While baseballs continue to fly out of ballparks in record setting quantities, closers are struggling to put together big save totals for their fantasy owners. There are a few exceptions. For instance, Kirby Yates is once again among the weekly leaders. He tied with Aroldis Chapman and Blake Treinen with three saves over the last week. Yates leads the league by a comfortable margin. His 19 saves are followed by Shane Greene (15) and Kenley Jansen (14).
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The King (1)
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Last week, I warned readers of a one mph drop in Diaz’s fastball velocity. The bad news is he’s still missing that little bit of zip. The good news is his velocity is very consistent appearance to appearance. We can try to draw a range of conclusions from the evidence. Perhaps he’s hurt. Perhaps he’s intentionally saving some reserves. Perhaps it’s whatever lurks behind Door Number Three. The simple truth is, we don’t have enough information. We’re reading tea leaves and, contrary to what you aunt may say, this is no science in reading tea leaves. They’re just lumps of plant matter.
Something just a little weird is happening with Diaz.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (8)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Yates has now struck out the side in six of his last nine appearances. He’s presently the owner of the most unhittable splitter in the league. The Astros bullpen is plain unhittable. Osuna is fronted by Ryan Pressly. The pair have combined to allow one run, 16 hits, and two walks over 42.1 innings. What they lack in strikeouts, they make up for in pristine ratios.
Vazquez ran afoul of a two-run home run. He remains a top five closer. We can argue over the exact order after Diaz. It’s a very tight race for second-best. Our old friend Chapman is rolling a career-best 1.93 BB/9. The difference between elite Chapman and the very good Chapman is walks.
Tier 3: Warty Relief Aces (4)
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
As a reminder, the difference between Hand and the next tier up is an expectation of more home runs in the future. Qualitatively, he’s very similar to the back-end Tier 2 arms. Doolittle is here mostly due to past recurring shoulder issues. A weak bullpen in Washington will increase the strain on him. Giles is ranked here because of his long history of spontaneous combustion.
Barnes is a bad week from losing this role. Fortunately, he’s shown no signs of difficulty. He’s produced Tier 1 quality rates to date. The only thing missing are the actual saves. Most recently, he pitched the eighth inning against the middle of the Astros lineup. Brandon Workman cleaned up the bottom of the order in the ninth inning. Expect this reversal of roles to occur every so often. Incidentally, Workman seems to have leapfrogged Ryan Brasier in the pecking order.
Tier 4: Core Performers (5)
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Sometime soon, a would-be contender – perhaps the Nationals – is going to dip into the trade market for bullpen help. Smith, Colome, and Greene are three of the five most likely relievers to be dealt. It’s the only reason Smith is in this tier. Colome and Greene rightfully belong here with or without the risk of a trade to a setup role.
The Phillies could have really used Neris last night. He was unavailable after throwing five innings over the previous week. The Philadelphia bullpen turned a save situation into a walkoff loss. Pat Neshek was also unavailable.
Perhaps Iglesias’ public blow up a few weeks back was a positive event. For those who missed it, he whined about being used in tie games because it made his stats look bad. Since then, he hasn’t allowed a run over 7.2 innings. I bet he was given a talking to by management and, hopefully, responded positively. Or this could all be a bunch of natural variance. Iglesias is a little too homer prone to be an ideal closer, especially with Great American Ballpark as his home field.
Tier 5: Red Flag Club (7)
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
Steve Cishek, Chicago Cubs
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Buttrey continues to pitch ahead of Robles. His two saves have come in multi-inning appearances. Blowing a tied game on Monday doesn’t help his case to close in place of Robles. Even with the hiccup, Buttrey is clearly superior to Robles. The prophesied role reversal is delayed by another couple weeks.
The Yankees got to both Alvarado and Castillo for three runs apiece last week. They remain eerily similar. The Bombers also roughed up Givens for five runs on Monday.
The Rangers announced Leclerc would regain the closer role soon. Not yet though. Kelley earned the save yesterday and nabbed another one this afternoon. With Kelley having worked two days in a row, perhaps now Leclerc will get the next opportunity. Chris Martin’s run as closer was short-lived. He’s allowed a home run in three straight appearances.
