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Will Smith
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Saves and Steals

Will Smith Rebounds

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: August 19, 2021, 1:13 am ET

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We’ve made it three-quarters of the way through the season. Last week, we discussed Braves closer Will Smith in the context of a recent meltdown. The conclusion was simple: so long as he didn’t fumble any more saves, he’d hold onto the job. Later that very day, Smith blew a save via two-run home run. The risk of Richard Rodriguez stealing saves reached an apex. Since then, Smith finished off three hitless saves. He was the only closer to record more than two saves last week. In fact, only six others managed multiple saves. Closer king Josh Hader triumphantly returned as one of those two-save pitchers.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (5)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels

Hader returned last Thursday and pitched three times. He showed no ill-effects from his 10 days on the COVID-list.

Hendriks wasn’t at his best last week, coughing up seven runs via three home runs. He notched a win, loss, and save in three appearances. Craig Kimbrel is consistently working the eighth inning.

Iglesias doesn’t feel like the others in this section, but he’s been their match statistically. He allowed a solo home run in a non-save situation. For the week, he appeared twice over 2.2 innings and struck out five batters. He also nabbed a save on Sunday.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (8)

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays
Jake McGee, San Francisco Giants
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals

The Red Sox are in freefall and thus Barnes was only called upon once in a non-save situation. He worked around a pair of hits although he did keep the Orioles off the scoreboard. Oddly, he used a changeup in these three outings, a pitch he’s thrown in only one other appearance this season. I can’t help but wonder if his willingness to turn to a tertiary pitch might not reflect a deeper issue. In any event, the Red Sox can’t afford to drop late leads so they’ll be impatient about any additional blown saves.

Jansen allowed a run yesterday while nursing a two-run lead. For the week, he tossed five innings over four appearances. His command remains below his normal standard. Jansen is probably unavailable tonight after pitching back-to-back days. Blake Treinen has too, but he only needed eight pitches in each outing. If not Treinen, Brusdar Graterol might be next up since Corey Knebel also threw 20 pitches on Tuesday.

McGee scuffled on Friday. He was removed with a pair of runners on base and two outs. Trevor Rogers had already worked the eighth inning leaving Zack Littell to finish the game. It was McGee’s second consecutive flop. He’s since rebounded with a couple perfect saves.

Melancon isn’t of the same caliber as the other pitchers in this tier, but he has a firmer grasp on the job than McGee, Romano, and all others listed below. The lone exception is Reyes who has comparable job security. Melancon’s two most-recent appearances included healthy swinging strike rates thanks to over 50 percent curve balls. Similar usage in the future could improve his fantasy production beyond just saves and luck-based ERA.

Reyes nabbed a save, but it was ugly. He allowed a couple runs (one unearned) via a homer. The good news is he hasn’t issued a walk in eight of his last nine appearances. Of course, his strikeout rate has declined precipitously over the same nine games. I remain deeply mistrustful of the Cardinals closer.

Tier 3: Core Performers (3)

Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler, Tampa Bay Rays

The A’s, Pirates, and Rays didn’t produce a save opportunity. We’re left to continue wondering how Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay plan to approach the late-innings. Bednar, Kittredge, and Wisler are the likeliest to accrue saves. Trivino has the ninth-inning job on lockdown for now.

Tier 4: Upside (7)

Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Drew Steckenrider, Seattle Mariners
Scott Barlow, Jake Brentz, Kansas City Royals
Ian Kennedy, Philadelphia Phillies
Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, New York Yankees
Anthony Bender, Dylan Floro, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick, Chicago Cubs

The Mariners handed Sewald their only save opportunity of the last week. He converted it without issue. Steckenrider worked the seventh with Castillo handling the eighth. This has all the telltales of a closer committee. The Royals also seem to be in committee mode even though Greg Holland is now on the injured list with shoulder impingement. Barlow could be a quality closer – he would likely rank adjacent to McGee on his own. Brentz is a hard-throwing southpaw with poor command. He is missing a trick if he wants to become a reliable high leverage reliever. Josh Staumont is in the picture too.

After a rocky start to his Phillies career, Kennedy now has three straight scoreless appearances. Even these weren’t flawless. I’m especially concerned about his batted ball profile. He figures to be homer prone at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Green appears to be the preferred substitute closer with Loaisiga serving as second chair. After a doubleheader on Tuesday both are unavailable today. Zack Britton could pick up a cheap save. He’s struggled of late. The Yankees are sending positive signals about Aroldis Chapman’s imminent return, indicating he could skip a rehab assignment.

