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The Closer Chronicle: Week 23

The postseason picture is starting to take shape, and, I must say, it’s probably not what Bud Selig imagined when he added an extra wild card. Outside of a tight NL Central race and a two-horse race in the AL West, there’s very little intrigue. While the AL Wild Card race is still very much up for grabs, the NL Wild Card race looks like a snoozer – with the two spots likely going to the second and third place finishers in the NL Central. It’s still early, though, and things can always change, so here’s to the postseason push in both real and fake baseball.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 3 W, 44 SV, 3 BS, 83 K, 0.94 ERA, 0.85 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 3 W, 34 SV, 5 BS, 95 K, 2.77 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 25 SV, 3 BS, 100 K, 1.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 38 SV, 2 BS, 86 K, 1.31 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 5 W, 38 SV, 2 BS, 61 K, 1.48 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

No changes in Tier 1. All five of these guys are stud No. 1 closers, although I’d much rather have one of the first four personally. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Joe Nathan, but he doesn’t carry the same upside of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Greg Holland. Since the last time we met, Chapman overtook Holland for the league’s best strikeout rate (42.2 percent to 41 percent), while Jansen (38.6 percent) ranks fourth and Kimbrel (37.6 percent) ranks sixth. Nathan, meanwhile, is way down the list at No. 29 with a 28.5 percent strikeout rate. It’s that huge gap that keeps the Rangers closer out of the top four, but I still trust him more than anyone in Tier 2. On the plus side, he has five strikeouts in his last 10 innings. And he has a top-five ERA and WHIP.

Tier 2

Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 3 W, 17 SV, 3 BS, 85 K, 1.16 ERA, 0.61 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 35 SV, 3 BS, 43 K, 1.97 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 4 W, 41 SV, 5 BS, 47 K, 2.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 32 SV, 4 BS, 68 K, 2.63 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 36 SV, 2 BS, 61 K, 2.47 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Koji Uehara and Edward Mujica weren’t expected to be big players outside of the deepest leagues, but both have cemented themselves as near-elite options for the Red Sox and Cardinals, respectively. Uehara is No. 5 in baseball with a 37.8 percent strikeout rate (85 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings), while Mujica is working with a pristine 43:3 K:BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings. Neither was on the closer radar when the season started, reminding us one more time not to pay for saves. Give it up for Mariano Rivera, who notched save No. 40 on Tuesday (and No. 41 on Wednesday), giving him nine seasons with 40 saves or more. Rivera has lowered his WHIP considerably over the last month and a half, giving up 13 hits and walking two in his last 18 innings. Glen Perkins has a remarkable 68:12 K:BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings in his first full season as Twins closer. His first-pitch strike rate of 70.9 percent is the fourth best in baseball behind Mujica, Rivera and Sergio Romo. The starter-turned-reliever is no longer a secret. It’s hard to believe, but Perkins still hasn’t matched his most valuable season (2011), according to FanGraphs WAR. Grant Balfour blew his second save on Sunday, giving up four runs against the Tigers, including a three-run home run off the bat of Torii Hunter. It was Balfour’s worst outing of the year by far, but he’s been a major (good) surprise after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. Shake it off, Balfour owners.

Tier 3

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 4 W, 33 SV, 4 BS, 51 K, 2.55 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 4 W, 17 SV, 0 BS, 60 K, 2.13 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 5 W, 36 SV, 5 BS, 63 K, 3.27 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 60 K, 2.28 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 29 SV, 2 BS, 59 K, 2.52 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

I had thoughts of moving Joaquin Benoit ahead of Sergio Romo this week, but the Tigers closer just got lit up to the tune of four runs – courtesy of a Mike Aviles grand slam – and three walks against the Indians on Sunday. Jose Veras is capable of filling in for Benoit if this is the start of something bad, but I think Benoit bounces back. Saves are fickle, but Romo is making the most out of a bad situation in San Francisco with a very respectable 33 saves in 37 chances. The Giants closer has allowed just one run in 11 1/3 innings since the start of August, striking out five and walking none. He’s been stingy all year with eight walks in 49 1/3 innings, but his strikeouts are way down (29.3 K% in 2012; 25.5 K% in 2013). I can rack my brains all day trying to rank Addison Reed, Jim Henderson and Steve Cishek, but I’m sticking with my original order from last week. Henderson has the greatest strikeout upside, but Reed has been the most reliable. Cishek has had a sensational second half with a 0.95 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but his strikeouts aren’t quite on par with Henderson and his first half was a bit of a disaster. Whichever closer you own, you’re in good hands.

