The Closer Chronicle: Week 16

With the All-Star Game behind us, it’s time to start thinking about the baseball, well, ahead of us. Although my rankings for this week aren’t dramatically different, I put a lot of extra thought into the roles of closers going forward. Kevin Gregg, for example, is a prime trade candidate. If he does get dealt, his closing days are likely over, so he gets a bump down. (Plus, he’s been a little stinky of late.) Fernando Rodney, meanwhile, has earned himself a longer leash in Tampa, so he get’s a bump up. Capeesh?

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

Tier 1

Jason Grilli, PIT
2013: 0 W, 29 SV, 1 BS, 63 K, 1.99 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 26 SV, 3 BS, 54 K, 1.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 64 K, 2.79 ERA, 1.11 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, 30 SV, 2 BS, 30 K, 1.83 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

While my top-five closers at the break aren’t actually the top-five fantasy closers at the break – that would be Joe Nathan, Jason Grilli, Edward Mujica, Greg Holland and Craig Kimbrel – I feel confident in my five for the second half of the season. Chapman, Grilli and Kimbrel rank two, three and five, respectively, in strikeouts per nine. Kimbrel is one of the hottest closers going right now, having given up one run – including no runs in June – with 33 strikeouts and nine walks in his last 22 innings of work. Nathan, who picked up the save in the All-Star Game, is fantasy’s No. 1 closer at the midway point. He’s firmly cemented in Texas with the second most saves (30) in baseball, making the Joakim Soria signing in the offseason a complete non-issue. What’s there to say about Mariano Rivera that hasn’t been said already? Watching Mo enter his very last All-Star Game gave me goose bumps. He has the longest leash of any closer, and rightfully so.

Tier 2

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

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 38 K, 2.86 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 26 SV, 2 BS, 34 K, 2.20 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

↑Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 1 W, 21 SV, 2 BS, 47 K, 1.82 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 25 SV, 0 BS, 41 K, 1.63 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 3 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 65 K, 2.33 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 4 W, 24 SV, 4 BS, 42 K, 3.95 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

A new member, Kenley Jansen, joins Tier 2 as the Dodgers are streaking and find themselves at 47-47, 5.5 games behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Usually I don’t bother with things like win-and-loss records, but I see Los Angeles competing in plenty of close games down the stretch. Jansen has become one of the more unhittable pitchers in baseball, and he figures to be a big part of the Dodgers’ second half run. He has 65 punch outs and eight walks in 46 1 /3 innings. Greg Holland, who was rightfully added to the AL All-Star team as an injury replacement, leads all relievers with a 15.43 K/9 rate – no other closer is above 15. According to, Holland was the 14th closer drafted, on average, making him your biggest bang for the buck thus far. He’s dropped his BB/9 rate from 4.57 in 2012 to 2.83 in 2013, which has helped keep his WHIP below 1.00. Sergio Romo and Edward Mujica are very close, but Romo’s experience and strikeouts give him the edge. Mujica has gone scoreless and 5-for-6 in saves over his last seven appearances after a string of messy performances in mid-June, so he’s still entrenched as the St. Louis closer. More and more rumors about the availability of Glen Perkins keep popping up on the web, and a quick glance at his stats tell you why. Perkins is one of five relievers (Grilli, Trevor Rosenthal, Koji Uehara, Jansen) with a K/9 rate above 12 and a BB/9 rate below two. And you know those guys aren’t being traded. Grant Balfour didn’t look right (from my viewpoint) in the All-Star Game, but all is reportedly fine for the Oakland closer with 43 straight saves. I’m slightly concerned of innings fatigue – after a late start in the spring with a knee injury and 74 2/3 innings pitched in 2012 – but that’s all just a hunch. I like Addison Reed, but with the White Sox in extreme sell mode, I’m not sure the save chances will be there. While he’s hovering around a K per inning, his BB/9 rate has dropped from 2.95 in 2012 to 1.98 in 2013 – he’s allowed just one walk over the last 22 innings.

Tier 3

Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 61 K, 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

↓Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 1 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 29 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 33 SV, 6 BS, 36 K, 3.71 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

↓Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 5 BS, 34 K, 2.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 3 BS, 60 K, 1.70 ERA, 0.76 WHIP

