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The Closer Chronicle: Week 13

There’s so much closer shaking and moving going on I don’t know where to begin. How about in Detroit, where an oldie but a goodie not only lost his closing gig, but maybe his last shot in the bigs? Or how about in Boston, where a setup man turned closer lost his job for a second time in two months? Or…how about in Chicago, where one of the city’s all-time/polarizing greats got his walking papers? I wouldn’t want to be a closer right now, no, siree. A bat boy is more up my alley.

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

Tier 1

Jason Grilli, PIT
2013: 0 W, 26 SV, 1 BS, 58 K, 1.82 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

↑Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 22 SV, 3 BS, 43 K, 1.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 56 K, 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 1 W, 26 SV, 1 BS, 27 K, 1.55 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 1 W, 26 SV, 1 BS, 33 K, 1.62 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

Is there a Closer Chronicle curse a brewing? After 13 weeks of pure closer bliss, Jason Grilli finally hit a snag last Wednesday, blowing his first save of the season after 25 consecutive conversions. Two games later, the Pittsburgh closer found more trouble against the Angels, giving up three runs and five hits in a non-save situation. Am I worried? Not really. The truth is, I bumped Grilli to No. 1 prior to his blown save last week and woke up the next morning to the unfortunate news. I didn’t feel it was right to penalize him on one blown save from an otherwise perfect season, and I still feel that way today. It didn’t take long for Craig Kimbrel to overtake Aroldis Chapman, but I still feel these two are as close as it gets. Both are strikeout machines, but Chapman’s wildness gets him into more trouble than it does Kimbrel. The Reds closer has walked four batters in the last three innings, bringing his BB/9 rate to 4.36. Last year, it was 2.89. Kimbrel is more reliable on a day-to-day basis. After a four-game stretch of giving up eight walks and four walks in 2 2/3 innings, Mariano Rivera has reverted to classic Mo with two hits and zero walks in his last three, which has dropped his WHIP from 1.31 to 1.24. Keep in mind that Rivera is working with an unusually high .337 BABIP, so his WHIP should continue to drop. Joe Nathan brings up the Tier 1 rear, maybe unfairly, but I feel he and Rivera are interchangeable at this point.

Tier 2

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 18 SV, 3 BS, 34 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 3 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 38 K, 3.09 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 0 W, 21 SV, 0 BS, 28 K, 2.20 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 1 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 27 K, 2.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

↑Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 2 BS, 47 K, 1.86 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 18 SV, 0 BS, 32 K, 2.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

Greg Holland continues his climb toward the top with numbers very similar to Chapman. In fact, Holland boasts a better ERA, WHIP and K/BB rate than his Cincinnati counterpart. Among pure closers, Holland’s 14.59 K/9 rate trails only Chapman (15.27) and Grilli (15.06). Owned in 100 percent of leagues, the Royals closer still makes for an under-the-radar trade target, in my opinion, but the window to buy is closing fast. Sergio Romo’s 6.80 K/BB rate is among the best in baseball, and while his 12.2% swinging strike rate is down from 15.5%, he’s still striking out more than ten batters per nine. I’ll gladly take a slight drop in strikeouts if that means a little more control from Addison Reed. In the month of June, Reed has 12 punch outs and one walk in 12 innings, showing us his transformation into a better all-around pitcher. Edward Mujica is worth monitoring closely this week, as the normally steady closer has hit a rough patch, giving up single runs in three of his last four appearances. Still without a blown save and with only two free passes in 32 2/3 innings, I don’t think now is the time to panic. Mujica has only allowed just 24 batters to reach base this year. Rafael Soriano continues to flummox my closer senses. His numbers say he’s a solid closer, but I remain miffed at the declining “everything” on his resume. I do see a total of around 40 saves if he stays in the role for the full 162, so I’ll consider moving him up next week. Grant Balfour had one bad outing on Sunday and my Twitter timeline let it be known that the Oakland closer screwed up everybody’s fantasy week. In that one, Balfour gave up a three-run, walk-off home run to pinch hitter Kendrys Morales. But be reasonable, tweeps: it was his first loss in almost a year and he’s still riding a streak of 36 consecutive saves.

