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The Closer Chronicle: Week 18

Now that the trade deadline is a distant (one day) memory, it’s a little easier to predict the closer landscape going forward. Only one trade affected what you’re about to see below, as Jose Veras was dealt from the Astros to the Tigers in order to shore up Detroit’s backend of the bullpen. If you’re still on the lookout for saves, then you’re in luck – Houston has an open spot and a major league pitcher to help fill the void. You’ll just have to read a little further on to find out who I’m talking about. You’ve just been teased.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 31 SV, 3 BS, 62 K, 1.34 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

↑Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 3 W, 32 SV, 2 BS, 47 K, 1.65 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 71 K, 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 2 W, 34 SV, 2 BS, 38 K, 1.60 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 30 SV, 2 BS, 38 K, 2.01 ERA, 0.78 WHIP

All week long, we heard how Texas was making everyone available, from the newly-acquired Matt Garza to their closer Joe Nathan. Yes, the same Joe Nathan with a 1.65 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 32 saves for a playoff hopeful Rangers squad. Not surprisingly, the trade deadline came and went with Nathan still wearing a Texas logo on his chest. The Rangers would have been foolish to deal him, so be happy they didn’t. I am. After Craig Kimbrel, Nathan is the guy I trust the most in August and September (hence, the second overall ranking). After holding opposing batters to a .146 BA in 2011 and .141 BA in 2012, Aroldis Chapman finds himself with an unusually high BAA of .182 in 2013. Last week I had the Cincy closer ahead of Nathan, but I’m changing my tune in Week 18. Nathan is a more reliable source of saves, ERA and WHIP. Mariano Rivera and Edward Mujica have produced very similar stats thus far, but it’s Mujica who has the upper hand when it comes to WHIP – you can thank his two (!) walks in 44 2/3 innings for that. Unbelievable. Still, when it comes down to it, Rivera’s leash is longer.

Tier 2

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 28 SV, 2 BS, 65 K, 1.76 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 14 SV, 3 BS, 74 K, 2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 24 SV, 4 BS, 46 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 25 SV, 3 BS, 51 K, 1.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 28 SV, 1 BS, 48 K, 1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 70 K, 1.46 ERA, 0.69 WHIP

Koji Uehara started from the bottom (Tier 6) and now he’s here (Tier 2). Since taking over for Boston in the ninth, Uehara has been virtually unhittable – in 19 1/3 innings, he’s given up seven hits and one walk, while striking out 28 and allowing just one earned run. Without Uehara, there’s no telling where the Red Sox would be. Earlier this week, the Dodgers signed “The Bearded One,” Brian Wilson, to eventually handle setup duties for Kenley Jansen, who continues to prove his elite status (although, it should be said that anyone who follows Brandon League automatically looks like an All-Star). Joking aside, Jansen has put up All-Star numbers in 2013, including 8.22 K/BB, which trails only Mujica (19.00) and Uehara (8.38). Jansen leapfrogs NL West Division foe-with-a-beard Sergio Romo, who I still like, but he plays for the Giants – a team I don’t like to stay competitive in the second half. Some thought the Royals should have traded Greg Holland for more valuable assets, but he stayed put in Kansas City. The Royals are still in this thing, so look for Holland and his AL-leading 14.27 K/9 to stay relevant. Glen Perkins and Grant Balfour are very close, but I give the slight edge to the closer up north. Perkins’ advanced metrics (2.29 FIP; 2.50 xFIP) are a run better than Balfour’s (3.30 FIP; 3.27 xFIP), and he’s the closer with the higher strikeout rate.

Tier 3

↑Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 36 SV, 6 BS, 38 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 4 W, 26 SV, 5 BS, 50 K, 3.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

↑Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 5 SV, 1 BS, 49 K, 0.88 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 2 W, 26 SV, 4 BS, 33 K, 3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 5 BS, 36 K, 2.21 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

Mark Melancon climbs to Tier 3 despite Jason Grilli’s adamant proclamation that he’ll be ready before season’s end. Only four relievers are more valuable than Melancon, according to FanGraphs WAR, as the 28-year old has put together a dream season for the Pirates. I expect Melancon to succeed in the role the rest of the way. Jim Johnson moves to the head of Tier 3, but this is the highest I am willing to go. He’s been doing his mediocre closer routine for so long that it’s almost become legit. If you need saves, Johnson is your guy. Just don’t watch the games. Addison Reed didn’t really do anything to get knocked down a peg (although he did blow his fifth save on Wednesday), but the White Sox are such a disaster right now that I don’t think the save chances will be there. His best (for 2013, at least) is in the rear-view mirror. Pardon me for starting to sound like a broken record, but Rafael Soriano and Jonathan Papelbon continue to show a decrease in both their velocity and strikeout rates. It wouldn’t surprise me if both are out of a ninth-inning job by September (or sooner, if they are hiding injuries). The NL East duo has been a huge disappointment in fantasy.

