Kela Ascending

Brad Johnson

One of the perks of being a baseball writer is the relative unimportance of our subjects. In an increasingly strident world, baseball is just for fun. We find ways to take it very seriously, but we can also step back and acknowledge that it’s a game. On Tuesday morning, we were reminded that the wider world is a scary place from which the baseball community is not immune. Former Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez was arrested on a series of disturbing charges. In all likelihood, his career is over. Keone Kela will step into the ninth inning role for Pittsburgh.

In lighter news, Raisel Iglesias led the last week with four saves. Five more relievers netted a trio of saves. Kirby Yates (41) will probably finish the year atop the leaderboard. Aroldis Chapman (37) has a modest lead of second place with Roberto Osuna (35), Brad Hand (34), Josh Hader (33), Iglesias (33), and Will Smith (33) all in the mix for third place.

Tier 1: The Elite (5)

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Hendriks had a busy week, appearing five times. He recorded four saves but was handed a loss on Monday. Hader had a similar week. He also allowed a two-run home run. Fortunately, he was protecting a three-run lead. Smith is back in action after recovering from a back injury. He’s pitched effectively in two appearances. All three earned promotions due to their elite strikeout rates and run prevention.

Tier 2: The Good (6)

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twin

Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Cleveland Indians

Last night, Jansen was used on back-to-back days for the first time since late-June. He promptly coughed up two runs. While his strikeout and walk rates are fairly typical, Jansen has struggled to prevent runs this season (3.81 ERA). Neris may have recorded three saves, but he was also dinged for a couple runs. He was saddled with the loss on Saturday after failing to protect a tied game.

Kennedy is tied for the eighth-most saves this year, a feat all the more remarkable because he had a whopping three saves through the end of May. Taylor has a similar story. He tallied just four saves in the first two months of the season. Now he’s sitting on 28 saves. Both pitchers supply healthy strikeout totals and ratios.

If this column had run in its usual Wednesday slot, Hand would be listed among the injured with Wittgren ranked near the bottom of this tier. However, Hand threw a successful bullpen yesterday. It sounds like he’ll be available as early as Friday. He’s looked injured for some time so don’t be surprised if things turn sour.

Tier 3: Core Performers (10)

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Seth Lugo, New York Mets

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

Emilio Pagan, Tampa Bay Rays

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves

As a reminder, Giles and Lugo would be second tier relievers if they were used differently. Giles isn’t allowed to work multiple days in a row while Lugo almost exclusively makes two-inning appearances. If you need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a stray save, alternate Mets and Blue Jays relievers make for a good place to start.

Kela, a formerly successful closer with the Rangers, is expected to close for the Pirates. He has a 2.45 ERA with 10.87 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9. A hard-throwing fly ball pitcher, he relies on inducing soft contact. He’s consistently succeeded in this regard throughout his career.

Tier 4: Some Guys (6)

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

Doolittle hasn’t looked himself since before he went on the injured list. He still doesn’t look like himself. In particular, he’s struggling to induce whiffs. On the plus side, he’s only allowed one unearned run in six September appearances. He also has a hold, a loss, and no saves. Hudson locked down the save on Tuesday and might take the lead for any opportunities against heavily right-handed opponents. I expect this to turn into a straight handedness platoon.

Colome was called upon five times in the last week. He was touched for a couple runs. Givens also pitched five times and was spanked for five runs in 4.2 innings. He recorded no saves, a hold, and a loss over the span. Don’t be surprised if somebody else takes the next opportunity – perhaps Shawn Armstrong?

Workman, Leclerc, and Jimenez inched upwards within this tier due to potent strikeout rates and strong recent performances. All three have performed like second-tier closers recently, but the risk of a meltdown is too obvious to bump them into the third tier.

Tier 5: The Forgotten (3)

Matt Magill, Anthony Bass, Austin Adams, Seattle Mariners

Jose Urena, Miami Marlins

Jairo Diaz, Colorado Rockies

The Mariners are using their three best relievers in stopper roles, meaning they’re used at the first opportunity where their specific skills are valuable. Urena’s stuff hasn’t played up as effectively as hoped out of the bullpen. His fastball is two mph zippier, but it’s not leading to more whiffs. Unsurprisingly, Diaz was tattooed at Coors Field yesterday.

