The Closer Chronicle: Week 15

A total of six closers will be taking their talents to the All-Star festivities in New York next week, as Aroldis Chapman, Jason Grilli, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins and Mariano Rivera will all suit up for the mid-summer classic. Every one of the All-Star relievers except Glen Perkins – a rising Tier 2 closer – resides in the top tier of my rankings. Bravo, MLB. And thanks for reading!

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

Tier 1

Jason Grilli, PIT
2013: 0 W, 28 SV, 1 BS, 61 K, 2.09 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 24 SV, 3 BS, 49 K, 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 20 SV, 3 BS, 62 K, 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 1 W, 30 SV, 1 BS, 42 K, 1.36 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 1 W, 29 SV, 2 BS, 31 K, 1.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Jason Grilli holds onto the top spot, but I’ll be watching his usage very closely after the All-Star break, as the Pirates bullpen has racked up 316 1/3 innings of work thus far, which is second most in the majors after Toronto (320.2 IP). Grilli has already encountered some bad times in July after posting his highest ERA of the year in June (3.00), but his 61 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings are more than enough to make up for it. To celebrate the Fourth of July, Craig Kimbrel generously allowed his first run since May 7th, ending a span of 17 straight scoreless outings. He’s closing the gap at the top, and I think the best is yet to come. This year’s Aroldis Chapman isn’t the same pitcher as last season, but he’s still a really good one. The only difference: an inflated 4.42 BB/9 rate. He’s talented enough to pitch around walks, so it’s not a value-killing concern. Joe Nathan isn’t striking out the world like the guys ranked ahead of him, but he owns the lowest WHIP of any closer not named Edward Mujica, and his ERA and saves are elite. Mariano Rivera blew a save on Sunday, as Adam Jones took him deep with a man on in the ninth. It was front page news, of course, because it’s Mo, but these things happen. No Yankee is taking Rivera’s job unless another freak acciden…well, let’s not even say it.

Tier 2

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 20 SV, 3 BS, 38 K, 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

↑Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 60 K, 1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 1 W, 25 SV, 1 BS, 34 K, 2.33 ERA, 0.75 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 1 W, 24 SV, 3 BS, 28 K, 2.13 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 1 W, 20 SV, 2 BS, 45 K, 1.93 ERA, 0.77 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 24 SV, 0 BS, 37 K, 1.72 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 4 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 42 K, 3.92 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Greg Holland continues to move up, as the Royals closer is fast becoming the new Craig Kimbrel. After an impressive streak of making the opposition look silly – 18 strikeouts in eight innings, including four games with three punch outs – Holland now owns the highest K/9 rate (15.43) in baseball. And he’s not even an All-Star. Go figure. I really wanted to move Sergio Romo up to Tier 1, but the way San Francisco is going, I just couldn’t do it. On Sunday, the Giants closer took the loss in a critical tilt with NL West Division rivals, the Dodgers, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks. Stay the course. Edward Mujica finally blew a save after converting 21 consecutive safe ones. His strikeout rate (7.91 K/9) is among the middle-tier closers, but everything else is elite. The good luck (.214 BABIP) could eventually turn, but I think he finds his way through it. The strikeout rate of Rafael Soriano (6.63 K/9) keeps dropping, but the saves keep coming. I’ve been leery of Soriano in the past, but his velocity is trending in the right direction. Glen Perkins has been a hot speculation trade rumor, but nothing coming from the Twins suggests he’s available. If he had more save chances, he’d be mentioned in the same breath with the elite. There’s no stopping the great Grant Balfour, who has upped his consecutive save streak to 42. The Oakland closer is working with a career-best swinging strike rate (11.7%), but his 95.8% strand rate is ridiculously high — his career strand rate is 77.1%. Don’t expect excellence the rest of the season, but Balfour is safe. Addison Reed is trending downward, but not far down enough to knock him out of Tier 2. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and I expect the White Sox closer to finish right around the top-10.

Tier 3

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 3 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 63 K, 2.38 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

↑Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 60 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 19 SV, 4 BS, 30 K, 2.27 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

↓Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 2.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

↓Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 30 SV, 6 BS, 30 K, 3.92 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Almost everyone is moving up or down in Tier 3, but its Kenley Jansen making the biggest move – all the way to the top. Jansen’s transition to the ninth has been almost flawless, as the Dodgers closer has struck out 19 and walked one in 13 1/3 innings since being named closer. With 63 K’s in 45 1/3 innings, Jansen offers the upside of one of the elites. Ernesto Frieri is on a mission to strikeout everyone with 11 strikeouts in his last five innings. His K/9 rate now sits at a pretty 13.61, which represents a career best. Yeah, he walks too many, but it helps when opposing batters hit just .172 against you. Casey Janssen has enjoyed a pretty clean year (one blown save), but he’s been hit hard since the calendar turned to July, giving up four runs (three earned), four hits and three walks in two innings without recording a strikeout. If Sergio Santos were healthy, there might be a call to make the switch, but Janssen is safe for now. His stuff isn’t scary closer good, but it works. Jonathan Papelbon is one of the hotter rumored closers to be on the move with the Red Sox and Tigers mentioned as possible destinations. I think Papelbon’s value increases wherever he goes, assuming he goes to a contender and closes. Jim Johnson falls from the top of Tier 3 to the bottom after blowing his league-leading sixth save last Friday. His latest has some calling for Tommy Hunter to take over. I don’t think that happens unless Johnson blows two or three games in a row, but it’s worth watching closely.

