The Closer Chronicle: Week 17

An injury and a trade jumble up the Closer Chronicle rankings in Week 17, but no news is bigger news than in Pittsburgh, where Jason Grilli, my previous No. 1 closer, was forced to the 15-day DL with a right forearm strain. It’s a curveball to a Pirates team in search of its first postseason appearance since 1992, and a potential roadblock to fantasy owners in search of a fantasy championship (with the latter being way more important, of course).

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 28 SV, 3 BS, 59 K, 1.45 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 23 SV, 3 BS, 68 K, 2.66 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 1 W, 32 SV, 2 BS, 44 K, 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 1 W, 32 SV, 2 BS, 36 K, 1.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

↑Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 29 SV, 2 BS, 36 K, 2.06 ERA, 0.78 WHIP

In case you missed it and skipped the intro, Pittsburgh’s Jason Grilli was placed on the 15-day DL earlier this week with a right forearm injury, and the outlook doesn’t look good. He’ll be re-evaluated at some point, so the full extent of the injury won’t be known until then. Hopefully, it doesn’t force him to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. With one closer down, I felt the need to bring another one up, and I chose the Cardinals’ Edward Mujica, who is the No. 2 closer in standard 5X5 leagues. In 44 appearances, the St. Louis closer has a 36:2 K:BB ratio in 42 1/3 innings, and he’s allowed just 32 hits all season. Fire-baller Trevor Rosenthal was the favorite to lead the Cardinals in saves after Jason Motte went down in the preseason, but it’s Mujica who has stepped up and shined in the spotlight. With just two blown saves in 31 chances, Mujica is the man going forward in St. Louis. He’s proven himself, even if he only has one pitch (but it’s a damn good one). Craig Kimbrel assumes the top spot following the Grilli injury, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season there – he’s currently the No. 3 closer in 5X5. Aroldis Chapman and Joe Nathan could be flip-flopped, if you prefer, but I give the slight edge to the guy with more strikeouts. Mariano Rivera has picked up where he left off with two saves post All-Star break. He now has 32 saves – tied for the second most in baseball.

Tier 2

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 25 SV, 2 BS, 62 K, 1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 24 SV, 3 BS, 44 K, 2.84 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 3 W, 12 SV, 3 BS, 70 K, 2.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 24 SV, 3 BS, 51 K, 1.85 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 26 SV, 1 BS, 43 K, 2.03 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 4 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 46 K, 3.77 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Speculation of whether or not the Royals should move Greg Holland has been a hot topic on Twitter, but the closer with an AL league-best 14.68 K/9 would assume the same value no matter where he called home. Over the last 30 days, Holland is the No. 3 fantasy closer with a 1.80 ERA and 0.60 WHIP to go along with nine saves, 18 strikeouts and no walks in 10 innings. I passed on Sergio Romo in favor of Mujica in Tier 1 because it’s hard to justify the difference in ERA and WHIP even with Romo’s upper hand in strikeouts. I still like Romo, obviously, but Mujica has shown better control and plays on a better team. Kenley Jansen and the surging Dodgers are a team to watch in the second half, and Jansen’s performance will be a big factor in determining the team’s playoff chances. He’s the No. 4 closer over the last 30 days, posting a 2.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with seven saves, 14 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 innings. He is now up to 70 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings, and his leash in Los Angeles is long. Glen Perkins had his worst outing of the year against the Angels on Tuesday, blowing his first save chance since the end of May. The Minnesota closer was only charged with one run, but he walked three and didn’t record a strikeout in the appearance. Perkins had walked only two batters in his previous 25 1/3 innings of work, so I’m not concerned. You shouldn’t be, either. Grant Balfour is no longer working on a saves streak, which was snapped at 44 on Tuesday. The Astros’ Matt Dominguez took him deep for a two-run shot, so now Balfour will just have to start a new one. Addison Reed has rediscovered his closer mojo, picking up a save with four strikeouts and no walks in two innings since the break. Reed’s 5.11 K/BB is 14th best among relievers.

Tier 3

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 65 K, 1.59 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 25 SV, 2 BS, 65 K, 3.71 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 35 SV, 6 BS, 37 K, 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

↓Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 1 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 31 K, 2.36 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

↓Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 5 BS, 35 K, 2.27 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Tier 3 is where things start to get really interesting, as I could see any one of the five closers in the group losing their job with a string of bad performances. Koji Uehara and Ernesto Frieri are the safest, in my opinion, but the latter just got lit up on Tuesday for five runs against the Twins. It was Frieri’s second blown save of the year, so don’t go dropping the Angels closer anytime soon, but watch the walks (25 in 43 2/3 innings) going forward. Uehara, meanwhile, is proving to be more than just a fill-in closer in Boston. Since being handed the ninth-inning reigns, he’s been fantasy’s No. 1 closer, posting a 0.59 ERA and 0.46 WHIP with eight saves, 23 strikeouts and one walk in 15 1/3 innings. He’s given up just four hits over that span, and he’s working with a career-best 12.90 K/9 rate. Uehara’s Red Sox were interested in acquiring the Brewers’ Francisco Rodriguez, but he landed in Baltimore instead. Rodriguez is now a must-own handcuff for Jim Johnson owners, but I expect Johnson to handle the ninth barring injury. He leads baseball with 35 saves (and six blown saves). Rafael Soriano has failed to strike out a batter in eight of his last 13 appearances, and he hasn’t struck out two in a game since June 15th. His swinging strike rate (8.5%) and strikeout rate (18%) are both career lows. Philadelphia is 7.5 games out of first place in the NL East, and with a sub-.500 record, I suspect the Phillies will become sellers. On name value alone, Jonathan Papelbon is an attractive piece, but he’s due big money and hasn’t lived up to his contract. He has five blown saves since June 17th, and, like Soriano, his velocity is down. Soriano and Papelbon are two closers I’m selling, and quickly.

