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Neftali Feliz and Jeurys Familia down, Knebel and Reed up, plus new graph to identify closers in danger

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Welcome back to Coffee’s for Closers! It’s week 7 and I’ve got a new toy to show off. Oh, and there’s been more bullpen movement!

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Week 7 of Coffee’s for Closers! Welcome back!

I’m not going to any big intro this week, but I am going tell you about a big change to the format. I’ve been using the big table of leverage index changes to try and find potential future closers, but I’m not happy with how it has worked out so far. I’m all about getting rid of things if they aren’t useful and continuously improving, so I’m debuting something new to replace it this week.

Instead of focusing on which relievers have increased their leverage the most over the past two weeks, I’m going to focus on which relievers have the best match between skill and leverage and which ones don’t. You see, if a guy isn’t throwing well, but has been getting out of jams and getting all the save chances for his team, he might technically be the closer, but is probably on the verge of losing his job. Neftali Feliz is a perfect example of this. By graphing all the relievers (with 10 innings or more) with their raw skills against their leverage index, we should be able to see who is in danger and who is very safe pretty quickly.

“How am I measuring skill in a single number?” I know you are asking yourself. I’m using a tried-and-true statistical method known as z-scores to combine performance in four key metrics into one number. Basically, I looked at the K%-BB%, swinging strike %, hard hit % allowed, and ground ball %, compared them to the averages and variation within each and determined how far above or below average each reliever is in each stat. Then, I totaled up the scores for each stat into one value.

I chose these four stats because they cover things that a pitcher can control: his strikeout and walk rates, his swing and miss rate, how much hard contact he allows, and how many ground balls he generates. The bigger, the better for all of these except hard contact, obviously. The higher the total z-score, the more skilled the reliever.

Just to validate this, here are the top 5 z-scores: Wandy Peralta, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Chris Devenski, and Craig Kimbrel. Dellin Betances just missed the top 5. I don’t think anyone would argue that those have been the best relievers in baseball so far.

So, once I calculate the z-scores for every reliever in baseball for these four stats, I graphed them against their game leverage index, that I have discussed previously. The result in the graph shown below the ranking tiers. I hope this is useful to you. I used Tableau for three reasons: one, it is a very cool data analysis tool, it is free, and it allows me to give you an interactive graph. You can highlight each data point and see which pitcher it is. I’ll have some more info below the graph.

I think this is going to be very useful and I’m excited about it. I try to provide something you can’t find easily anywhere else. Enjoy!

Oh, and here are the updated closer ranking tiers:

The Closers

  • Craig Kimbrel (he now deserves the number one slot)
  • Kenley Jansen
  • Dellin Betances (Aroldis Chapman is on the DL and his replacement is almost as good. Chapman was showing some worrying signs, so maybe he’s been hurting for a while. Betances is worthy of this spot as long as Chapman is out.)
  • Wade Davis
  • Cody Allen
  • Ken Giles

Cadillac Eldorados

  • Greg Holland
  • David Robertson
  • Brandon Maurer (he moves up because he does deserve it with the way he is pitching)
  • Addison Reed (Familia is probably done for the year, but Reed has been pitching better anyway, so he stays on this tier)
  • Robert Osuna (moves up a tier after looking healthy and good so far)

The Good Leads

  • Brad Brach (he’s been used A LOT so far and I’m worried it is hurting his pitching; Darren O’Day is looming if Brach keeps struggling. He drops a tier this week.)
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Alex Colome
  • Jim Johnson

The Weak Leads

  • Tony Watson (His z-score was much better than I anticipated. He is the in “super safe” group on the graph, so I may be starting to feel better here)
  • Seung-Hwan Oh (unlike Watson, his z-score is still looking bad and he’s got Rosenthal breathing down his neck. This is still an unsettled situation. Rosenthal is worth a stash.)
  • A.J. Ramos (his z-score stinks like Oh, but no one behind him looks as good as Rosenthal, so he’s probably got a little more leash.)
  • Edwin Diaz (he’s looking very shaky with poor control right now and is in some danger of losing his job to Tony Zych, Nick Vincent, or Steve Cishek, but I can’t be sure.)
  • Corey Knebel (Neftali Feliz finally loses his job and Knebel looks like the guy, but don’t be shocked if another reliever grabs some saves while Knebel is used in the highest-leverage inning. Knebel has the stuff to keep the job, I just don’t yet know how this will play out.)
  • Justin Wilson (His numbers have been terrific, but he’s a lefty, so Brad Ausmus may not use him every single save situation. This is one to monitor for now after K-Rod lost the job last week.)
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Raisel Iglesias (It’s time to move Iglesias up. He’s their closer, even if they won’t admit it.)

The Timeshares (these are just the lowest tier, they aren’t all in true committees)

  • Matt Bush (His z-score is below 0, so his skills aren’t doing great. He’s still a decent option and better than those below, but he’s not as solid as you might think.)
  • Bud Norris
  • Matt Albers/Shawn Kelley/Koda Glover (Washington is still a mess, but at least their initial closer candidates are back now. Kelley Albers is the primary option and is by far the best pitcher in the bullpen right now, but we don’t know enough yet how Dusty will use them all.)
  • Fernando Rodney (Still the closer, but with Archie Bradley and Jorge de la Rosa around, he’s still in big danger of losing the job.)
  • Hector Neris/Joaquin Benoit (Neris is the one you want in this pseudo-committee, but he has struggled lately. Benoit isn’t very good either. This is kind of a mess right now.)
  • Santiago Casilla/Ryan Madson (Casilla is still the closer, but Madson is by far the better pitcher right now and worth a stash if you want to speculate)
  • Derek Law/Hunter Strickland (Mark Melancon is on the DL, so it will be up to these two, with Law in front, but Law isn’t very good, so who knows.)

As promised, here’s the big new graph. My apologies to those on mobile, it doesn’t display well on small screens. You should be able to download it though and look at the whole thing. Also, if you are reading this 5+ days after it was posted, the graph will automatically update to the most recent data, so my commentary won’t make sense below.

As you can see, I tried to color code this graph to show four different groups: those that are in danger of losing their closer’s (or setup) job, those that are very safe and locked in, those that we just don’t care about at all, and the rest (“other”).

Anyone with a z-score over 2.0 is an above average or great reliever and anyone with a gmLI over 1.0 is being used in situations that are higher leverage than average. If a pitcher is used a lot in high leverage situations (high gmLI) but has a low z-score, it means he might not be a good enough pitcher to keep the job. Those guys are all in the upper left region. Guys with high gmLI and high z-scores are safe bets to keep their jobs all season, unless they get hurt. They have their manager’s full trust and are pitching very well. Kimbrel is the leader of this pack in the upper right.

The guys in between the groups in gray are ok. They aren’t bad and they aren’t great. They have z-scores over 0 and some are used in high leverage situations, but not all. Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, and Wandy Peralta are the three points way out on the lower right. They aren’t used in high leverage situations, but they certainly should be with the way they’ve pitched.

Next week, I’ll dive more into this chart with updated data, but I’ve said enough for this week. If you hover over a data point, it should give you the name of the player and their numbers. I will just point out that this chart could have identified Neftali Feliz and Francisco Rodriguez as closers on thin ice before they were removed from their jobs.

If you want to know which closers might be next, explore the upper left region. I’ve mentioned AJ Ramos, Seung Hwan Oh, Derek Law, Joaquin Benoit, and Santiago Casilla as risky options already. The other closers in that region are: Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Bush, and Hector Neris. I’m not saying all of them are in imminent danger, but you should be paying close attention.

Thanks for checking this out this week! Tschus!