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The Closer Chronicle: Week 21

The fantasy playoffs are right around the corner in H2H formats, and I’ve noticed that the majority of teams contending for a title in my leagues have a stable group of closers holding things down. A reliable closer can go a long way in bringing down your team’s ERA and WHIP, while a shaky closer can do the exact opposite. Just ask the Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg owners. My advice: Don’t go reaching for a closer just because you’re desperate for saves. Look at the bigger picture. If Ernesto Frieri was dropped, for example, it’s probably because he was doing more harm than good.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 2 W, 40 SV, 3 BS, 78 K, 1.05 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 32 SV, 5 BS, 87 K, 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 21 SV, 3 BS, 90 K, 1.98 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 4 W, 37 SV, 2 BS, 56 K, 1.57 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

With an uneventful save against the Mets on Wednesday, Craig Kimbrel became the first pitcher to reach 40 saves in 2013. Hip-hip hooray! Kimbrel now sports a microscopic 1.05 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, and the Braves closer hasn’t allowed a run in 20 straight with 32 strikeouts. Aroldis Chapman continues to lead all relievers with 14.96 K/9 (87 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings), but he’s been a little unlucky with the long ball. Last year, Chapman allowed four home runs in 71 1/3 innings; this year, he’s already allowed seven. It’s no knock against him, but it does help explain his slightly higher ERA (1.51 ERA in 2012). Would Kenley Jansen be ranked No. 1 if he opened the year as the Dodgers closer? It’s certainly possible. Jansen is rolling on a Los Angeles team that’s running away in the NL West, and, on Wednesday, he picked up his 21st save of the season. Kimbrel, Chapman – assuming the Reds don’t turn him into a starter – and Jansen are your top three for both this year and next. I admit Joe Nathan is a step down, but his rock-steadiness keeps him in the top tier.

Tier 2

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 34 SV, 2 BS, 77 K, 1.47 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 3 W, 12 SV, 3 BS, 78 K, 1.27 ERA, 0.67 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 33 SV, 2 BS, 42 K, 1.77 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 4 W, 37 SV, 5 BS, 44 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 29 SV, 3 BS, 61 K, 2.36 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 31 SV, 1 BS, 57 K, 1.84 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Koji Uehara climbs two spots with an impeccable 8.67 K/BB and 78 K’s in 56 2/3 innings. The Red Sox closer is striking out a career best 37.5 percent of batters, and he’s doing it in a high leverage situation in the ninth for the first time. The save total is light, but the skill set is elite. Opposing batters are hitting .146 against Uehara, the fourth best BAA in the league. Greg Holland isn’t slowing down, and his 41.2 percent strikeout rate is now best in the league, better than Chapman’s 40.5 percent. Expect Holland to collect some AL Cy Young votes. He’s been that good. Edward Mujica did a very bad thing and walked a batter last week (only his third walk in 55 2/3 innings), but cut the guy a little slack – he was working his third straight multi-inning appearance. The Cardinals held him out of action over the weekend, but he was right back at it on Monday and Wednesday, picking up saves 32 and 33, respectively. Mariano Rivera gives you a little more in the strikeout department than Mujica, but he’s also been much more hittable with a .259 BAA. Glen Perkins had almost zero name recognition entering 2013, but those who pounced on the underrated starter-turned-reliever are sitting on fantasy gold. The Twins closer is one of three relievers (Uehara, Jansen) with a strikeout rate above 30 percent and a walk rate under six percent. Grant Balfour has seen his strikeout rate climb to 28.9 percent with 24 strikeouts in 17 innings since the start of July. Selected as the 23rd closer, on average, according to FantasyPros.com, Balfour’s been an absolute steal. He’s currently the No. 12 closer in standard 5X5 leagues.

Tier 3

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 4 W, 30 SV, 4 BS, 49 K, 2.72 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 5 W, 33 SV, 5 BS, 59 K, 3.19 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

↑Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 3 W, 16 SV, 0 BS, 58 K, 1.57 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

↑Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 27 SV, 2 BS, 53 K, 2.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

↓Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 3 W, 39 SV, 9 BS, 42 K, 3.58 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

Finally, some movement. The Tigers went out of their way and signed Jose Valverde back in April because they were desperate for a closer with experience, but when that didn’t work out, Joaquin Benoit was waiting patiently in the pen. As closer, Benoit has converted all 16 save chances for Detroit, racking up 58 strikeouts across 51 2/3 innings with a very solid .202 BAA. Steve Cishek also moves up a tier, as he’s been slowly climbing the closer ranks. For the season, he’s the No. 18 closer, but he’s the No. 9 closer over the last 30 days – picking up 10 saves with a 1.29 ERA. He doesn’t give you much in terms of strikeouts, but he’s solid in Miami. Sergio Romo assumes his position atop Tier 3, but it certainly feels like the Giants and their fans are counting down the days until the season is mercifully over. Romo still holds a solid 2.72 ERA and elite 0.99 WHIP, but his strikeouts are down for the third consecutive year. Just two weeks ago, Addison Reed was working with a 3.75 ERA. With no earned runs in his last ten, Reed’s now operating with a much cleaner 3.19 ERA, which just goes to show you how fickle a reliever’s ERA can be. He only has five strikeouts in his last nine innings (dropping his K/9 under nine), but he’s only walked one and allowed five hits in that span. Jim Johnson falls to the bottom of Tier 3, although I wonder if that’s far enough. He’s been horrible, terrible and brutal, giving up a single run in four out of his last five outings, including a string of three straight blown saves. He leads the majors with nine blown saves, and he allowed three hits in 2/3 innings his last time out. I thought Francisco Rodriguez had a shot at taking over, but now he’s dealing with a groin injury. Southpaw Tommy Hunter, who owns a 2.67 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, could get the next save chance, but it’s no guarantee.

