The Closer Chronicle: Week 12

Change is in the air. With fresh faces making an impact across the league seemingly every day – like the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, the Rays’ Wil Myers and the Mets’ Zack Wheeler – baseball has received a much needed youth distraction in the midst of the largest PED scandal in the sport’s long and well documented history. But the best story in baseball isn’t about a 20-something; rather, the best story in baseball belongs to 43-year old Mariano Rivera, whose return to dominance has provided a reason to believe in baseball and its players again. I, for one, am hopeful for more feel-good and comeback stories like Rivera’s in the near future. Cheers, Mo.

As always, I rank and tier all 30 MLB closers below.

Tier 1

Jason Grilli, PIT
2013: 0 W, 25 SV, 1 BS, 54 K, 0.84 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 18 SV, 2 BS, 56 K, 1.97 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 3 BS, 39 K, 1.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 0 W, 25 SV, 1 BS, 26 K, 1.73 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 1 W, 21 SV, 1 BS, 28 K, 1.91 ERA, 0.85 WHIP

Jason Grilli takes the top spot ahead of Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, dethroning the shutdown duo that ruled the Closer Chronicle for the first 11 weeks of the season. Maybe it’s time we redefine “shutdown,” as Grilli has taken his closer game to the next level. In 32 2/3 innings, the Pirates closer has struck out 54 batters, walked seven and held opposing batters to a .154 batting average. In his first extended look at closer, Grilli is 25-for-26 in save chances – after blowing his first save of the year against the Reds on Wednesday – and boasts a 1.10 ERA (0.88 FIP; 1.81 xFIP) and 0.77 WHIP. At age 36, Grilli is having the best year of his big league career. Chapman has punched out 56 batters in 31 innings (15.75 K/9) and moves ahead of Kimbrel, but the two are clearly neck and neck. Mariano Rivera has gotten a little wild of late, walking a batter in four of his last five outings after not allowing a free pass in his previous 11. He’s allowed eight hits in his last 3 2/3 innings, but only one run has crossed home plate. Even the best hit a rough patch. Stick with Mo. Joe Nathan is creeping up on Rivera as a better source of strikeouts (28 K’s in 28 1/3 innings), while their WHIP’s are trending in opposite directions. I still prefer Rivera slightly.

Tier 2

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 18 SV, 3 BS, 31 K, 2.54 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 2 BS, 36 K, 3.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 0 W, 21 SV, 0 BS, 27 K, 1.97 ERA, 0.66 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WAS
2013: 1 W, 18 SV, 3 BS, 26 K, 2.48 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

↑Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 0 BS, 29 K, 1.21 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 1 W, 14 SV, 2 BS, 26 K, 1.95 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Grant Balfour joins Tier 2 in dramatic fashion, skipping the bottom spot altogether. The Oakland closer has steadily climbed my rankings thanks to a perfect 17-for-17 in save chances this season and a perfect 35-for-35 dating back to last year. His leash is long. Sergio Romo is waiting patiently on the doorstep to Tier 1, but he’s been hit hard in three of his last four outings, giving up five hits and two runs (one earned) in four innings. I’m not worried, however, as Romo has distinguished himself as one of the best closers in baseball. Had it not been for a five-run implosion in Seattle two weeks ago, Addison Reed would be sitting pretty with a 1.97 ERA. Reed’s current 3.38 ERA, while still good, has probably decreased his closer value in fantasy circles, but don’t let that fool you. The White Sox closer has been lights out this year, striking out 10.13 batters per nine. This is one closer I’m buying in all leagues. Edward Mujica has shown his human side recently, serving up a home run in two of his last three appearances. He remains a perfect 21-for-21 in save chances and is second in the National League despite starting the year behind Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal in St. Louis. I don’t necessarily trust Rafael Soriano, but I can’t argue the numbers – over his last nine appearances, Soriano has six saves, 11 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. While he’s been much more hittable this year (.257 average against in 2013; .217 in 2012), Soriano will continue to see plenty of work in D.C. Jonathan Papelbon falls to the bottom of Tier 2 after blowing two consecutive saves. I’ve expressed doubt in Papelbon before due to his declining velocity and strikeout rate, and it finally looks like its catching up to him. He’s someone to sell. His name recognition could make it easy.

Tier 3

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 26 SV, 4 BS, 26 K, 3.82 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 1 W, 18 SV, 2 BS, 40 K, 2.28 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

↑Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 15 SV, 2 BS, 41 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 1 W, 16 SV, 1 BS, 22 K, 2.28 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

Greg Holland moves up a tier after an impressive streak of nine straight games with a strikeout, including three of the last four with two or more K’s. His 14.19 K/9 rate (41 strikeouts in 26 innings) is fourth best among relievers, and his 14.9% swinging strike rate is tied for fifth with Chapman. Most importantly, Holland’s BB/9 rate has dropped from 4.57 to 3.81. Owners scared of a high WHIP have been pleasantly surprised, myself included. Jim Johnson is now the top dog of Tier 3, but I won’t hesitate to move any one of the three behind him ahead again if Johnson reverts to his mid-May form. He simply gives up too much contact (32 hits in 35 1/3 innings) and doesn’t strike out enough hitters to consistently be a top tier closer. On the flip side, you can’t ignore the volume of save opportunities for Johnson, who is well on his way to another 50-save season. Glen Perkins remains the forgotten man in Minnesota, but what’s not to love for the starter-turned-closer? He’s provided solid numbers across the board, including a 2.28 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 18 saves and 41 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings. He’s currently the eighth ranked closer on the ESPN Player Rater. Casey Janssen is finally showing signs of rust after I gave into his early-season dominance, walking three batters over his last five appearances after walking just one in his first 19. Without control, Janssen is a completely different pitcher, as the Toronto closer doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff to get the opposition out. I’d monitor the situation carefully. His leash is still long, however.

