Brad Johnson

Saves and Steals

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All-Star Update

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In celebration of All Star Week, we're going to do things a little differently today. Usually, the closer tiers are developed based entirely on my expectations for the rest of the season. So when Greg Holland is handed an unusual number of save opportunities in April, I still anticipate a normal workload over the rest of the season. Today, let's focus solely on what has already happened. We'll do the same for base runners. The old tiers will be back next week.


Before we dive in, a few updates from the last week. When last we convened, Matt Bush, Seung-Hwan Oh, and Brad Brach were on the hot seat. Bush and Oh due to poor performance and Brach because of the return of Zach Britton. All three remain on shaky ground, but they've retained their jobs – for now.


For this analysis, I have restricted the player pool to the 35 pitchers with five or more saves. That leaves out a few notable names like Andrew Miller, Chris Devenski, and Trevor Rosenthal – guys with value despite a low saves total. Speaking of saves, I have over-weighted their value for this exercise – after all, we're picking closers in order to compete in the category. The ratios are very important too, but they're secondary to the saves.






Tier 1: The Elitists (4)


Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays


Nothing to see here. These are the four best relievers in baseball. Holland tops the leaderboard with his gaudy 28 saves. There are some cracks in the foundation. His 1.62 ERA hides a 3.72 xFIP. With Coors Field as his home, I have every reason to believe he'll regress. Kimbrel has been the best reliever of the first half in terms of raw ability. Holland's five extra saves give him just enough juice to top this list.


Jansen has kept pace with Kimbrel. He trails by just two saves. We knew Jansen would be a monster if healthy – he and Aroldis Chapman were the most expensive relievers on draft day. Kimbrel owners got a modest discount. Osuna owners should be pleased. He's quietly performed nearly as well and Kimbrel and Jansen.


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Tier 2: Almost Studs (6)


Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs

Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays

Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

Fernando Rodney, Arizona Diamondbacks


These are the guys who have either posted a lot of saves or have sparkling ratios. Kintzler headlines the group despite just 5.49 K/9. He has the third most saves in the league to go with a good ERA and WHIP. Three category production ain't too shabby. Colome has the second most saves, but he's declined this season. Even though he has 25 saves, he'll need to rebound to retain his job. Consider him a one category asset, and keep an eye on Tommy Hunter.


At the bottom of this tier, you'll find another flawed guy. Rodney destroyed his owners ratios in early April and again more recently. In the interim, he had the most dominating run of any reliever. With luck, you snapped him up after his original owner tossed him aside in disgust.


The rest of the tier consists of very good pitchers with only 16 saves. Iglesias has narrowly edged out Davis and Allen to this point of the season.


Tier 3: The Good & The Flawed (10)


Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves

Ken Giles, Houston Astros

A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins

Addison Reed, New York Mets

Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles

Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals

Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers

David Robertson, Chicago White Sox


This group includes four pitchers with 19 saves and some problems. Giles is the best of those, posting an acceptable strikeout rate, ERA, and WHIP to go with his saves. Herrera, Maurer, and Johnson have all struggled with meltdown outings and/or home runs. They're good when they're good. The other outings though... oh boy! Johnson stands above the others even though he has an unattractive 4.23 ERA. Picking up six wins – the most among all closers – is worth something. It doesn't mean he'll continue to win games.


Ramos has pitched similarly to Giles except with two fewer saves. Reed and Brach have only 15 saves, but they make up for it with sparkling rates. It's allowed them to be slightly more valuable than some of the guys with more saves.


A case could be made to place Knebel adjacent to Brach. Let's just say there isn't much separating the top and bottom of this tier. Knebel has the second highest strikeout rate among the closers to go with 14 saves and a 1.70 ERA. His WHIP is a bit of an issue. Watch out for regression due to the 5.53 BB/9.


Robertson barely scraped his way into this tier. On the one hand, his 13 saves are underwhelming. Snagging four wins certainly helps make up for the low save total. His ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts are all slightly better than average too.


Tier 4: Merely Useful (6)


Bud Norris, Los Angeles Angels

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Santiago Casilla, Oakland Athletics

Justin Wilson, Detroit Tigers

Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants

Matt Bush, Texas Rangers


Six of the seven pitchers in this tier have between 10 and 13 saves. Norris was a surprising revelation in Los Angeles. In past seasons, I've looked at Norris as a possible shutdown reliever. When given the opportunity, he's usually failed (and flailed). This time, he posted strong ratios in 36 innings. Diaz has performed comparably to Norris.


Casilla is the lone Tier 4 pitcher with over 13 saves. He's locked down 15 games. Casilla is slightly below average in the other categories.


Wilson, by comparison, has strong ratios despite only 10 saves and a few too many blown outings. In many respects, he's having the best season of this group.


Melancon has been fine when healthy. But he's twice had meltdowns immediately followed by a trip to the disabled list. Remove those, and he's having a typically excellent season. Not that we can ignore the injury. Melancon had a massive workload while pitching for the Pirates. It could be catching up to him.


Bush was always an iffy closer candidate. If he pitched to his ceiling, he could have been a monster. Likewise, if he worked around his floor, he'd be bitterly disappointing. Most (nearly all) players perform between their ceiling and floor. Bush is no exception.


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You can read more from Brad Johnson on Rotoworld, FanGraphs, and RotoBaller. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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