2016 saves leader Jeanmar Gomez, who had 1 save in 185 career appearances prior to 2016.
Vegas (yes, that Vegas) told us six weeks ago that someone would lead the majors with 49.5 saves this season, although it was up to us to figure out who that someone might be. Odds are (probably literally at this point) that someone will be Jeanmar Gomez.
It’s May, but it’s early May, and even late May is still baseball early, meaning that there will be many opportunities for it not to be Jeanmar Gomez for the rest of this season, but there are several reasons why it’s not unreasonable to think that Jeanmar Gomez will in fact lead, if not the majors, at least the NL in saves in 2016.
#1: He currently leads the majors in saves.
With two saves in two comeback wins last weekend in Miami followed by two more in Atlanta, Gomez is now leads the majors with 14 saves, two more than the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and the Mets’ Jeurys Familia.
Gomez has been pitching well so far. His 0.8 bWAR is fourth among Phils pitchers and second among Phils relievers (Neris), and terrifyingly there is only one Phils position player with a bWAR higher than 0.8 (obviously Odubel), although this arguably helps Gomez as much as it hurts him (more on this below).
With a 2.49 ERA, he is outpitching both his FIP (3.63) and his xFIP (3.87), which isn’t surprising because he’s only striking out 6.6 batters per 9, which for a closer in 2016, especially one who hasbenefited from Ray Searage magic, isn’t that impressive. But see 2015 MLB saves leader and Ray Searage tutee Mark Melancon (7.28 K per 9 and a 3.07 xFIP against his more Gomez-like 2.23 ERA last season). This is saves we’re talking about, not something a sportswriter didn’t think up on a bus one afternoon. There are no disqualifiers other than the save rule itself.
It’s not just Gomez, of course; as a team, the Phils have been outperforming their underlying numbers all season long. They’re now 21-15 despite being outscored by their opponents; Baseball Prospectus’s Adjusted Standings considers them a true 15-21 team according to 3rd Order Winning Percentage (projected winning percentage based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponent), by adjusted wins the luckiest team in baseball (+6).
Nonetheless, Gomez has saved 14 of those 21 wins; that’s two more saves than Jansen and Familia have, three more than Jonathan Papelbon, and four more than Melancon. Jansen, Familia, Papelbon, and Melancon have from now until October 2 to catch him. But Gomez, like Angus Young, is already there, and that counts for something.
#2: He’ll have lots of save opportunities.
As noted above as well as plenty of other places, the Phils offense is abysmal and they’ve been outscored overall this season, which as you would imagine means they’ve both been blown out (notably back-to-back 9-1 and 8-1 losses at home to the Nationals, an 11-1 home loss to the Mets, and last week’s 10-3 loss at St. Louis) and won lots of close games. They lead the majors in one-run games with an 13-3 record. Gomez, not coincidentally, has 14 saves.
You generally need to pitch well or at least not be Brad Lidge in 2009 to save a bunch of games, with only occasional exceptions (like for example Brad Lidge in 2009). But you also need a bunch of save opportunities. Francisco Rodriguez went from an xFIP of 3.30 with 12.03 K per 9 in 2007 to an xFIP of 3.71 with 10.52 K per 9 the following year—and received MVP votes!—because his ERA dropped from 2.81 to 2.24 but, more importantly, his save total went from 40 to 62, still the single-season saves record. (His walk, HR, and GB rates were about the same, if you’re curious, though if you’re really that curious you would probably know this already since it’s now 2016.) “KRod” had 69 save opportunities in 2008—23 more than he had the prior season and more than anyone else has ever had, before or since. The 2008 Angels won 100 games, but only outscored their opponents by 68 runs; they were an 88-74 Pythagorean team who played, and won, a bunch of close games (31-21 in one-run games). Much like the 2016 Phillies.
The 2008 Angels also had a mediocre to poor offense (10th in runs scored and OPS) and decent pitching (3rd in ERA, 5th in runs allowed). As horrible as the offense is, the Phils’ pitching staff likewise is currently 3rd in team xFIP; however, we know it won’t last, if only because Jeremy Hellickson’s 189 innings as a Tampa Bay Ray in 2011 are the most innings any of the current starters have ever thrown in a single season, which means, reasonably, innings limits for Nola-Eickhoff-Velasquez-Morgan-or-fungible-Morgan-replacement eventually, which means more work for the bullpen, which means a worse bullpen and worse overall xFIP. So the pitching should at some point make games less close, meaning fewer leads and therefore fewer save opportunities. On the other hand, the offense will be better. J.P. Crawford will be called up and may actually hit, as may Nick Williams; Franco should be better than he is at this exact moment (.716 OPS); even a bad Darin Ruf is better than a .399 OPS, or will be replaced by someone who is; likewise Tyler Goeddel (.404 OPS) and Peter Bourjos (.545 OPS). If the Phillies offense right now is Herrera, Franco, Blanco, and a team of replacement players, they can do nothing and still improve because, with the exception of Ruiz (0.8 bWAR) and Freddy Galvis (0.1),every other position player is performing at below replacement level. There is literally nowhere to go but up—which means, if the offense improves even slightly as the pitching drops off slightly, they will still be playing a bunch of close games and, taking 9th inning leads in enough of them, providing Jeanmar Gomez plenty of save opportunities.