Tier 4

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 3 W, 26 SV, 5 BS, 59 K, 3.92 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

↑Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 10 SV, 0 BS, 52 K, 1.47 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Bobby Parnell, NYM
2013: 5 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 44 K, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

↑Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 47 K, 3.14 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 18 SV, 2 BS, 34 K, 2.36 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

↓Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 66 K, 4.20 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

Although the Tigers acquired former Houston closer Jose Veras prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline, Joaquin Benoit will remain Detroit’s man in the ninth. At least that’s the plan. Veras could sneak in a few saves, but I think he’s more of a long-term threat to Benoit than a short-term one (meaning, I think Benoit continues to close through the end of 2013). Only Greg Holland had more saves (11) in July than Fernando Rodney (nine), and the Tampa Bay closer now has an impressive streak of 17 straight saves dating back to the end of May. The Rays traded for an injured reliever (Chicago’s Jesse Crain), so Rodney appears safe. Bobby Parnell gave up his first home run of the year (in 50 innings), but he’s been fine ever since. I probably don’t give him enough credit because he’s on the Mets, but, with 7.92 K/9, he’s just not an exciting option even with a stellar ERA and WHIP. Steve Cishek was much better in June and July (2.05 ERA combined) than in April and May (4.43 ERA), and his strikeout rate has climbed dramatically since the opening month (6.97 K/9 in May; 9.42 K/9 in July). Staying put in Miami, he retains his value as a strong closer in the final two months. Casey Janssen blew his second save, but that shouldn’t put him in John Farrell’s doghouse. He’s been a solid option all season long. Ernesto Frieri has been a disaster of late, giving up eight runs and three home runs in his last 2 2/3 innings – good for a 26.97 ERA. His 5.20 BB/9 are a WHIP killer. With Los Angeles safely out of the race, they could look to a rehabbing Ryan Madson to close out games down the road. Kevin Jepsen is another possibility. I had Frieri ranked way too high last week.

Tier 5

↑Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 14 SV, 3 BS, 47 K, 1.99 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 4 W, 15 SV, 2 BS, 30 K, 2.41 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 7 SV, 1 BS, 45 K, 1.24 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

↓Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 37 K, 3.05 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

With Francisco Rodriguez exiled to Baltimore, Jim Henderson has once again thrived as Milwaukee’s stopper. (Sorry, John Axford owners.) He picked up a pair of saves in a doubleheader on Tuesday and should be a big an excellent source of strikeouts, ERA and WHIP from here on out. I wanted to put Rex Brothers ahead of Chris Perez, but the Colorado closer has a hobbled Rafael Betancourt to deal with eventually. The 25-year old has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockies, but he’s pitched way over his head (3.38 FIP; 3.70 xFIP). The regression train hit Kevin Gregg hard, as the Cubs closer posted a 5.79 ERA and 2.14 WHIP in the month of July, along with a ghastly 8:15 K:BB ratio. It looked like he was a sure thing to be traded entering July, but the bad month really depleted Gregg’s market. He’ll stay closer for now, but Chicago could look to Pedro Strop or elsewhere (Blake Parker?) in September.

Tier 6

↑Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 20 SV, 1 BS, 24 K, 3.57 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

Tom Wilhemsen, SEA
2013: 0 W, 24 SV, 5 BS, 35 K, 3.61 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

↑Jose Cisnero, HOUS
2013: 2 W, 0 SV, 1 BS, 41 K, 3.40 ERA, 1.49 WHIP

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 4 W, 5 SV, 0 BS, 26 K, 2.23 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Congrats on making it this far. I teased a change in Houston in my intro, so here you have it. Jose Cisnero will likely get the first crack at the ninth inning for the Astros, but he doesn’t come without some heavy baggage (1.49 WHIP; 4.04 BB/9). He’s been spotty, at best, over his last 10 appearances, giving up eight runs in 8 2/3 innings. If you’re desperate for saves, he’s worth the speculation pickup. Color me not surprised that Huston Street stayed put in San Diego. At least now, we now he’s the closer to own for the Padres in the second half. Luke Gregerson also stayed, which was a surprise, but he’s always pitched best in a setup role anyway. Tom Wilhelmsen followed up a forgetful June (10.97 ERA) with a much healthier July (2.84 ERA), but he’s still limited with 6.65 K/9. He’s still bringing it at 96 mph, so there doesn’t appear to be an injury here. Was last year just a fluke? I really felt like the Diamondbacks missed an opportunity to land a closer at the deadline. They were rumored to be frontrunners for Brian Wilson, but he chose the Dodgers instead. With 4.84 K/9, Brad Ziegler is not someone I see succeeding at closer for much longer. I think J.J. Putz steals back the job back eventually – he gave up one run in 8 1/3 July innings.

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