Tier 4

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 5 W, 29 SV, 7 BS, 68 K, 3.83 ERA, 1.47 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 55 K, 1.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 22 SV, 2 BS, 36 K, 3.15 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

↓Rafael Soriano, WAS
2013: 2 W, 32 SV, 6 BS, 41 K, 3.71 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

↓Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 3 W, 21 SV, 6 BS, 45 K, 2.64 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

↓Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 8 SV, 2 BS, 56 K, 0.93 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

Call me crazy, but I still like Fernando Rodney. After a 4.32 ERA in April and 5.65 ERA in May, he’s posted a 3.00 ERA in June, 2.00 ERA in July and 3.38 ERA in August. One bad outing accounts for all of his ERA damage this month, as Rodney’s struck out nine and walked three in nine innings. Jim Henderson could be much higher if the Brewers had stuck with him over Francisco Rodriguez. Henderson brings it at 95 and has found success with a 12.9 percent swinging strike rate, but control is sometimes an issue. Milwaukee’s closer hasn’t allowed a run since July 11. With just 22 saves and 36 strikeouts in 40 innings, Casey Janssen’s lack of upside is really starting to show. Jason Grilli is throwing and on track for early September, meaning Mark Melancon won’t be closing for much longer. It’s a shame, really, because Melancon had taken the role in Pittsburgh and ran with it. He’s the only reliever in baseball with a sub-1.00 ERA. He’ll go back to being a premiere setup man for the Pirates (he has 26 holds on the year). If Grilli has any kind of setback, Melancon would vault to the top of Tier 3. You simply can’t trust Rafael Soriano or Jonathan Papelbon anymore. Soriano has blown two out of his last three save chances, giving up seven runs in his last five. It’s been a disastrous year for all things Nationals. Papelbon, meanwhile, picked up his first save in over a month on Monday. Wow. He’s no longer a reliable source of saves.

Tier 5

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 5 W, 20 SV, 4 BS, 40 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 1 W, 24 SV, 1 BS, 32 K, 3.02 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 9 SV, 3 BS, 65 K, 4.68 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 42 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

↑Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 7 W, 7 SV, 1 BS, 34 K, 2.34 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

I’m not a fan of Brad Ziegler, as you know, but sometimes a closer can succeed despite non-traditional stuff. There are sure to be some bumps and bruises along the way, but it appears Arizona is sticking with Ziegler for the long haul. After blowing an important save against the Twins last week, Chris Perez earned the save against the Angels on Wednesday, picking up two strikeouts in the appearance. He’s been hurt by the long ball (seven home runs in 43 2/3 innings), and he can’t seem to string together three or four clean appearances. Huston Street is ahead of Danny Farquhar only because he’s been doing it longer. I like Farquhar’s huge strikeout potential, but he’s prone to more blowups than Street is. Is the clock running out on Kevin Gregg? The Cubs closer has a very high 1.40 WHIP and Pedro Strop is breathing down his neck in Chicago.

Tier 6

Rafael Betancourt, COL
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 2 BS, 27 K, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 5 SV, 3 BS, 42 K, 2.88 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 1 W, 26 SV, 4 BS, 76 K, 4.33 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Chia-Jen Lo, HOU
2013: 0 W, 1 SV, 1 BS, 5 K, 1.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

I was pretty disappointed to hear the Rockies went back to Rafael Betancourt instead of sticking with their young gun, Rex Brothers. I don’t see the upside in trotting out 38-year old Betancourt over 25-year old Brothers, especially when the latter was performing so well. I wouldn’t put my trust in Betancourt’s arm in the final month plus. LaTroy Hawkins hasn’t been terrible since taking over for Bobby Parnell, picking up five saves in six chances since the start of August. A 17.9 percent strikeout rate doesn’t provide much upside, however. He’s back! Ernesto Frieri isn’t totally out in Anaheim, sharing duties with Dane de la Rosa for the time being. They are battling for the 2014 gig and Frieri’s 76 strikeouts in 52 innings give him the edge. Who knows? Maybe Frieri ends the season on a hot streak. He’s done it before. Chia-Jen Lo may or may not get Houston’s next save opportunity. Josh Fields is still in the mix, but he has an atrocious 6.84 ERA. Again, avoid all closers in Houston. There’s nothing to see here.

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