Tier 4

Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 16 SV, 1 BS, 45 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Andrew Bailey, BOS
2013: 3 W, 8 SV, 3 BS, 30 K, 3.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 10 SV, 28 K, 3 BS, 2.70 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

↑Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 10 SV, 0 BS, 24 K, 0.81 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

No, it’s not 2007, Kevin Gregg is just pitching that way. The Cubs closer is putting together a season that rivals his career-best campaign in ‘07, striking out a career-high 9.67 batters per nine. He hasn’t blown a save yet and his job is totally safe on the North Side. Thank you, Carlos Marmol. Ernesto Frieri isn’t as good as his 2.61 ERA suggests (4.08 FIP; 3.98 xFIP), but the Angels closer has been absolutely perfect in his last six outings, striking out ten, walking none and allowing no hits in 5 1/3 innings. The streak of walk-free ball has dropped his BB/9 rate has dropped to 5.23, which is still way too high for my liking. Andrew Bailey is in danger of falling down the ranks, as Boston’s closer has looked off since being activated from his second DL stint. Since May 22, Bailey has a 5.40 ERA and has blown two save chances (out of five) to go along with a 10:5 K:BB ration in ten innings, while also allowing three long balls. I can’t find anything wrong in the numbers other than the results, so let’s hope Bailey figures it out soon. Junichi Tazawa could be in line for save chances if he doesn’t. I debated moving Bobby Parnell up a spot because of Bailey’s recent struggles, but I’d still rather have the Red Sox over the Met right now. Everything is trending in the right direction for Parnell, but the opportunity for saves in New York is minimal. Maybe the Mets move him at the deadline, which could boost his closer value tremendously. He has yet to allow a home run in 30 innings.

Tier 5

Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 14 SV, 3 BS, 36 K, 4.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 1 W, 3 SV, 2 BS, 49 K, 2.57 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 2 W, 14 SV, 5 BS, 38 K, 5.16 ERA, 1.52 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 2 W, 9 SV, 1 BS, 27 K, 1.52 ERA, 0.89 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 14 SV, 1 BS, 13 K, 4.24 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Kenley Jansen shoots up the rankings because, frankly, I trust his stuff over the guys ranked behind him. He hasn’t succeeded as closer yet, but he can help you in all five of the standard rotisserie categories, including his 49 strikeouts in 35 innings. And another plus: he’s not Brandon League. Another change in Tier 5 is the reemergence of Huston Street, whom the Padres just activated from the DL. Luke Gregerson underwhelmed in his try at closer in San Diego, but I’m not confident in Street’s skill set, either. He’s striking out a career-worst 5.01 batters per nine, his walk rate is up and he’s served up seven long balls in 23 1/3 innings. After many fantasy analysts told you not to forget the Houston closer in the preseason, Jose Veras has put together a nice little season, striking out 36 batters in 31 innings (10.45 K/9) with a career-best 10.2% swinging strike rate. He no longer looks like an ERA and WHIP killer. Fernando Rodney, on the other hand, has been an ERA and WHIP killer, giving up four runs, five hits and three walks in his last four innings of work. He hasn’t blown a save since May 25, which is good, but too many of his games turn into a rollercoaster of frustration for fantasy owners. Jim Henderson came back to a struggling Milwaukee team and I don’t see a lot of save chances in his future. He’s another interesting trade candidate, but I don’t know how willing the Brewers would be to move their best reliever.

Tier 6

↓Heath Bell, ARI
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 2 BS, 32 K, 4.40 ERA, 1.57 WHIP

↓Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 16 SV, 5 BS, 22 K, 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

↓Jose Valverde, DET
2013: 0 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 19 K, 5.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Vinnie Pestano, CLE
2013: 1 W, 2 SV, 2 BS, 20 K, 4.05 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 3 SV, 1 BS, 29 K, 0.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 1 W, 10 SV, 2 BS, 26 K, 3.68 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

Tom Wilhelmsen plummets – and I mean plummets – from Tier 3 to Tier 6 after blowing three save chances since the start of June. In June, the Seattle closer has allowed 11 hits, seven walks and 11 runs in seven innings (a 14.14 ERA) after posting a 0.75 ERA in both April and May. The Mariners are now using some kind of bullpen by committee, with Oliver Perez, Carter Capps and Yoervis Medina all in the mix for saves. It’s a situation to avoid. Heath Bell is close to getting his walking papers in Arizona as J.J. Putz is set to begin a rehab assignment today. Bell has converted 13 of 15 saves in Putz’s absence, but he hasn’t exactly been clean in doing so. Over his last four outings, the Arizona closer has allowed four runs, seven hits and three walks four innings. Come back soon, J.J. The only reason Jose Valverde isn’t last on this list is because he has a firm role as Detroit’s closer (for now). But that could change quickly, and it might after his latest appearance. In a non-save situation against the Orioles on Wednesday, Valverde gave up five runs and four hits, including a home run, to raise his season ERA to 5.59. Detroit could be shopping for a new closer soon. Vinnie Pestano picked up his first two saves of the year this week, but his latest could have been a blown save if the Royals didn’t run themselves out of the inning. Pestano has been groomed to be Cleveland’s closer for what seems like forever, but he hasn’t exactly shined this year, walking 4.50 batters per nine. I think he’s better suited for a setup role. Rex Brothers must be one the luckiest relievers in baseball, as he’s allowed just one run on 20 hits and 16 walks in 30 innings. Still, he’s struck out 29 batters in those 30 frames, so he can wiggle himself out of trouble. Steve Cishek has been rumored to be on the trading block, so maybe he can get himself out of a bad situation in Miami.

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