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The Closer Chronicle: Week 20

Halfway through August, things are starting to get a little chippy out there. Already this week, we’ve seen something no one ever imagined possible: Three straight blown saves for the great one, Mariano Rivera. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve see something most of us have gotten used to seeing: Another blown save for Jim Johnson. With the dog days of summer closing in, we’re sure to see plenty more highs and lows from our closers in capes.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 38 SV, 3 BS, 74 K, 1.14 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

↑Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 29 SV, 4 BS, 84 K, 2.79 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

↑Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 87 K, 2.08 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 3 W, 36 SV, 2 BS, 50 K, 1.48 ERA, 0.86 WHIP

I decided to make some cuts in Tier 1 because I really feel like these four are the cream of the closer crop. Craig Kimbrel hasn’t allowed an earned run in 16 straight, striking out 28 batters in 16 innings; Aroldis Chapman hasn’t allowed a base runner in four straight, including two games with three strikeouts and no base runners (that’s what we in the fantasy biz like to call a “Kimbrel”); Kenley Jansen has one walk against 15 strikeouts over his last 11 1/3 innings. Joe Nathan, meanwhile, is probably the most suspect closer of the bunch, as he’s walked six batters in his last seven. My guess is the wildness will pass. He’s still one of the best.

Tier 2

↑Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 32 SV, 2 BS, 75 K, 1.53 ERA, 0.89 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 31 SV, 2 BS, 40 K, 1.74 ERA, 0.75 WHIP

↓Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 3 W, 35 SV, 5 BS, 41 K, 2.44 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 3 W, 12 SV, 3 BS, 75 K, 1.32 ERA, 0.68 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 28 SV, 3 BS, 59 K, 2.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 30 SV, 1 BS, 55 K, 1.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Greg Holland is close to joining the Tier 1 crew with an AL-leading 14.36 K/9. The Royals closer is the reason you don’t pay for saves. He was the 14th closer selected on draft day, according to FantasyPros.com, and he’s the No. 3 closer on the ESPN Player Rater today. Edward Mujica has the edge on Mariano Rivera with a WHIP that’s 45 points lower, but they kind of do the same thing: Use one pitch very well and rack up the saves with so-so strikeouts. And, no, Mujica hasn’t walked a batter since the last time we met (he’s issued just two free passes in 51 2/3 innings). Remarkable. Rivera has actually struggled of late, blowing three straight saves for the first time in his career. He’s been hit hard, giving up three home runs in his last two games, but I can’t in good conscience tell you to panic. It’s Mo. He’s not about to lose his job, even to a capable alternative like David Robertson. Koji Uehara is the waiver wire closer of the year, as nobody pegged him to be Boston’s most effective stopper in the preseason. Injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey allowed it, but here we are – Uehara has a remarkable 75/9 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings, and his 8.33 K/BB trails only Mujica (20.00) and Jansen (8.70) among relievers. Have I told you not to pay for saves? Like Holland, Glen Perkins has been an absolute steal in 2013. Selected, on average, as the 20th closer, the Twins stopper has put up top-10 numbers with 10 walks against 59 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. Perkins’ 31.3 percent strikeout rate represents a career best. Grant Balfour has multiple strikeouts in four out of his last five, striking out 10 in five innings. Oakland tends to play in a lot of close games, so Balfour is in line for plenty of saves in the final seven weeks.

Tier 3

↓Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 3 W, 28 SV, 4 BS, 47 K, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

↓Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 3 W, 39 SV, 9 BS, 41 K, 3.52 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 5 W, 28 SV, 5 BS, 54 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WAS
2013: 2 W, 31 SV, 4 BS, 36 K, 2.92 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

↓Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 7 SV, 2 BS, 53 K, 0.81 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 2 W, 20 SV, 6 BS, 42 K, 2.76 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

No matter where I rank Jim Johnson I feel like it’s too high, but the uncertainty of the closers around him makes it hard to place him any lower. Johnson blew his third straight save against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, and he’s now blown a major league leading nine games to go along with a major league leading 39 saves. I’d much rather see Francisco Rodriguez close things out in Baltimore, but I’m not sure which direction the O’s will go. If they do give the job to K Rod, this still feels like the right spot in the ranks. I’d stash Rodriguez yesterday if I owned Johnson. Sergio Romo drops down a tier after failing to strike out a single batter in four of his last five. He’s also given up two home runs in his last six, while the Giants are dogging it in the NL West. Addison Reed finally looks like he’s righted the ship in Chicago, allowing just three base runners over his last six innings of work. He’s only struck out two batters over that span, however, so his upside is limited. Mark Melancon blew his first save since taking over closer duties in Pittsburgh, giving up an unearned run against the Cardinals on Monday. He’s been fantastic, however, facing the minimum in six out of his last nine. Jason Grilli is scheduled to throw this weekend with hopes of being ready by early September, so Melancon will resume setup work when the time comes. Rafael Soriano has separated himself from Jonathan Papelbon, as the Washington closer has converted six straight saves. Papelbon, meanwhile, hasn’t saved a game since July 11. That’s almost unbelievable.