Floro has the Marlins most recent save, but that’s only because Bender wasn’t available from pitching the previous two days. Bender will leap up the rankings if he continues to pitch after Floro on a regular basis. He’s comparable to McGee and Romano. Floro would rank adjacent to Trivino if it turns out he’s the closer.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Colome is on one of his patented hot stretches. Don’t get too excited. He’s all about contact management – similar to Melancon. Dating back to July 31, he’s allowed no runs, three hits, and three walks in 8.1 innings. Unfortunately, he has only four strikeouts over the span.

Heuer picked up the save on Tuesday. Despite a 4.44 ERA, he has desirable closer traits. He’ll want to recapture his missing velocity – he’s dropped a couple ticks on the gun beginning in mid-May. He also needs to improve his sequencing either to push his ground ball rate back up to 50 percent or else record more strikeouts. He has the stuff to accomplish either but perhaps not both.

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Tier 5: Mess Hall (7)

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

Soto aptly demonstrated the danger of the Mess Hall closers. On Tuesday, he was demolished for six runs (five earned) in just two-thirds of an inning. Fulmer and Jose Cisnero were consistently setting up for Soto. We’ll see if the usage pattern shifts.

Spencer Patton fell into a slump as soon as Kennedy was traded away. Barlow stepped in with a pair of saves this week. He profiles as a potentially passable closer. He throws more breaking balls than fastballs to keep hitters off balance. We’ve seen this profile spawn many useful relievers. Expect growing pains from the rookie.

Bard suffered a classic Coors Field meltdown on Monday. The Rockies offense was kind enough to scrape back a win for him. Clippard pitched three times, coughing up a couple inconsequential runs en route to a win and a save. Sim and Lorenzen set up for Givens on Sunday; the Reds only save of the week.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (out for season)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (finger)
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
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox (via trade)

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Tyler Wade, 4 SB (12 SB total)
Starling Marte, 3 SB (33 SB)
Nicky Lopez, 3 SB (13 SB)

As with saves, it was also a tame week on the stolen base front. Wade had a rare good week while playing in six games. He rarely has a fantasy application aside from as an emergency patch. His interesting physical tools almost never show up during a game.

Marte trails Whit Merrifield by just one steal on the seasonal leaderboard. It’s a two-man race for the stolen base crown. He’s unlikely to approach his career high of 47 steals.

Lopez is a sort of higher profile version of the guy in today’s Speed Spotlight. Back in 2019, Lopez generated hype for his on base skills and speed. He had just enough pop to potentially turn out like Luis Arraez (himself a 2019 debutee). Lopez’s fatal flaw is an utter lack of barreled contact. Even so, he’s learning to squeeze production out of his limited game. He’s batting .271/.343/.340 with no home runs and 13 steals in 367 plate appearances. For fantasy purposes, that only works as a very temporary injury replacement or waiver wire streamer.

Speed Spotlight

Earlier in the season, we put a spotlight on Rangers utilityman Yonny Hernandez. Honestly, it was a bit of a throwaway – an interesting player who didn’t have an immediate path to playing time. Now Hernandez has taken over as the leadoff hitter, and he’s performing as expected. Through 39 plate appearances, he’s batting .265/.333/.294 with more walks than strikeouts. He hasn’t posted more strikeouts than walks since Single-A in 2018.

The fantasy use case for Hernandez is narrow. You can’t touch him in OPS leagues or formats that use slugging percentage. That’s because he doesn’t hit for power of any kind. Expect a slugging percentage well below his on base percentage. Since he bats leadoff, RBI will be rare too. Essentially, he can only contribute to runs, batting average, on base percentage, and stolen bases. Statcast credits him with 52nd-percentile sprint speed. He’s more than willing to run with three steals in as many attempts thus far in the Majors. He also swiped 21 in 31 attempts at Triple-A. His success rate isn’t impressive though the Rangers have no cause to put the brakes on him.

Since he’s so punchless, Hernandez won’t get much opportunity to use his discerning eye at the plate. Big league pitchers will challenge him. Upwards of 90 percent of his plate appearances could end with a ball in play. While he doesn’t have impressive pop, his batted ball profile is such that he should hit for average. With luck, he’ll turn out like a more patient David Fletcher.