It looks really silly now, but Ryan Madson was once a legitimate threat to Ernesto Frieri and his fantasy owners. The Angels’ closer has racked up 61 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings, and he’s rattled of 19 of 20 save chances going into the break. Frieri owners can breath – he’s safe. Rafael Soriano, for all intents and purposes, overachieved in 2012. That killed most of his value and now we’re seeing the real Soriano. While I believe he can hold down the ninth in Washington, 29 strikeouts in 40 innings isn’t inspiring this writer to go out and acquire his services for the stretch run. Jim Johnson isn’t easy to rank. I want to remain completely objective, but the truth is, I wouldn’t and I don’t own him in any league. Yeah, that means I missed out on his 51 saves in 2012, but I don’t typically own closers with below average strikeout rates. That being said, his K/9 rate is up from 5.37 in 2012 to 7.42 in 2013. On the other hand, he leads baseball with six blown saves. Pick your poison. Jonathan Papelbon enters the second half with five blown saves in his last 12 chances. Could trade rumors be affecting the veteran? It’s possible, but I think it has more to do with a declining strikeout rate (11.83 K/9 in 2012; 7.91 in 2013) and velocity (93.8 mph in 2012; 92.3 in 2013). After Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down multiple times in the first half, Koji Uehara has cured the Boston blues with seven saves in nine chances and an 18:1 K:BB ratio in 12 1/3 innings. I can’t see the Red Sox abandoning Uehara when the going is good.

Tier 4

↑Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 3 W, 22 SV, 5 BS, 56 K, 3.79 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 38 K, 2.30 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

↓Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 2 W, 18 SV, 1 BS, 26 K, 2.76 ERA, 0.89 WHIP

Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 18 SV, 3 SV, 42 K, 3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

↓Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 17 SV, 2 BS, 41 K, 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Fernando Rodney moving up a full tier is a combination of recent performance and his role moving forward. The Rays’ bow-and-arrow closer hasn’t allowed a run in 12 innings, and he’s struck out 20 and walked one over that span. For a guy with a 5.36 BB/9 rate, he has plenty of leash in Tampa. If I’m looking to acquire a closer for the second half, Rodney is near the top of my list – it may not take much to get him. Bobby Parnell suffers from the curse of the terrible team. He’s one of the most valuable relievers in baseball, but that doesn’t always translate into a great fantasy closer. He’d be ranked higher if his strikeout rate (7.95 K/9) was better. Casey Janssen has struggled going into the break, giving up four runs (three earned) in 2 2/3 innings in July. He struck out two in his last outing, breaking a streak of five outings without a K. Like Parnell, a low strikeout rate (7.98 K/9) keeps him down. Jose Veras and Steve Cishek are razor thin close in the rankings, but Veras has the strikeout advantage and a clear job going forward. Cishek is a popular name on the trade block, so his future closing days in Miami aren’t certain.

Tier 5

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 0 BS, 50 K, 1.64 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

↓Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 2 BS, 35 K, 2.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Rafael Betancourt, COL
2013: 2 W, 15 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 2 BS, 26 K, 3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

While it’s extremely possible that the Tigers trade for a closer, Joaquin Benoit has been solid in his turn in the ninth. The Tigers could wait it out as long as Benoit remains flawless – he’s a perfect 8-for-8 in save chances – but a crazy but (sounds like) true Tim Lincecum rumor could mean his time as closer in Detroit is just about up. Kevin Gregg could be on the way out, too, but a pair of subpar performances – five runs, five hits, two walks and one strikeout in two innings – on national television isn’t going to help his trade value. If he’s not closing in Chicago, his value is zero. I simply don’t trust the health of Rafael Betancourt, as the 38-year old has missed time this season with a strained right groin. He doesn’t have a long history of injuries, but his velocity is below 90 for the first time ever and his zone percentage is a career-worst 45.2%. Plus, 25-year old Rex Brothers was very effective in his place. Chris Perez, like Betancourt, is experiencing decreased velocity and his advanced metrics (4.75 FIP; 4.22 xFIP; 3.81 SIERA) suggest he’s overachieving. With a 1.35 WHIP, let someone else have Perez.

Tier 6

↑Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 15 SV, 1 BS, 18 K, 4.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

↑Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 19 SV, 5 BS, 31 K, 3.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Francisco Rodriguez, MIL
2013: 1 W, 9 SV, 0 BS, 25 K, 1.19 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

J.J. Putz, ARI
2013: 2 W, 5 SV, 5 BS, 20 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

Huston Street is the first closer ranked in Tier 6 because he’s the only one with a guaranteed job – for now. He’s undoubtedly available for trade, and I can see him being moved as a bullpen arm for a team seeking a veteran presence. But 18 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings? That’s not going to cut it. The Mariners look like they trust Tom Wilhelmsen more and more with every appearance. He has three saves since the start of July, but I’m not going to rank him any higher until Seattle verbally commits. After striking out just under 10 batters per nine last season, Wilhelmsen is striking out fewer than seven in 2013. I wrongly assumed the Francisco Rodriguez experiment would end after the veteran collected his 300th save, but Milwaukee has stuck with him over Jim Henderson. I don’t expect him to be wearing a Brewers’ jersey past the deadline. There isn’t a more confusing closing situation in baseball than in Arizona, where J.J. Putz has as many saves (5) as blown saves. The last three save opportunities have gone to Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez, but I see Putz getting the job back in time. Still, I’d steer clear of the desert until this situation figures itself out.

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