Tier 4

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 16 SV, 3 BS, 35 K, 2.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 6 SV, 3 BS, 53 K, 1.88 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

↑Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 2 BS, 38 K, 2.75 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 15 SV, 2 BS, 33 K, 1.78 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 41 K, 3.29 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

I think Koji Uehara deserves the benefit of the doubt now. After being named Boston’s closer, he’s 5-for-7 in save chances with 11 strikeouts and one walk in 8 1/3 innings. He’s given up just one earned run and four hits over that span. Some think Andrew Bailey will reclaim the job in time, but I don’t think the Red Sox will mess with a good thing. Steve Cishek continues to be awesome in Miami since the team scrapped their horrible bullpen by committee. Cishek hasn’t allowed a run since June 4th – a span of 14 1/3 innings – while striking out 15 and walking one. His strikeouts are down overall, but he’s tightened his control. If he gets dealt to a contender, his value will skyrocket. No one is safe from trade rumors, and that includes Bobby Parnell, who was rumored to be offered to Boston for Jackie Bradley, Jr. The Red Sox reportedly turned down the Mets offer, but it makes sense from New York’s perspective – Parnell is the seventh most valuable reliever, according to FanGraphs WAR, and he could help push a contender into the postseason. Kevin Gregg – also a hot name on the trade block – has blown a save in consecutive weeks after converting his first 12. The Cubs closer has 33 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings, and his current 9.79 K/9 is a career best. His closing days are probably over if he does get traded, however, and that seems likely to happen. Jose Veras continues to shave bits and pieces from his 3.29 BB/9 rate, which is a huge improvement over last year’s 5.37. His first-pitch strike rate is a fantastic 61.8%, up from 53% in 2012.

Tier 5

↑Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 3 W, 21 SV, 5 BS, 54 K, 3.89 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 0 BS, 47 K, 1.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Rafael Betancourt, COL
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 2 W, 10 SV, 2 BS, 23 K, 3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Fernando Rodney put together a very good June (3.00 ERA), in which the Tampa closer struck out 18, walked four and allowed four hits in 12 innings. He’s kicked off July with 4 1/3 scoreless innings, while striking out seven and walking one. Rodney should crack the next tier after the break. I’d probably have Joaquin Benoit ranked higher if I trusted Detroit to keep him in the ninth going forward, but I keep hearing the Tigers pop up in trade rumors. It sounds like bullpen help is their top priority, which means Benoit, who owns a career-best 11.33 K/9 rate, could be out of luck. Since returning from injury, Rafael Betancourt has been shaky at best, giving up two runs and five hits in four innings, while striking out two and walking one. His velocity is trending up, but his control (3.80 BB/9) has been an issue all season. Chris Perez isn’t helping many fantasy owners with a 1.35 WHIP, thanks to a career-worst 4.56 BB/9 rate. His fastball velocity is below 93 for the first time in his career – there could be an injury here.

Tier 6

Francisco Rodriguez, MIL
2013: 1 W, 9 SV, 0 BS, 25 K, 1.25 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 18 SV, 5 BS, 29 K, 3.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

↓Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 15 SV, 1 BS, 16 K, 4.30 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

J.J. Putz, ARI
2013: 2 W, 5 SV, 5 BS, 19 K, 3.63 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

I’m finally willing to give into the Brewers and Francisco Rodriguez, but I think Jim Henderson reclaims the job sooner rather than later. It’s pretty obvious that Milwaukee is showcasing Rodriguez for trade. Just trade him already! The Mariners won’t commit to Tom Wilhelmsen, but I still think he’s the best option. Prior to giving up two runs against the Red Sox on Wednesday, Wilhelmsen pitched six scoreless outings, allowing one hit and walking none. Huston Street moves to the bottom tier because he’s not fooling anyone. Street has the lowest K/9 rate (4.91) of any closer, and he plays for a San Diego team on the decline. With a so-so 4.30 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, he does more harm than good. I’m putting J.J. Putz ahead of Heath Bell in Arizona because you don’t want any piece of Bell right now. Then again, you could argue the same with Putz, who has as many saves as blown saves. Keep out of the desert sand until further notice.

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