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The Closer Chronicle: Week 14

We’ve officially made it to the midway point of the season. Hooray! With so many teams in contention, especially in the crowded AL East, there is sure to be a lot of pre-trade deadline wheeling and dealing. That includes potential closers on the move. Some will move on to bigger and better things, while others will move on to bigger and better things…and subsequently lose their closer status, ruining their fantasy value. Here’s hoping that guy isn’t on your team.

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

Tier 1

Jason Grilli, PIT
2013: 0 W, 28 SV, 1 BS, 60 K, 2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 23 SV, 3 BS, 43 K, 1.48 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 20 SV, 3 BS, 59 K, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

↑Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 1 W, 27 SV, 1 BS, 37 K, 1.47 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 1 W, 28 SV, 1 BS, 29 K, 1.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

It will take a lot of bad to move someone out of the top tier. These are the elite of the elite, and once you’re in, you’re kind of in for life (or at least for this season). I’ll keep Jason Grilli at the top spot despite Clint Hurdle and the Pirates being mindful of his workload going forward. They didn’t overuse him last season (64 games; 58 2/3 innings), but the Pirates closer is on pace for career highs in both categories and he’s already ceded a couple of save chances to Mark Melancon. Craig Kimbrel may not be striking out as many batters this year (12.76 K/9 in 2013; 16.66 in 2012), but he hasn’t allowed a run in 17 straight appearances, dating back to May 7th. Like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman hasn’t been as dominating as his 2012 self, but his troubles don’t stem from a deflated strikeout rate. After walking 2.89 batters per nine in 2012, Chapman is walking 4.63 in 2013. His first-pitch strike and zone percentage are both up, but opposing batters are swinging at less stuff outside of the strike zone. I think we’ll see the walks come down some. Joe Nathan leapfrogs Mariano Rivera because, after thinking about it some more, the difference in WHIP really does make a difference when separating the top dogs. They remain close, however.

Tier 2

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 34 K, 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 0 W, 21 SV, 0 BS, 30 K, 2.14 ERA, 0.71 WHIP

↑Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 18 SV, 2 BS, 52 K, 2.03ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 1 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 27 K, 2.38 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

↑Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 1 W, 20 SV, 2 BS, 44 K, 1.99 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 20 SV, 0 BS, 34 SV, 1.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

↓Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 3 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 40 K, 3.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Glen Perkins makes the leap to Tier 2, as the Minnesota closer continues to be solid across the board. He’s the sixth ranked closer on the ESPN Player Rater and opposing batters are hitting .162 against Perkins, which is eighth best among relievers. Sergio Romo hasn’t had a ton of work lately, but that’s hardly his fault. The Giants offense is in a tailspin and Romo’s appearances have been few and far between – he’s pitched once since June 22nd. Still, over his last five outings, Romo has given up no runs with nine K’s and no walks. Edward Mujica is still a perfect 21-for-21 in saves, but he’s been hit hard of late, giving up three runs – including two home runs – on five hits over his last five innings. He does have a remarkable 30:2 K:BB ratio in 33 2/3 innings, but I’m starting to wonder if he’ll need more rest in the hotter months. The Cardinals can afford it with one of the most underworked bullpens in the league. Over the last 30 days, Greg Holland is the No. 2 relief pitcher, according to the ESPN Player Rater, posting a 1.38 ERA and 0.62 WHIP with nine saves, 25 strikeouts and three walks in 13 innings. He is now working with a career-high 15.10 strikeouts per nine, trailing only Chapman (15.17 K/9). He’s gone from shaky closer to one of the league’s most hard-to-hit pitchers. Rafael Soriano is still getting the job done even if he isn’t striking out a bunch. His K/9 rate is down to 7.15, but I like the volume of save chances in Washington. Grant Balfour has the longest active save streak in the majors with 38 in a row. Those waiting for Ryan Cook to take over will have to wait awhile longer. Addison Reed receives the biggest drop of the week, falling from the second spot in Tier 2 all the way to the bottom. The White Sox closer has blown three of his last five chances and allowed a four spot against the Indians on Sunday. Reed’s velocity appears to be fine and he is most likely just going through a rough patch.

Tier 3

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 29 SV, 5 BS, 32 K, 3.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

↑Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 2.03 ERA, 0.71 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 4 BS, 27 K, 1.99 ERA, 0.85 WHIP

Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 21 SV, 2 BS, 52 K, 3.19 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 3 BS, 59 K, 2.55 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