Tier 4

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 3 W, 41 SV, 9 BS, 45 K, 3.39 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

↑Rafael Soriano, WAS
2013: 2 W, 38 SV, 6 BS, 46 K, 3.47 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

↓Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 5 W, 32 SV, 8 BS, 74 K, 3.65 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 27 SV, 2 BS, 40 K, 2.74 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 4 W, 24 SV, 6 BS, 50 K, 2.35 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Ranking the top three in this group is more about how I’m feeling on a particular day. No, no. I’m joking. Well, sort of. Jim Johnson is back on top, but, calm down, it’s more by default. Johnson leads the American League with 41 saves (and nine blown saves), but he’s been better than advertised outside of a terrible May (9.75 ERA). I’m not saying he’s reliable (because he’s not), but when you’re this low, you go with the guy who gets the most saves. And that’s Johnson. Rafael Soriano has converted seven straight saves after blowing two straight in the middle of August, but his ERA in July (5.23) and August (5.84) will make you quiver. Like Johnson, you take the saves and suck up the rest. Hey, look, it’s the bad Fernando Rodney. I was bullish on the Rays closer heading into the second half, but things haven’t worked out so well for me or Rodney. Over the last 30 days, he’s allowed 10 hits and five walks in 10 innings (1.36 WHIP), but he has picked up five saves in the process. Again, saves rules the world when you’re this low. Casey Janssen held off Sergio Santos all year, but Santos clearly never had a legit shot in Toronto. Janssen’s strikeouts are down, his walks are up and, quite frankly, he’s been lucky to carry a sub-3.00 ERA with a 71.4 percent strand rate (the league average for relievers is 75.2 percent). The Phillies are on the hook for three more years of Jonathan Papelbon. I can’t wait to see how Philadelphia gets out of this one.

Tier 5

Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 15 SV, 1 BS, 65 K, 1.52 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 5 W, 22 SV, 4 BS, 44 K, 3.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

↑Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 12 SV, 3 BS, 71 K, 4.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 1 W, 27 SV, 1 BS, 35 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 29 SV, 5 BS, 47 K, 3.11 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

↑Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 2 W, 30 SV, 4 BS, 84 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Rex Brothers has converted his last 14 save opportunities for the Rockies, but his 1.52 ERA is starting to catch up to his 3.19 FIP. With 29 walks in 59 1/3 innings, Brothers can walk himself into plenty of trouble, but he has a knack for wiggling his way out of it. Chris Perez makes me really uncomfortable. Every time I watch him pitch, I think the worst is about to happen. The worst almost did happen on Tuesday, when he gave up three runs – including a three-run home run – against the Orioles in a must-win, non-save situation. Cleveland did squeak by with a one-run victory, but Perez can’t afford to have shaky outings like that again with the Indians in the playoff hunt. I simply cannot keep Danny Farquhar and his 36.8 percent strikeout rate below Huston Street and his 19.2 percent strikeout rate any longer, hence the switch. Dale Sveum is on record of saying that Pedro Strop will get looks at closer, so Kevin Gregg’s value takes a small hit (although he did get the Cubs last save chance on Wednesday). The goggle-throwing closer has been quite the find for Chicago, picking up 29 saves in 34 chances despite an ugly 47:29 K:BB ratio in 55 innings. Ernesto Frieri moves up on the heels of three straight saves. The Angels closer was great in August with 14 strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings, so he’s out of Mike Scioscia’s dog house for now.

Tier 6

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 8 W, 7 SV, 2 BS, 37 K, 2.40 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

↓Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 11 SV, 2 BS, 60 K, 0.87 ERA, 0.85 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 7 SV, 3 BS, 47 K, 3.41 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Chia-Jen Lo, HOU
2013: 0 W, 2 SV, 2 BS, 10 K, 5.25 ERA, 1.75 WHIP

Brad Ziegler appears to be the man going forward in Arizona, as J.J. Putz is clearly not ready to take over closing duties. I’m still not confident in Ziegler for many reasons, including a 14.1 percent strikeout rate and a fastball that only clocks 86 mph on the gun. Ziegler could be the Diamondbacks weak link in the team’s search for the postseason. Take what’s left if you own Mark Melancon, as Jason Grilli is back and (almost) ready to take over in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won’t give him the ninth-inning job initially, but all signs point to Grilli getting the job back sooner rather than later. Melancon is still rosterable in deep leagues. Heck, his WHIP is lower than his ERA! Outside of one really bad game at the end of August in which he gave up five runs, LaTroy Hawkins has been serviceable for the Bobby Parnell-less Mets. He’s converted four straight saves with 11 strikeouts and one walk in 14 innings since the beginning of August. Who knows what’s going on in Houston? On Wednesday, Erik Bedard was summoned for a multi-inning save, which he promptly blew and instead picked up a cheap win. I’m going to stick with Chia-Jen Lo because the Astros haven’t committed to anyone else, but, let me be clear, I don’t recommend rostering any Astros reliever right now. It’s a mess in Houston.

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One Response

  1. harry mamis says:

    Uehara should be ranked above Nathan.

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