Tier 4

↑Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 2 W, 15 SV, 0 BS, 58 K, 1.48 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 4 W, 27 SV, 7 BS, 66 K, 4.15 ERA, 1.49 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 26 SV, 2 BS, 53 K, 2.85 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 36 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 51 K, 1.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit moves to the head of Tier 4 despite pitching once in the past seven days. Last week, the Tigers closer picked up two saves in an all-important AL Central showdown with the Indians, and he’s now a perfect 15-for-15 since taking over in Motown. Fernando Rodney had an epic meltdown last Friday, giving up four runs on four hits against the Dodgers. Over the last 30 days, Tampa’s closer has a 6.14 ERA and 2.32 WHIP. His 13.9 percent walk rate is second only to Carlos Marmol. Steve Cishek and Casey Janssen are really close, but Cishek has tossed 14 2/3 more innings; hence, more strikeouts. Janssen also had a four-run blowup against Oakland on Monday, and that happens from time to time when you’re barely throwing 90. Jim Henderson could be near-elite if he could get his walk rate (3.86 BB/9) down, but that’s the kind of pitcher he’s always been. Despite the control issues, the Brewers closer hasn’t allowed a run in 11 straight, with 16 strikeouts and five walks in 10 2/3 innings. Too bad Milwaukee stinks.

Tier 5

Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 11 SV, 1 BS, 50 K, 1.46 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 5 W, 19 SV, 4 BS, 35 K, 3.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 0 W, 23 SV, 1 BS, 29 K, 3.26 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 41 K, 2.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

It’s starting to look like Rex Brothers will continue to close things out in Colorado even when 38-year old Rafael Betancourt comes back from injury. At least it would make a lot of sense. There is a lot of regression in store, however, as Brothers has walked 24 batters in 49 2/3 innings. You simply can’t sustain a sub-2.00 ERA that way (3.26 FIP; 3.67 xFIP). Chris Perez blew his fourth save on Wednesday, but luckily for him the Indians came back and won the game in extras. Perez is a hot-and-cold closer, posting a 0.60 ERA in July and a 7.71 ERA in August. Where, oh where did the strikeouts go? Huston Street has recorded 29 punch outs in 38 2/3 innings this season, down from 47 in 39 innings in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, 2012’s numbers weren’t impressive, either, but this is ridiculous. Kevin Gregg might not be closer for much longer as the Cubs shift into see-what-we-have-in-September mode. That means Pedro Strop, who’s been really good since coming over from Baltimore, could get some save chances. Gregg saved the Cubs big time from the Marmol debacle, but there’s no loyalty preventing Chicago from going in another direction and seeing what they have for the future.

Tier 6

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 6 W, 7 SV, 1 BS, 30 K, 2.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 5 SV, 3 BS, 58 K, 5.17 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Dane de la Rosa, LAA
2013: 5 W, 1 W, 3 BS, 48 K, 3.67 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 3 SV, 3 BS, 39 K, 3.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Chia-Jen Lo, HOU
2013: 0 W, 1 SV, 1 BS, 5 K, 0.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Brad Ziegler is in the Huston Street style of closers, but Street’s been doing it longer. His 4.91 K/9 is the fourth lowest mark among qualified relievers, and I simply cannot see Arizona going deep into the playoffs with Ziegler closing games. He blew his first save on Monday, giving up a run on a pair of hits and a walk with no strikeouts. Like Ziegler, Danny Farquhar blew his first save since being named closer, giving up a pair of runs on four hits and two walks. I think the Farquhar hype got a little out of control too fast. We’ll see how he responds. It appears Ernesto Frieri is out of a ninth-inning job, with Dane De La Rosa your best bet to pick up saves in Anaheim. It’s a nice change of pace for Angels’ fans, as De La Rosa has allowed only three home runs in 54 innings, compared to eight in 48 innings for Frieri. LaTroy Hawkins was a decent closer in 2004. That was nine years ago. Jose Cisnero didn’t work out and I was wrong about Josh Fields last week, so how about we give Chia-Jen Lo a shot in Houston? He got the Astros last save chance, but he’s not worth investing in. No one in Houston is.

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