Tier 3

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 27 SV, 5 BS, 29 K, 4.03 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

↓Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 14 SV, 4 BS, 26 K, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 1 W, 19 SV, 2 BS, 40 K, 2.20 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 2.10 ERA, 0.70 WHIP

↑Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 2 BS, 49 K, 3.21 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Ernesto Frieri moves up a tier on the heels of a dominant stretch, in which the Angels closer picked up four saves, struck out 12 and walked none in a span of 6 2/3 innings. Then on Sunday, Frieri blew his second save of the season, giving up three runs and three hits against the Pirates. If not for that outing, Frieri may have made it further up Tier 3, but it was a friendly reminder of the closer’s downside. He walked one in that appearance, and his BB/9 rate, while improving, is still a high 5.08. Despite blowing his fifth save on Wednesday, Jim Johnson stays at the top of Tier ahead of the slumping Jonathan Papelbon. Baltimore’s closer is only this high because his team affords him so many save chances. Johnson’s 6.87 K/9 rate is the second lowest among closers, and it’s not like we’re dealing with an elite ERA or WHIP guy here. He’s basically a one-category closer (saves). Anymore trouble and he’s dropping, however. Papelbon, meanwhile, has four blown saves in his last five chances after operating with a clean slate in his first 13. His velocity is back down and your biggest shot of redeeming value is from a quick turnaround and a trade out of Philadelphia. With Mike Adams out for the year with (gasp) multiple tears in his shoulder, Antonio Bastardo is the likeliest Phillies reliever to emerge if Papelbon is ousted. You wouldn’t hear a peep out of me if you preferred Glen Perkins to Papelbon, as the Minnesota closer offers more strikeout upside, more save opportunities (so far), and roughly the same ERA and WHIP. Perkins has an impressive 40:6 K:BB ratio in 28 2/3 innings and has generated a career-best 14.9% swinging strike rate. I’ve been slow to move Casey Janssen, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t paid attention. With just one blown save in 18 chances and a .157 BAA (batting average against), the Blue Jays closer should soon be on the way up. He’s only walked four batters in 25 2/3 innings. The dude throws strikes.

Tier 4

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 1 W, 6 SV, 2 BS, 58 K, 2.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 13 SV, 3 BS, 29 K, 2.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 12 SV, 0 BS, 26 K, 1.42 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

↑Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 16 SV, 3 BS, 38 K, 3.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

↑Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 1 W, 14 SV, 2 BS, 32 K, 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

More than half of this group is new, as Kenley Jansen, Jose Veras and Steve Cishek all join Tier 4. Part of it is the uncertainty of the closers in the bottom two tiers, but the majority is the performance of the trio itself. Jansen looks like he’s enjoying the LA lifestyle just fine, as the Dodgers closer has picked up two saves since Saturday to go along with seven strikeouts and no walks in three innings. Jansen’s 9.67 K/BB rate is fourth best in baseball behind Mujica, Mark Melancon and Junichi Tazawa. Brandon League is well out of the picture in Los Angeles. Houston’s Veras continues to be under owned in fantasy leagues and boasts a solid 10.06 K/9 rate. While his 3.71 BB/9 rate is a bit high, it’s a huge improvement from last year’s 5.37. Most likely picked up as a cheap closer, you can’t complain with Veras’ production so far. Cishek moves all the way up from the cellar to Tier 4 because he’s finally getting the save chances in Miami once again. Hallelujah! The right-hander has 12 strikeouts and one walk in eleven innings in June, and he’s also been rumored to be a target of the Detroit Tigers, which would boost his value tremendously. I admit I was too low on Cishek. I foolishly suggested Boston’s Andrew Bailey over five-win (!) Bobby Parnell a week ago, and for that, I am super duper sorry – I’ve always wanted to type that. Unlike Bailey, Bobby Parnell still has a job and it doesn’t appear to be in danger. There’s really no downside to owning the consistently reliable Parnell this season. Just don’t expect huge save numbers on the Mets. Kevin Gregg is so easy to like with his big goofy glasses or goggles or whatever, and he’s so much easier to like when he’s not blowing saves for your favorite team. He’s a perfect 12-for-12 for the Cubs and appears to have found the fountain of youth on the North Side. Former Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, meanwhile, has located the door of has-beens. The team designated its all-time leader in relief appearances on Tuesday.

