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The Closer Chronicle: Week 19

The Closer Chronicle lost a few good men in Week 19, as Bobby Parnell, Tom Wilhelmsen and Jose Cisnero were all removed from the closer totem pole. Parnell suffered a possible season-ending neck injury in New York, Wilhelmsen was a surprise demotion in Seattle, and Cisnero was a flop in Houston. That gives us three new faces to work with, so get ready, set, and go attack the waiver wire.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 36 SV, 3 BS, 72 K, 1.19 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 3 W, 33 SV, 2 BS, 48 K, 1.58 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 27 SV, 4 BS, 77 K, 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 2 W, 35 SV, 3 BS, 41 K, 1.70 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 82 K, 2.04 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 30 SV, 2 BS, 39 K, 1.93 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Tier 1 has a new face, as Kenley Jansen joins the elite class after a brief stay in Tier 2. It’s scary how good the Dodgers closer has been since Los Angeles did the right thing and handed him the ninth-inning reigns in favor of Brandon League. Jansen has gone one-two-three in eight (!) straight appearances, with 13 strikeouts in eight innings. Boo! See? He’s that scary. Craig Kimbrel is backing up his historically awesome 2012 season with a pretty damn good 2013. No, he’s not striking out 50% of batters again, but you can’t complain with a 40.7% strikeout rate, can you? (If you can, shame on you.) He’s recorded 26 straight saves for the Braves. Joe Nathan has hit a bit of a rough patch, with five walks against four strikeouts in his last four. Still, the Rangers closer has 17 saves in 18 chances since the start of June, so we’re not about to abandon ship. Aroldis Chapman leads the majors with 15.29 K/9, with the next closest guy over a full strikeout worse. The Reds closer has been hurt by the long ball, however, with three home runs allowed in the last nine. Mariano Rivera has 11 strikeouts and one walk in his last 10 innings, while Edward Mujica has allowed just two walks all year (in 46 2/3 innings). These two are all about precision.

Tier 2

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 30 SV, 2 BS, 70 K, 1.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 2 W, 11 SV, 3 BS, 74 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.71 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 27 SV, 3 BS, 54 K, 2.05 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 29 SV, 1 BS, 50 K, 1.84 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

↓Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 27 SV, 4 BS, 46 K, 3.02 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

The Royals can’t gain any ground on the AL Central leading Tigers, but Greg Holland isn’t the reason why. Kansas City’s closer leads the AL with 14.32 K/9, and he’s walked just one batter in his last 19 outings. Holland’s 7% walk rate is a career best and a huge improvement over last year’s 11.8%, and it’s why he’s gone from good to great. I always expect Koji Uehara to have better save numbers, but he’s only been doing this closer thing for a little over a month now. The Red Sox closer has a 74:9 K:BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings, and no one is taking his job in Boston. He’s allowed just seven hits in 18 1/3 innings since the start of July. Glen Perkins has given up three runs in his last six, but only one game was troublesome (he issued three free passes in that one). The Twins closer is working with a career best 32% strikeout rate this season. Grant Balfour is a big reason why the Athletics are holding their own in the AL West. He’s had three perfect outings since his lone blown save of the year, striking out seven and walking none in four innings. Sergio Romo is the big loser of the week, dropping from the third spot in Tier 2 all the way to the bottom. It’s a simple case of the Giants not going anywhere and a struggling Romo, who has a 5.06 ERA since the start of July. Lefties have been giving San Francisco’s closer fits all season, hitting .274/.293/.452 with three home runs and five doubles in 17 2/3 innings.

Tier 3

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 2 W, 39 SV, 6 BS, 38 K, 3.20 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

↑Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 7 SV, 1 BS, 50 K, 0.84 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 4 W, 27 SV, 5 BS, 54 K, 3.75 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 2 W, 28 SV, 4 BS, 35 K, 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 6 BS, 42 K, 2.82 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Jim Johnson is the default champion of Tier 3, with a major league leading 39 saves in 45 chances. He’s boosted his strikeout rate (18.1%) considerably from last season (15.2%), and he’s only three strikeouts away from matching his 2012 total of 41 K’s in 68 2/3 innings. Thanks to Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh hasn’t missed a beat since Jason Grilli went down with a right forearm injury. While Grilli has vowed to come back (with late August as a very optimistic return date), Melancon continues to shine, posting a 0.00 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in his brief time on the job. As long as Grilli’s out, I like him more than Chicago’s Addison Reed, who can’t seem to knock anything off his 3.75 ERA. Since the start of July, Reed’s allowed five runs, 12 hits and four walks in 13 1/3 innings (along with 15 strikeouts). Both the Nationals and Phillies signed veteran closers to big money contracts in the offseason, but I imagine Philadelphia is kicking itself harder for inking Jonathan Papelbon than Washington is for Rafael Soriano. Both closers have been worse than advertised, with Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million contract already looking like a complete waste of cash. The Philly closer has six blown saves since June 17.

