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Closer Updates: 14 Saves

Sometimes I get an idea for a column before I even set out to research it. (Yes, I do research.) Usually, this works out fine, just like it did in college. So today, when I set out to find hidden gems of the relief world via Fangraphs.com's Steamer projection system, I expected to find a small cadre of pitchers that could be projected for more saves than most over the final two-and-a-half months of the season. (Why can't the All-Star break just be in the middle?)

That's not what I found. In fact, I discovered that the opposite was true: pretty much everyone is predicted to get about 14 more saves over the course of the season. Obviously, this isn't what will happen, but it speaks to the unpredictability of saves and the pitchers who earn them. Not only was there low variation, but the number itself seems pretty conservative--the system isn't willing to assume that any closer or team will have particularly good luck getting save opps. Some pitchers will have that good luck--just as Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli had in the first half--but it's impossible to know which ones will.

The saves category is the One Main Reason why we bother with closers, and the only reason to take them over the best of the overall relief pitching market, but if there's no way to tell who might get the most saves for the rest of the season, then the only thing to do is try to get the best 14 saves you can...or the cheapest.

There is a caveat: Steamer may not know much about Kevin Gregg's or Joaquin Benoit's job security,* but we do and we can price them accordingly.

*Actually, Steamer seems to, as neither pitcher is projected to accumulate many more saves. The point remains that you are free to use your baseball knowledge and common sense to weed out any pitchers unlikely to get a full complement of saves for the rest of the season.

The Best 14 Saves

Notice that this is not a list of the best 14 closers--simply your high-end trade targets. If you need saves but also want to shore up your rate stats, these are the guys to go for. Teams in Roto leagues with high IP totals may be most interested in these players, and most able to pay for them with high-level starters.

A relatively simple sorting by 2013 xFIP gives us these top closers:

Greg Holland (1.37)
Jason Grilli (2.08)
Craig Kimbrel (2.14)
Kenley Jansen (2.24)
Glen Perkins (2.25)
Koji Uehara (2.35)
Aroldis Chapman (2.57)
Joaquin Benoit (2.64)

If strikeouts are your main concern, worry not: each of these pitchers has a K/9 of 11.74 or better. Of the group, Benoit is by far the most worrisome, as the Tigers remain a prime candidate to deal for an outside closer. Why they aren't satisfied by Benoit is beyond me. The production from him should be great, so if the trade deadline passes, pounce on him. Or, if you need a big risk, go for it early and expect his cost to be low. Uehara also poses some threat to be removed from the role, as he wasn't the first (or second, or third) choice for the job. The latest trade chatter suggests that Perkins will not be traded, so he looks like a risk worth taking.

Obviously, no closer is a sure bet for anything (except, basically Mariano Rivera), but this Squad of Seven is poised to pitch extremely well in the second half. Once you've got that, all you can do is hope that the saves fall into place.

If you don't like Benoit, but still want this list to round out to seven, feel free to add Fernando Rodney. Seriously, he's next on the list with his 2.91 xFIP, and his K/9 is 12.50. Go figure.

Worth noting: when I sort the Steamer projections by end-of-season FIP, Bobby Parnell and Sergio Romo  insert themselves into this list. Neither has the strikeout rate to match the Seven above, but both have more job security than Benoit. Parnell's low current save total could make him a good bargain play, which helpfully brings us to....

Bargain Bin Saves

Just as the list above wasn't necessarily the "best" closers, and certainly not the ones with the highest save totals, this list isn't the worst, or those with the lowest. It's simply the closers whom you should expect to be able to pay a little less for. In head-to-head formats, these might be the best closers to target; similarly, if you need saves in a Roto league, but don't have the luxury of shedding all your starting pitchers (or base stealers, or home run hitters, or whatever) to get them.

Fernando Rodney was a surprise mention above, but he makes it here because of his intense struggles early in the season, not to mention the impossible expectations he could never have lived up to. His ERA sits at 3.79, and his FIP at 3.11, but his 2.91 xFIP suggests better things are still to come. Having weathered problems that would have gotten most pitchers demoted, Rodney has a lot of job security now that he's pitching well. It doesn't hurt that the Rays are in a pennant race.

Steve Cishek has spent the season dealing with trade rumors, but the Marlins want a top prospect for him, which isn't going to happen. The Fish won't win a lot of games, but Cishek could still get his 14 saves. Trade rumors, a bad team, a low save total, and the fact that he isn't even an elite reliever should keep his price pretty low.

Bobby Parnell is only projected by Steamer for four more saves over the course of the season, but his low profile and high job security make him a good trade candidate.

Casey Janssen has kept a pretty low profile too, after returning from injury and sparring with Sergio Santos in Spring Training. Playing north of the border probably doesn't help.

Jim Johnson might be leading the league in saves, but that's probably all the more reason for his owners to want to trade him. He's had more rough patches than most closers, and he's really not an elite pitcher--but he isn't bad and Buck Showalter hasn't shown any sign of wanting to replace him in the role.

Warning: Stay Away

Even at a good price, I don't advise these powder kegs:

Rafael Soriano (6.53 K/9, 4.07 xFIP)
Tom Wilhelmsen (6.80 K/9, 4.49 xFIP, tenuous job security)
Huston Street (5.34 K/9, 4.65 xFIP, 6.95 FIP)

Just say no. And if you happen to own them, deal them for pennies on the dollar if you have to.

As always, follow @CloserNews on Twitter for all the latest information on closers and relievers around MLB and keep up with MLBTradeRumors.com as the trading deadline approaches.

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