Tier 4

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 3 W, 24 SV, 5 BS, 58 K, 4.04 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 19 SV, 4 BS, 40 K, 2.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 2 W, 18 SV, 2 BS, 32 K, 2.51 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

Jose Veras, HOU
2013: 0 W, 18 SV, 3 BS, 44 K, 3.05 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 19 SV, 2 BS, 44 K, 3.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

↑Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 9 SV, 0 BS, 51 K, 1.54 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit continues to climb Closer Mountain, joining Tier 4 on the heels of his ninth consecutive save on Sunday. Benoit looks more than comfortable closing for the AL Central leading Tigers, although it’s possible the team makes a move for a closer at the deadline. Benoit hasn’t allowed an earned run in over a month, and he’s struck out a batter in 14 out of 16 games, including eight games with two punch outs. Over the last 30 days, no one has many saves as Fernando Rodney (nine). Tampa Bay’s closer has struck out an impressive 17 batters in 13 1/3 innings, while walking four. With 15 consecutive saves, it’s time to start trusting Rodney again; Joe Maddon certainly does. Bobby Parnell needs a little help from his New York teammates. If he played for a contender like the Cardinals, for example, he’d be ranked near the top tier. While 7.89 K/9 isn’t closer-esque, everything else he does is, including an elite first-pitch strike percentage of 65.2%. You would think a guy with an extra “S” in his last name would have more flare, but Casey Janssen isn’t that guy. He suffers from the same fate as Parnell: he’s a solid, but not spectacular closer on a mediocre team. He’s struck out eight in his last 3 2/3 innings, but his walk rate is trending in the wrong direction. Steve Delabar snuck in a save before the break, so it’s a situation worth monitoring. Jose Veras trade rumors are gaining steam, while Steve Cishek rumors are on the hush. Both would gain value outside of Houston and Miami, respectively.

Tier 5

↑Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 3 SV, 1 BS, 48 K, 0.93 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 35 K, 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Chris Perez, MIL
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 2 BS, 27 K, 2.93 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

↑Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 6 SV, 1 BS, 44 K, 1.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

I may be jumping the ship with my ranking of Mark Melancon, but if Grilli’s injury is serious, I would rather take my chances on Melancon and his miniscule 0.93 ERA and 0.81 WHIP before trusting any of the closers below him. He doesn’t offer the same strikeout upside as Grilli, but he can get by on his current strikeout per inning and a fantastic 60.5% ground ball rate. Last week, I expressed my distrust of Rafael Betancourt’s health, and he ended up landing on 15-day DL with appendicitis. Rex Brothers steps in and could keep the job for the rest of the season. He was effective in his previous stint in Colorado, and he’s already picked up two saves since the All-Star break. Kevin Gregg blew his third save on Wednesday night, giving up a run on three hits and three walks in two innings against the Diamondbacks. Gregg picked the wrong time to regress, as the Cubs are known to be shopping their closer to bullpen needy teams. If he stays in Chicago, he could retain more value, however, as any team that trades for Gregg would likely use him in a non-closing role. Chris Perez has a long history of medical problems, and I don’t trust him going forward. His velocity is down and his zone percentage is a career low 48.9%. Those are two giant red flags.

Tier 6

↑Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 11 SV, 3 BS, 43 K, 2.15 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

↑Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 23 SV, 5 BS, 34 K, 3.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

↓Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 17 SV, 1 BS, 20 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 4 W, 4 SV, 0 BS, 24 K, 2.33 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

With Francisco Rodriguez finally out of Milwaukee, Jim Henderson can finally take over again for the Brewers (hopefully). John Axford is still there, and the team could choose to showcase him in the ninth, much like they did with Rodriguez. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Good news: Henderson notched a save against the Padres on Wednesday night, picking up two strikeouts in the process. That’s a good start. Tom Wilhelmsen is starting to settle in as Seattle closer, picking up five saves in five chances since July 14th. His strikeouts are still few and far between (34 in 45 1/3 innings), but he looks relatively safe going forward. Brad Ziegler and Huston Street have the lowest and second lowest strikeout rate, respectively, in the closer class. In fact, Ziegler’s 4.66 K/9 rate is the second lowest mark in baseball. I don’t expect Ziegler to keep the job in Arizona for long, so Street gets the modest edge.

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