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Closer Rankings: Perception isn't always reality

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Just because you see a guy have a few bad games doesn't mean he's bad. But just because you first noticed a guy when he got good doesn't mean he'll stay good, either.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As evaluators, and as fans, we struggle with baseline. When is a guy's production explainable as "he's learning the big leagues," and when is it "this is who he is"? What is a slump and what is falling off a cliff?

Sitting around, just watching as subjective observers, we often make our baseline simple "how a guy was doing when we first realized who he was." A middle reliever can pitch in relative anonymity on, say, the Twins for three years, then he stumbles into a closer role with Arizona for a few months, and we think that's who he is. Just hypothetical, mind you, but without looking deeply, we can really struggle with baseline.

Take Cody Allen. He really became a closer last year, saving 24 of his 28 chances. He was good, with a 2.07 ERA and almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. That's not Aroldis Chapman levels of production, but it isn't Addison Reed, either. To many, he had pitched himself into second-, third-tier closer consideration.

For me, he hadn't. And I can't say this is why it happened, but I do know that Allen had, at least as it regards Daniel Kelley, some awful timing. I don't watch a whole lot of Indians games, but it just happened that whenever I did last year, I watched him blow up. Allen gave up multiple runs in four different outings last year (three runs three times, and four unearned runs once), and I'm pretty sure I saw him pitch at least three of them. You only see a guy when he's struggling, you aren't going to be a big believer. Take out those four games, and Allen's ERA for the season drops to 0.94.

Of course, he did pitch those games, and one-inning implosions are a risk you have with every closer. As it happens, the less reliable closers pose an even bigger risk for such games.

So I ranked Allen well to start the season. He was 13th overall in my first ranks. And then I happened to see his four-run implosion against the Tigers April 11, and his same-run outing April 20 against the White Sox. You see a guy struggle that much, it'll color your impression.

For a fan, that's fine. For an analyst, which I fancy myself as, it's much less fine. I have to be able to separate the bad impressions I get from whatever reality is, and rank a guy appropriately. Frankly, fantasy players have to do the same, so that they can pick up a guy who is actually good and drop a guy who is actually bad. So I tried to see if I was wrong about Allen, if my ranking was unfair, colored by my viewing experiences. And since Allen's April 20 blowup, he's pitched 12.1 innings, giving up five runs (four earned), striking out 16 and allowing 15 baserunners.

Wait. That isn't actually great. That's a 2.92 ERA — acceptable but unspectacular — but a 1.22 WHIP, with a 2.67 K:BB ratio. It's better than "not even in the top 30 closers," sure, but it isn't top-half level.

Okay, so I needed to step back. Figure out who Cody Allen, Pitcher, really is. He's only 16.1 innings into this season, so I figured I'd look at who he was before he really entered our collective consciousness. And handily enough, if you ignore saves — which are a product of opportunity as much as anything else — the 2013 and 2014 versions of Cody Allen were astonishingly similar. Here, look:

Year W G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 LOB% FIP
2013 6 77 70.1 11.26 3.33 0.90 84.6% 2.99
2014 6 76 69.2 11.76 3.36 0.90 82.8% 2.99

I bet you could look for a month and not find a guy whose stats were that similar, year to year. Of course, I left out a couple of very important stats: His BABIP and his ERA. In 2013, Allen allowed a .307 BABIP, leading to a 2.43 ERA. A year later, his successful year, the BABIP fell to .266, and his ERA fell to 2.07. This despite identical FIPs from year to year.

So which is real? The .307 BABIP guy who was a good-not-great reliever, or the .266 BABIP guy who was a fantasy must-have? So far this season, Allen sits at .405, which, you know, isn't great. On the other hand, his career line now sits at .306, which would seem to indicate 2015 and 2014 were different sides of the same coin, roughly balancing one another out. That, at least, would point to believing in 2013.

Working against Allen so far this year is his control. He walked three-plus guys every nine innings the last two years, but that number has basically doubled this year. In other words, he's putting more guys on base on his own, and the ones that try to earn it are having more success because of his BABIP. One goes a long way to explain his poorer FIP this year; the other his ERA.