I’m bringing up Kenley Jansen to a new tier, as the Dodgers closer has safely separated himself from Brandon League and the rest of the competition in Los Angeles. Since June 11th, when Jansen was named the team closer, he’s posted a 2.61 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with six saves, 15 strikeouts and one walk in 10 1/3 innings. He should have been the closer a long time ago. I don’t necessarily like it, but Jim Johnson remains at the top of Tier 3. He’ll really need to keep it clean over the next week to stay there, however, as Baltimore’s closer is once again tip-toeing the line between effective closer and overachiever. He’s allowed six hits and five free passes over his last 5 2/3 innings. Like Soriano in Washington, the save chances keep him high in the rankings. Casey Janssen moves up a spot as the Blue Jays finally look like a competitive team in the very competitive AL East. While he doesn’t provide much of strikeout boost (8.10 K/9), Janssen is elite in the ERA and WHIP categories and I see his save chances in Toronto going up as the team improves. Jonathan Papelbon has blown four out of his last seven save attempts and he’s still not striking out anyone (7.67 K/9) – the Phillies closer has never had a K/9 rate under 10 before his rookie season. I don’t necessarily trust his 1.99 ERA, either (3.57 FIP; 3.84 xFIP). It’s seriously time to consider moving Ernesto Frieri up, as the Angels closer has become somewhat of a strikeout machine since the start of June (19 strikeouts in 14 innings). His BB/9 rate of 4.91 is also dropping, but he’s allowed four runs and seven hits over his last 4 2/3 innings.

Tier 4

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 14 SV, 3 BS, 31 K, 2.63 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 14 SV, 1 BS, 31 K, 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 39 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 2 BS, 33 K, 3.06 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

I debated shuffling the Tier 4 guys around a bit, but they’ve all been pretty solid recently. I mentioned earlier that Holland was the No. 2 closer on the ESPN Player Rater for the past month, but the No. 1 guy resides in Tier 4, and that guy is Steve Cishek, who has posted a 0.75 ERA, 0.50 WHIP with 11 saves, 12 strikeouts and one walk over his last 12 innings of work. It’s crazy to think that the Marlins just recently employed a bullpen by committee; now, Cishek is a superb trade candidate and could find himself in a better closing situation by the end of July. I’m buying. Bobby Parnell is likely staying put in New York, which neither helps nor hurts his closer value (duh). Parnell’s swinging strike rate is at its lowest since 2009 – his rookie season – and his strikeouts are down for the third straight year. Kevin Gregg received his first blown save of the season on Saturday but came back the next day and went one-two-three against the Mariners – he is now 14-for-15 on the year. Gregg is very likely to be traded, which could swing his value in either direction. Right now, he’s a solid fantasy closer in Chicago. Jose Veras appears to be safe in Houston. I haven’t head of any trade rumors in regards to the Astros closer, and he’s been effective with 39 strikeouts in 36 innings (9.75), while his walk rate is down from 5.37 to 3.50 this season.

Tier 5

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 3 W, 17 SV, 5 BS, 47 K, 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 5 SV, 2 BS, 51 K, 2.00 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 6 SV, 0 BS, 44 K, 1.78 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

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

Fernando Rodney is getting better by the week, although it’s taking a long time for his ERA and WHIP to recover from a hellish start to the season. He’s struck out two or more batters in each of his last four outings (nine K’s in five innings), and his K/9 rate is all the way up to 12.20 – a career high. Walks have been a big, big problem for Rodney, but he hasn’t issued a free pass in his last five appearances. Koji Uehara has been a welcomed addition to Boston’s ninth inning, saving four games in five chances since taking over for the injured Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Since the start of June, the Boston stopper has 22 strikeouts and four walks in 15 innings. He’s also been fine working on consecutive days, which was one of the initial worries. His job appears safe for now, but Bailey could reclaim the job eventually. Joaquin Benoit was supposed to be a fill-in closer by most estimators, but the 35-year old veteran has turned in a fantastic performance in the closer role. I’m weakening on my stance that the Tigers go out and find a replacement at the deadline. Benoit is 6-for-6 with a very solid strikeout rate (11.21 K/9) and an above average swinging strike rate (13.3%). Huston Street is a snooze to own (4.94 K/9) and the next injury is always right around the corner, but he’s 15-for-16 and has good job security.

Tier 6

Rafael Betancourt, COL
2013: 2 W, 11 SV, 1 BS, 23 K, 3.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 2 BS, 20 K, 3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

↑Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 5 BS, 27 K, 3.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 10 SV, 3 BS, 31 K, 2.05 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

↓Heath Bell, ARI
2013: 2 W, 14 SV, 3 BS, 34 K, 4.60 ERA, 1.53 WHIP

Rafael Betancourt is a better pitcher than Chris Perez, so he gets the nod at the top of Tier 6. Betancourt’s velocity is back up and his K/9 rate is also up from 8.90 to 10.02 this year. He’s been hurt with the walk (3.92 BB/9), but that was more of an early-season thing. Now that he’s healthy, I expect him to be solid for the Rockies in the ninth. Perez, meanwhile, is having all sorts of WHIP problems and his velocity is slightly down since returning from the DL. Tom Wilhelmsen got the save chance on Wednesday as promised by his manager and converted, so he appears to be the man going forward. I’ll take my time with Seattle’s closer this time around. Wilhelmsen has five blown saves and a career-low 6.63 K/9 rate after striking out nearly 10 batters per nine last season. Jim Henderson is being passed over in favor of Francisco Rodriguez right now, but if you can afford to wait, he’s the guy to own. Rodriguez is being showcased for a trade, in my opinion. What in the Heath Bell is going on around here? Fresh off the DL, J.J. Putz blew his first save chance and Kirk Gibson immediately re-named Bell his closer going forward. Bell will earn his saves, blew a few and hurt your WHIP. I can’t really recommend him at this point. Pass.

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