#3: He’s someone you’ve never heard of (unless you’re a Phillies fan or possibly from Caracas, or both).
Who leads the NL in saves? Since the Phillies last won the World Series (the post-Harry Kalas era, in other words):
2015: Mark Melancon
2014: Craig Kimbrel
2013: Craig Kimbrel
2012: Craig Kimbrel and Jason Motte
2011: Craig Kimbrel and John Axford
2010: Brian Wilson
2009: Heath Bell
Heath Bell was a setup man with two career saves entering 2009. Brian Wilson had just saved 38 and 41 games the prior two years but with modest xFIPs of 3.18 and 3.55. Craig Kimbrel made a few dominant appearances in 2010 but was still rookie-eligible in 2011 and is arguably a Rivera/Papelbon level exception to “you can’t predict closers,” which would apply to both Axford (24 saves in 2010) and Motte (9 saves in 2011). Melancon’s saves by year since his debut in 2009: 0, 0, 20, 1, 16, 33, 51. Gomez is not unlike all of these pitchers insofar as he is not like any of these pitchers. He’s a closer, because closers do not exist, until they do.
Anyone who obsessively followed the 1990 Phillies (I can’t be the only one) may remember the moment when the post-Roger McDowell trade Phils, ready to switch closers a third time that season, asked themselves, to quote a Howard Eskin show caller, “What has Joe Boever done that Darrel Akerfelds hasn’t?” Akerfelds would save three games for the Phils that season despite a 5.14 FIP (3.77 ERA); he pitched 49 2/3 more innings for the team in 1991 (5.26 ERA, 4.73 FIP) before being optioned to Scranton-Wilkes Barre and would never pitch in the majors again. (Sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer in 2012 at age 50 after eleven years as a bullpen coach for the Padres. Also, obscure Darrel Akerfelds trivia: he graduated from Columbine High School in Colorado in 1980, 19 years before the mass shooting. Thanks, Wikipedia!) Like Gomez, Akerfelds came out of nowhere. He never led the majors, or the league, or even the Phillies, in saves. He only briefly replaced Joe Boever, who replaced Roger McDowell, as the 1990 Phillies’ closer. But Joe Boever, lest we forget, pitched in 516 games with 49 total saves over a 12-year career. And what has Joe Boever done that Jeanmar Gomez couldn’t?
Maybe next year, Bobby.
More goalies, more possession numbers, and some bonus cheating (I do honestly think the teams that won the two Game 1s that already happened will win the series).
Tampa Bay/New York Islanders: Tampa is the defending Eastern Conference champions and is even without Stamkos and Stralman the better overall team, but it’s close (the Islanders were the 100-point team of the two, for any traditionalists). The Lightning are the better possession team and Bishop has the better track record, which would normally mean Tampa, but I’m relying on Greiss (.941, 1.94 with a Game 1 win) and Tavares (18.8% shooting through Game 1, which won’t last, but career 13.2% overall and 15.5% playoffs) to remain hot. Islanders in six.
Washington/Pittsburgh: Yes, the Penguins will score more than the Flyers, but Murray-or-Fleury will probably allow more than Neuvirth. I’m expecting one-goal games in this series, but not a full seven of them. Ovi’s revenge will be Caps in five.
Dallas/St. Louis: One of these teams has a goalie who led the league in SV% (.930) this past season and has been mostly amazing for five years (.925, 2.01, 25 shutouts). The other has Kari Lehtonon and Antti Niemi. The Stars’ offense is good, but not that good. Blues in five.
San Jose/Nashville: Pekka Rinne (.915) and Martin Jones (.912) were more or less even in Round 1, depending on what you think of the quality of their competition (I think the Kings were probably better than Anaheim up front, though I picked the Ducks but not the Kings to win). The Sharks’ power play was very good in the regular season (3rd-ranked, with a league-leading 62 goals) and has been even better in the playoffs, and I think they’re the better team overall in a matchup against a Predators team without the one differencemaker (c.f. John Tavares) they would need to neutralize that. Sharks in five.
The Revolution Will Be Intersectional outside City Hall Philadelphia during a Freddie Gray rally, April 30, 2015. Available via Flickr.
It’s more about my own endorsement, which you wouldn’t think would be that difficult since my car has a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker*, among approximately 34 others**.
* A 60something black hippie walking up to me outside my car in Camden a few months ago, apparently not noticing this: “Lemme guess, I bet you’re votin’ for Bernie Sanders.”
Me: “Most likely.”
Him: “I can always tell. If you got bumper stickers: you’re votin’ for Bernie Sanders. If you got a gun rack: you’re votin’ for Ted Cruz.”
** This also removes me from any jury pool where I will be asked the question, “Does your car have any bumper stickers? If so, what are they?” Specifically…
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