Ultimately, the takeaway is that I have been too low on Allen after his early-season blow-ups, but I probably wasn't as much too low as some would have had you believe.

But the bigger takeaway is not a Cody Allen point at all. It's a point that, frankly, runs somewhat counter to my point from Friday's Ticker, and that is that you can let your fandom (or lack thereof) color your impressions of a ballplayer to a point that you aren't evaluating them properly. Doing this all the dang time, I feel like I've gotten to the point where I can carve out some objectivity from the general subjectiveness, but as I discovered with Allen, I'm far from perfect.

Just keep an eye on it. Now, on to the Closer Rankings:

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 David Robertson CWS 3 An eight-game week has to suck for the ballplayers, but fantasy owners can make the most of it.
2 Andrew Miller NYY 1 Gave up his first run of the season last week, but he's still been elite.
3 Aroldis Chapman CIN 2
4 Craig Kimbrel SDP 4 I just want a nice week from Kimbrel so I can start believing in him again. This has been frustrating.
5 Drew Storen WAS 6
6 Joakim Soria DET 5
7 Kenley Jansen LAD 8 He came back healthy just in time for the Dodgers to totally stop scoring runs. But this is a strong mix in the long run.
8 Huston Street LAA 9
9 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 10
10 Zach Britton BAL 13 Britton is the other beneficiary of an eight-game week.
11 Koji Uehara BOS 14
12 Glen Perkins MIN 15
13 Greg Holland KCR 7 Until we get a better idea of his health, Holland can't be ranked among the week-to-week elite.
14 Wade Davis KCR 26 Holland's question marks are to Davis' benefit.
15 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 11
16 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 12
17 Mark Melancon PIT 18 The missing velocity hasn't returned, but so far the results mostly have. He carries risk.
18 Luke Gregerson HOU 17 He's struggled of late, but you can't exactly hang your hat on the like of Chad Qualls to supplant him.
19 Jeurys Familia NYM 20
20 Santiago Casilla SFG 19 He's persistently mediocre. He gets enough strikeouts and converts enough saves to be helpful, while having very few dominant outings.
21 Brett Cecil TOR 27
22 Dellin Betances NYY 25 Three pitchers have pitched 10-plus innings without allowing an earned run. None of the three currently holds a closer role. Adam Ottavino is done for the year, leaving only Betances and Wade Davis.
23 Hector Rondon CHC 21
24 Fernando Rodney SEA 24
25 A.J. Ramos MIA 23 Hasn't allowed an earned run since late in April. Ten strikeouts in 9.1 innings in May.
26 Brad Boxberger TAM 16 It looks like the Rays are really going to strategize the use of Boxberger and Jake McGee. For baseball, that's very smart. For fantasy, it's frustrating.
27 Cody Allen CLE NR This is, right now, as high as I can reasonably boost Allen. He's still struggling.
28 Jason Grilli ATL 28
29 John Axford COL 22
30 Shawn Tolleson TEX NR The Rangers have gotten better, which will either make Tolleson look really good or expose him. But dude, Sunday night, 1-2-3 save with three strikeouts? Nice. 

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Andrew Miller NYY 1
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 2
3 David Robertson CWS 4
4 Craig Kimbrel SDP 3
5 Drew Storen WAS 6
6 Kenley Jansen LAD 7
7 Greg Holland KCR 5
8 Joakim Soria DET 8
9 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 9
10 Huston Street LAA 10
11 Zach Britton BAL 13
12 Koji Uehara BOS 12
13 Glen Perkins MIN 11
14 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 14
15 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 15
16 Sean Doolittle OAK 22
17 Mark Melancon PIT 18
18 Luke Gregerson HOU 17
19 Jeurys Familia NYM 19
20 Santiago Casilla SFG 20
21 Wade Davis KCR 26
22 Fernando Rodney SEA 23
23 Brett Cecil TOR 24
24 Hector Rondon CHC 21
25 Dellin Betances NYY 25
26 Cody Allen CLE NR
27 Jason Grilli ATL 27
28 Brad Boxberger TAM 16
29 Jake McGee TAM NR
30 A.J. Ramos MIA 30