Tier 5

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 5 BS, 43 K, 4.83 ERA, 1.45 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 15 SV, 1 BS, 15 K, 4.61 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 0 W, 2 SV, 1 BS, 44 K, 2.03 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

↓Heath Bell, ARI
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 3 BS, 32 K, 5.02 ERA, 1.64 WHIP

Koji Uehara is a newcomer this week after Bailey pitched his way out of the ninth inning in Boston. I thought Tazawa would get the first crack, but Uehara’s 44:7 K:BB ratio in 31 innings will do. Uehara saved 13 games for the Orioles back in 2010, so he has some experience, but I’m skeptical this is a true one-man job. I see Tazawa and even Andrew Miller getting some save chances, too. We’ll see. Fernando Rodney is still pitching the ninth inning in meaningful games for the Rays, and that’s what matters the most. I still recommend looking the other way if you own Rodney, but on a high note, he just struck out all three batters on Sunday and followed it with two more on Monday. With no walks! Huston Street is basically the National League’s version of Jim Johnson minus the durability, as the Padres stopper holds the league’s lowest strikeout rate (4.94 K/9) among closers. Despite being hurt early this year, Street has 15 saves in 28 games. He’s still an injury risk without much upside. Meh. Heath Bell is still hanging around the closer scene, but that’s about to mercifully end. With J.J. Putz expected to return at some point this week, Bell’s reign as wild Arizona closer is damn near over. The veteran closer has given up a home run in five consecutive outings (yes, that’s a fact), so the timing of Putz’s return is perfect. If Putz suffers a setback, the Diamondbacks could opt for Daniel Hernandez in the role instead. Come back soon, Putz! Like real soon!

Tier 6

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 4 SV, 0 BS, 37 K, 2.01 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Rafael Betancourt, COL
2013: 1 W, 11 SV, 1 BS, 22 K, 3.20 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 2 W, 6 SV, 2 BS, 18 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 2 W, 10 SV, 2 BS, 30 K, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

↓Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 16 SV, 5 BS, 26 K, 4.01 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Tier 6 is a mystery of sorts, as I expect fast and furious turnover among the closers associated with the five teams represented. Joaquin Benoit is the guy to own in Detroit for now, but I get the feeling the Tigers look to acquire a closer at the deadline. Benoit has been great with a 37:9 K:BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings, but I see him as a more valuable setup man than closer. Don’t let that stop you from riding him in the meantime. Rex Brothers and Vinnie Pestano aren’t long for the ninth with Rafael Betancourt and Chris Perez on their way back to Colorado and Cleveland, respectively. If you’re looking for cheap saves on the wire, Betancourt is still available in 12 percent of ESPN leagues, while Perez is available in 28 percent. Betancourt is the preferred choice of the two, as he’s more reliable, historically, in terms of his strikeout and walk rates. Both can move up with a healthy week. Now that Francisco Rodriguez notched save No. 300, I’m hoping that the Brewers go back to Jim Henderson in the ninth because, well, they really should. He’s a future piece of the team, not Rodriguez, and he’s been pretty awesome this year, too. I’m still representing the Mariners with Tom Wilhlemsen despite the team gingerly working him back into the role. I’m not entirely sure he wins it back, but you can’t trust their other options – Oliver Perez, Carter Capps or Yoervis Medina – either.

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