When I expressed doubt about Jackson’s breakout, it was because I didn’t believe he would sustain an over-70 percent ground ball rate. Despite two consecutive rough outings, he’s continued to burn worms like a sadist. His most recent meltdown was reminiscent of a bad Zack Britton outing – the Giants were fortunate enough to string together some seeing-eye hits. While everybody is calling for Newcomb to ascend, I have serious reservations about his newfound 0.00 BB/9 in relief. Walks have always been his number one nemesis.
Tier 6: Mess Hall (5)
Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins
The Mariners dumped Anthony Swarzak on the Braves to ensure he’s no longer a part of the late-inning confusion (or because Jerry Dipoto was itching to make a trade). The latest “Who’s He?” to track is David McKay. He’s a fly ball pitcher who tosses an even mix of fastballs and curves. His first appearance was in the eighth inning with a four-run lead.
Romo blew his first save last night. It’s remarkable only in that it hasn’t happened sooner. He has a luck neutral 5.06 ERA. The Royals don’t produce enough save opportunities for us to figure out who they’d use. Presumably Kennedy and Diekman are the present frontrunners depending on the handedness of the upcoming hitters.
Of the backups to Wade Davis, Estevez more closely resembles an actual closer. Oberg has survived thus far with some ugly peripherals. A reckoning is coming - and now it's likely to be a high-profile reckoning.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear – out for season)
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)
Arodys Vizcaino, Seattle Mariners (shoulder inflammation – out for season)
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain)
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs (hamstring strain)
Strop recently threw a 25-pitch bullpen session. Morrow is still a long way out in his rehab. He threw from 60 feet on Monday.
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Anthony Swarzak, Seattle Mariners
Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox
Chris Martin, Texas Rangers
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Martin’s tenure as the Rangers closer was exceptional brief. Davis is dealing with an oblique injury.
The Steals Department
One of the fun things about the Steals Department is surprises. Nobody thinks of Nick Senzel as a speedy prospect, but he clearly knows how to pick his spots. He swiped four bases in the last week, tied for tops in the category with Adalberto Mondesi. Senzel is now up to five steals in six attempts over 80 plate appearances. After the top two, only Ronald Acuna and Jarrod Dyson reached the three-steal threshold. On the seasonal leaderboard, Mondesi (17) has a four-steal lead over Tim Anderson (13) with Dyson (12), Dee Gordon (12), and Jose Ramirez (12) tied for third. These five also happen to be the only base thieves in the double-digits.
Tier 1: The World Beaters (5)
Dee Gordon, Seattle Mariners
Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Billy Hamilton, Kansas City Royals
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Turner is back! Despite only 40 plate appearances, he’s currently tied 20th in the league with six steals. Everybody ahead of him has over 100 plate appearances. Most are closer to 200. It should take Turner no more than one healthy month to catch up with Dyson, Gordon, and Ramirez. One frisky week is all he needs to climb from 20th to sixth.
Tier 2: Consistent Thieves (8)
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Jonathan Villar, Baltimore Orioles
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Yelich’s previous exclusion from this section was an oversight. While not as fast as he once was, it’s clearly a mistake to bet against him. He’s stolen nine bases in nine attempts. Although not as fast as the others in this tier, his .440 OBP creates an unmatchable volume of opportunity. That he’s also become rather savvy about avoiding detection only makes him more valuable. A few months ago, it was bold to select Yelich early in the first round. Now there’s no question he should have filled the role Mookie Betts played as the most popular alternative to Mike Trout.
Tier 3: Assorted Rabbits (5)
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves
Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Buxton is back to hitting like it’s 2017, which is to stay he’s a roughly league average batter. We’ve seen this version of Buxton before. As one of the fastest players in the league, he should have no issue reaching 30 stolen bases while also hitting for power. The issue is with avoiding the deep slumps that marred his 2018 campaign.
Tier 4: Names to Watch (8)
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds
Oscar Mercado, Cleveland Indians
Nicky Lopez, Kansas City Royals
Tommy Pham, Tampa Bay Rays
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
One doesn’t steal four bases in a week by mistake. Senzel reminds me of Bellinger. He’s a future bat-first player who has yet to fully accept his destiny as a plodder. Still relatively young, his body remains capable of supplying bursts of speed without breaking down. This will change as he ages. For now, he looks like a borderline 20-steal threat.