to score from second base on Saturday. Then on Tuesday, he blew a save via a pair of runs on two walks and two hits. It was his first multi-walk game of the season.

Bednar has better components than the guys immediately surrounding him in this tier. However, he’s yet to earn a save. The Pirates simply aren’t generating many opportunities this season. We also can’t be sure when Bednar will be called upon. They might use him in the earliest high leverage situation.

Trivino is a lot like Melancon in that he’s greatly outperformed his expected results. His 1.84 ERA is nearly a full two points better than his 3.61 xERA. And just like Melancon again, he’s still only managed a decent 1.16 WHIP. Projection systems anticipate a 4.00 ERA and 1.35 WHIP through the remainder of the season.

Two walks, a hit-by-pitch, and a sac fly led to a tough-luck blown save for Castillo last Friday. He was demoted from the second tier because of that outing – but not for the reason you might think. Castillo worked the eighth inning with Drew Steckenrider handling the ninth. Steckenrider also picked up a save on Sunday. This appears to be a full-blown committee.

The Rays weren’t kind enough to produce a save opportunity this week. Strictly speaking, both Kittredge and Wisler are superior to most of the other pitchers in this tier. Yes, that likely includes Reyes and Melancon. The Rays have a way of defying prediction when it comes to closer usage, hence the lower ranking.

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Tier 4: Upside (6)

Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green, Zack Britton, New York Yankees
Scott Barlow, Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Ian Kennedy, Philadelphia Phillies
Dylan Floro, Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins
Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs

Were he simply “the closer,” Williams would likely to atop the tiers – at least until we sorted out exactly what’s happening in Chicago. Alas, Hader should return any day now. It also seems that Brad Boxberger and Brent Suter are in the mix for saves if Williams happens to be needed earlier in the game.

We don’t yet know how long Chapman will be sidelined, nor can we be sure which of the Yankees high leverage relievers will step up in his place. It seems wise to bet against Britton. He’s had command issues this season. Loaisiga has the only save since Chapman went down. The Yankees somehow recorded four blown saves on Monday. Loaisiga worked the seventh, Green the eighth, and Britton the ninth – they all fumbled a one-run lead.

Barlow and Holland both earned holds last Thursday. Jake Brentz wound up with the save. He’s a hard-throwing southpaw with a long history of high walk rates. Although Barlow and Holland both pitched on Sunday and Monday, they weren’t used in a way that might indicate which is favored for saves. Honestly, it seems clear that there is no such thing as a closer in Kansas City. They use pitchers at whim rather than by role.

Kennedy would rate in the third tier if he’d stop coughing up home runs. In five appearances for the Phillies, he’s already allowed three homers. While it’d be easy to blame tiny Citizen’s Bank Park, two of the three came on the road at PNC Park and Nationals Stadium – both of which are power-suppressant venues.

Kyle Ryan and Manuel Rodriguez have the only post-Kimbrel saves for the Cubs. Frankly, they aren’t credible candidates for saves. Ryan is a soft-tossing southpaw with a serious home run problem. Rodriguez has closer swagger and velocity to match, but he sometimes exhibits almost yips-level command. Wick made his first appearance of the season yesterday and featured his usual 95-mph heat. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he only has 60 career innings. Heuer is the better long-term gamble. His stuff has more of a high leverage feel whereas Wick looks like the sort of middle reliever who could occasionally transition into a closer role – like Trivino, Melancon, or Richard Rodriguez.

Tier 5: Mess Hall (8)

Kyle Finnegan, Washington Nationals
Gregory Soto, Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Spencer Patton, Texas Rangers
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, Baltimore Orioles
Tyler Clippard, Arizona Diamondbacks
Mychal Givens, Lucas Sims, Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds

Finnegan was punished for a Carter Kieboom error last Thursday. The Phillies got to him for four unearned runs. While the outing didn’t ruin Finnegan’s ERA, it does suggest things could snowball out of hand on occasion. He’s a serviceable middle reliever masquerading as a closer – which is better than many in this tier.

Since June 19, Colome has pitched typically, allowing a 2.41 ERA backed by a low WHIP and strikeout rate. Of course, that’s the friendliest cut of the data. Go back even a few outings and his ERA would balloon. It’s an uninspiring profile, but it should yield saves down the stretch.

Patton blew his second save opportunity since the trade deadline. He had issues with the strike zone including three walks. Brett Martin was called upon to bail him out and is a top contender for the Rangers few remaining saves.

Lorenzen saved the day last Wednesday, but it was Givens who nabbed the Reds two most recent saves. Meanwhile, Sims is back from elbow soreness and could reenter the picture. While Givens may be the closer du jour, he’s ill-suited to Great American Ballpark. He’s a fly ball pitcher who has battled home runs for three straight seasons.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (out for season)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (finger)
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers (COVID)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees (elbow)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Kendall Graveman, Houston Astros (via trade)
Yimi Garcia, Houston Astros (via trade)
Richard Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves (via trade)
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox (via trade)
Joakim Soria, Toronto Blue Jays (via trade)
Brad Hand, Toronto Blue Jays (via trade)
Hansel Robles, Boston Red Sox (via trade)
Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies (promoted to rotation)
Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Heath Hembree, Cincinnati Reds

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Whit Merrifield, 5 SB (32 SB total)
Michael Taylor, 3 SB (10)
Starling Marte, 3 SB (30)
Rafael Ortega, 3 SB (7)
Adam Engel, 3 SB (7)
David Fletcher, 3 SB (10)

Merrifield reclaimed the season lead from Marte this week. Of course, Merrifield has 168 more plate appearances than Marte so it feels almost inevitable that the Athletics center fielder will overtake him.

The others are more remarkable in that they might be available in fantasy leagues at an attainable cost. Ortega is the Cubs leadoff man and has exhibited a five-category skill set – albeit one that likely won’t include any carrying categories. Ideally, he’ll slip back into the heart of the order with a Greg Deichmann type sliding to leadoff.

The Royals have doggedly played Taylor all season despite a superior alternative waiting on the sidelines (Edward Olivares). Taylor has a bit of a power-and-speed combo meal if you can stream him only against right-handed fly ball pitchers.

Fletcher has now set a career-high in stolen bases. His 66th percentile sprint speed is nothing to get excited about and typical for his career. Use him for patching defensive holes and a high batting average.

Speed Spotlight

The last name to swipe three bags in the last week is Engel. He has seen quality results at the plate since the start of the 2020 season. Explaining those results is a more difficult job. He’s cut down on his strikeout rate and has barreled the ball more often this season. However, besides an increase in his contact rate both in and out of the zone, there’s no glaring statistical markers for a breakout. Perhaps he’s better exploiting his previous weaknesses or else has made a quiet mechanical adjustment to improve his contact skills. He remains aggressive and volatile. He probably won’t stick in the top of the order, although it’s worth taking a flier to see if he can.

With Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez back in the fold, Engel could fall into a natural handedness platoon with Brian Goodwin. Since Engel doesn’t have notable splits, they could opt to focus on other platoonable traits. For instance, Goodwin has a steep launch angle while Engel’s is more mid-range. That lends itself to using Goodwin against ground-balling right-handers with Engel handling everyone else.

The club also likes to get Leury Garcia reps all over the field. The end result is inconsistent playing time for Engel despite his positive performances. Much of the Sox AL Central rivals lack quality pitching. Engel should enjoy facing plenty of Quad-A caliber starters through the remainder of the season. The biggest challenge for fantasy managers will be anticipating the days he starts.