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Injured

Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow – out for season)

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear – out for season)

Arodys Vizcaino, Seattle Mariners (shoulder inflammation – out for season)

David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain, out for season)

Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (torn UCL, out for season)

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies (blood clot, out for season)

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (elbow, out for season)

The Deposed

Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

Anthony Swarzak, Atlanta Braves (deposed with Mariners)

Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox

Chris Martin, Texas Rangers

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs

Greg Holland, Washington Nationals (deposed with DBacks)

Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves

Sergio Romo, Minnesota Twins (traded)

Roenis Elias, Washington Nationals (traded)

Chris Martin, Atlanta Braves (traded)

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Shane Greene, Atlanta Braves

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays

Hunter Strickland, Washington Nationals (traded)

Ryne Stanek, Miami Marlins

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

The Steals Department

Let’s shake up this section in deference to your needs. We’ll retire the tiers for today and instead turn to some matchup analysis. But first, let’s check in on recent performance. Kolten Wong led the league with four swipes. Shockingly, eight others nabbed three bags apiece including top prospect Kyle Tucker (along with seven of the usual suspects). In past years, this wouldn’t have been a surprising week, but there just haven’t been many attempts.

Mallex Smith still has a comfortable seasonal lead with 44 steals. Adalberto Mondesi (39) has an outside chance to catch him. Ronald Acuna has a shot at a 40/40 season. He’s sitting on 39 home runs and 37 steals. Jonathan Villar (36) and Trea Turner (33) round out the top five.

Low-Owned Speedsters with Playing Time

Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks

Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays

Leury Garcia, Chicago White Sox

Garrett Hampson, Colorado Rockies

Jon Berti, Miami Marlins

All six of these players are under 20 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues. Dyson plays the least, and yet he probably projects to steal the most of this group. When he does start in center field, he bats leadoff or eighth. As a hitter, his only positive traits are speed and plate discipline. DeShields is a higher strikeout version of the same profile, but he also starts most days.

Kiermaier features the most well-rounded skill set in this selection of would-be thieves. He hits for some power but struggles to reach base often enough to use his speed (.231 average, .278 OBP). Garcia is easy to overlook because he’s a hacktastic ground ball hitter who probably shouldn’t be in the majors. For some reason, the White Sox have taken to using him as their leadoff hitter.

If you don’t already own Hampson, you missed some solid recent production. Touted as a top sleeper this past season, it turns out he struggles to make solid contact in the majors. Like Kiermaier, he’s not reaching base often enough to fully leverage his legs (.297 OBP). Berti usually bats leadoff or eighth. He actually does reach at a healthy clip (.342 OBP). He’s an extreme ground ball hitter who relies on his speed to leg out hits. As a bonus, he has position eligibility all over the field.

Catchers with Noodle Arms

Wilson Ramos, New York Mets

Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals

Omar Narvaez, Seattle Mariners

All of these catchers aren’t quite regular starters with the exception of Ramos. He’s allowed a whopping 88 steals with only 16 caught stealing (15.4% CS%). The next worst is Yasmani Grandal (67 SB, 27 CS, 28.7% CS%). The Mets have three games against the Reds, four versus the Marlins, and three opposite the Braves. Berti, Josh VanMeter, and Philip Ervin seem to be the most obvious targets.

Suzuki makes for a tricky target because he splits time with Yan Gomes – one of the more successful catchers at holding runners. Suzuki, however, has nabbed a pitiful five of 50 attempts (10% CS%). If you can pick and choose your spots, the Marlins, Phillies, and Indians round out the Nationals’ schedule. That’s Berti again along with Scott Kingery, Oscar Mercado, and Greg Allen.

Narvaez splits time with Tom Murphy. Like with the Nationals pair, this is a difficult duo to exploit because they have disparate skills. They’ll face the Orioles, Astros, and Athletics – good news for Villar owners along with Tucker and Ramon Laureano.

Oblivious Pitchers

Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs

Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Miguel Castro, Baltimore Orioles

It’s no coincidence two Mets pitchers are on this list. Syndergaard has allowed an insane 38 steals while on the mound. By comparison, deGrom’s 21 (still third-worst in the league) makes for a tame total. Both pitchers have longstanding issues with holding baserunners. Toss in a below average receiver like Ramos, and you have a recipe for disaster. You’re already going after Ramos in a general sense. Just make sure to double down versus these aces.

Darvish is in line to face the Cardinals twice down the stretch with the NL Central on the line. Wong is the likeliest to run although we shouldn’t rule out some friskiness from Dexter Fowler, Tommy Edman, or Harrison Bader.

Castro is a reliever and thus can’t be easily targeted. However, since he’s allowed 18 steals in just 72.1 innings, it’s not a bad idea to simply set some runners free against the Orioles. They’ll play the Mariners, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. Try Cavan Biggio, Derek Fisher, or Jackie Bradley Jr. Of course, if Mallex Smith happens to be out there, he’s a must-play.