Tier 4

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 4 W, 27 SV, 5 BS, 63 K, 3.69 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 14 SV, 0 BS, 55 K, 1.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 23 SV, 2 BS, 49 K, 3.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 20 SV, 2 BS, 34 K, 2.23 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

↑Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 16 SV, 3 BS, 50 K, 1.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Jim Henderson joins Tier 4, as all signs point to him handling the ninth inning for the remainder of 2013. The Brewers closer has allowed just three hits in his last 9 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts. Fernando Rodney has fallen back into bad habits, walking five batters in his last six innings to go along with five strikeouts. His swinging strike rate is the exact same from a year ago (13.3%), but opposing batters aren’t swinging at as many pitches outside of the strike zone (35.4% O-Swing% in 2012; 30.5% in 2013). His first-pitch percentage is also down a healthy amount, from 60.6% to 55.3%. I’ll be watching his performance carefully this week. Joaquin Benoit has seen all of his team’s save chances since Detroit acquired Jose Veras from the Astros, so there’s no closer controversy brewing here. Benoit has converted 12 straight saves since being named Tigers closer. Steve Cishek had a lengthy string of clean outings snapped when he pitched two innings against the Mets on July 30. He gave up two runs in the 10th inning in that one, which probably didn’t help his stock leading up to the trade deadline, but it did help keep him a closer in Miami. Casey Janssen continues to get the job done in Toronto despite me hating on him all season. He’s worked four perfect outings in a row, as he continues to pound the strike zone with an elite 65% F-Strike%.

Tier 5

↑Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 1 BS, 46 K, 1.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 4 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 32 K, 3.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

↑Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 21 SV, 1 BS, 27 K, 3.47 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

↓Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 23 SV, 4 BS, 38 K, 2.91 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

↓Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 0 W, 26 SV, 4 BS, 69 K, 4.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP

Rex Brothers leapfrogs Chris Perez as the closer to own in Tier 5 despite giving up a run in his last outing (and three runs in his last six). Brothers has been perfect (4-for-4) since taking over closer duties for an injured Rafael Betancourt, who may or may not have a ninth-inning job when he’s ready to come back. Perez, meanwhile, blew an important game against the Tigers on Tuesday, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk. In five of his last seven appearances, he’s failed to strike out a batter. Kevin Gregg is finding out that you can only get by on league average stuff for so long. After being dominant in his first month on the job, Gregg has been more human of late, blowing three games since the start of July. Pedro Strop and Blake Parker are candidates to close in September. Huston Street has the greatest job security of all the closers in Tier 5, but he also has the lowest upside, with 6.69 K/9. After giving up a pair of runs in two consecutive outings, Ernesto Frieri is getting dangerously close to the cut line, and he’s no longer someone you can rely on from a day-to-day basis. There has been some good, however: Frieri’s strikeout and walk rates are right around his career norms, and he’s working with a career best 15.4% swinging strike rate. Dane de la Rosa is next in line.

Tier 6

↑Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 4 W, 7 SV, 0 BS, 29 K, 2.10 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 3 SV, 2 BS, 55 K, 4.95 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 1 SV, 2 BS, 37 K, 2.92 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

Josh Fields, HOU
2013: 1 W, 1 SV, 1 BS, 23 K, 6.86 ERA, 1.48 WHIP

Like Jim Johnson in Tier 3, Brad Ziegler is your default top stopper in Tier 6. While his stuff doesn’t scream closer, he hasn’t blown a save yet, which is more than you can say about his predecessors, J.J. Putz and Heath Bell. Danny Farquhar, LaTroy Hawkins and Josh Fields are all new additions this week. Farquhar has the greatest upside with 13.62 K/9, Hawkins has the most experience with 89 career saves and Fields, well, he got the last save for the Astros. It’s still a situation to avoid in Houston.

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