The Closer Chronicle: Week 24

Football season is here. To the hardcore baseball fan, it’s simply a reminder that postseason baseball is oh-so-close. Once the playoffs start, it’s anyone’s game, and that’s the same way you should approach the playoffs in fantasy baseball (if you play in any head-to-head leagues). Stream, stream and stream some more, and always have an active bat in your lineup. It could be the difference between a deep playoff run and waiting ‘til next year.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 3 W, 46 SV, 3 BS, 87 K, 0.91 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 4 W, 35 SV, 5 BS, 101 K, 2.62 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 25 SV, 3 BS, 102 K, 1.91 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 42 SV, 3 BS, 93 K, 1.35 ERA, 0.83 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 5 W, 39 SV, 2 BS, 61 K, 1.46 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

You can’t go wrong with anyone in Tier 1. You can certainly argue that Greg Holland deserves to be higher up my rankings, as the Royals stopper is second among relievers with 2.8 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. That’s no way to judge a closer in fantasy, but it does go a long way in showing how dominant he’s been. Holland recorded his fifth “Kimbrel” of the season against the Indians on Wednesday, striking out the side for his 42nd save of the season. His previous high was 16 in 2012. Craig Kimbrel hasn’t allowed a run since July 4, and he’s one save away from establishing a new career high; Aroldis Chapman has a 15.58 K/9 rate while no other closer is above 14; Kenley Jansen has been unhittable since the All-Star break, holding opposing batters to a .088/.151/.138 slash; Joe Nathan is back on track after walking six batters in a span of five innings in mid-August. He’s walked three in his last nine.

Tier 2

Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 4 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 93 K, 1.08 ERA, 0.57 WHIP

↑Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 34 SV, 4 BS, 72 K, 2.50 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 37 SV, 3 BS, 43 K, 2.23 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 5 W, 42 SV, 7 BS, 50 K, 2.22 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 0 W, 37 SV, 2 BS, 62 K, 2.59 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Koji Uehara leads baseball with 3.0 WAR, and his 10.33 K/BB rate is second best. With 33 strikeouts in the second half, the Boston closer has set a career high with 93 strikeouts (and counting) in 66 2/3 innings. I bet you didn’t expect to see a Twins closer ranked this high at any point in the season, but Glen Perkins deserves all of the love. He’s one of three relievers with a strikeout rate above 30 percent and a walk rate below six percent. The other two: Uehara and Jansen. Perkins’ 71.4 percent first-pitch strike rate is No. 2 in baseball. Edward Mujica and Mariano Rivera are both struggling at the wrong time for a pair of playoff hopefuls. Rivera has two blown saves in the past week and now has seven blown saves on the season, which sets a new career high. Mujica, meanwhile, has been hit hard in September, giving up four runs in 3 1/3 innings without recording a punch out. Three walks in 60 2/3 innings are impressive; 43 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings are not. Grant Balfour has upped his strikeout rate for the fourth consecutive year, which has upped his value as a Tier 2 closer. The problem is he’s given up six runs in his last 4 2/3 innings to go along with an ugly split of three strikeouts and five walks. His job is safe, but he’s picked the wrong time to pitch his worst.

Tier 3

Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 4 W, 33 SV, 4 BS, 54 K, 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 4 W, 18 SV, 0 BS, 62 K, 2.05 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

↑Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 3 W, 24 SV, 4 BS, 62 K, 2.19 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 5 W, 37 SV, 6 BS, 67 K, 3.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 29 SV, 2 BS, 63 K, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Sergio Romo has been a steady contributor out of the pen all year long, tallying 33 saves in 37 chances for San Francisco. Since the All-Star break, the Giants closer has a 2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 18 innings. However, his strikeout rate is down from 29.3 percent in 2012 to 25.4 percent in 2013. Joaquin Benoit is still the only closer in my rankings without a blown save, but he’s had just one save opportunity since Aug. 24. The Tigers closer has made only two appearances since allowing four runs against the Indians on the first day of September. Jim Henderson moves up a couple of spots ahead of Addison Reed. Henderson’s 28.7 percent strikeout rate easily tops Reed’s 24.8 percent strikeout rate, and his ERA is over a full run better. The Brewers closer has a solid 1.83 ERA in the second half with 27 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings. I’ll be targeting Henderson in drafts next season. You should too. Like Perkins in Minnesota, Steve Cishek is undervalued because he pitches for a clunker in Miami, but he’s been solid outside of a slow start in April (5.25 ERA). A bad start can kill any closer’s value because it takes longer for a reliever’s ERA to drop, and I can see why some passed on Cishek for that reason. But those who jumped on the bandwagon are enjoying a 1.29 ERA from the Marlins closer in the second half.

Tier 4

Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 3 W, 43 SV, 9 BS, 48 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Rafael Soriano, WSH
2013: 2 W, 41 SV, 6 BS, 48 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

↑Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 29 SV, 2 BS, 43 K, 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 5 W, 33 SV, 8 BS, 78 K, 3.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

↑Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 13 SV, 2 BS, 63 K, 1.12 ERA, 0.90 WHIP

Jim Johnson leads the baseball world with 43 saves (in addition to nine blown saves), and he’s allowed just three hits with six strikeouts and no walks in his last 5 2/3 innings. Johnson has a low 18.8 percent strikeout rate, but at least it’s an improvement over last year’s 15.2 percent. I admit, I gave up on Rafael Soriano way too early. While his velocity, strikeout numbers and swinging strike rate are all noticeably down, he’s been a saves machine with 11 straight since Aug. 23. Over that span, he’s struck out seven and walked none in seven innings. He’s closing the year out on a high note. Casey Janssen has had a relatively quiet season, which is usually a good thing for a closer. Toronto’s closer has upped his season strikeout rate to 22.3 percent with 17 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings since the break. I know a lot of people probably don’t agree with my ranking of Fernando Rodney, but he gets a ton of work and has only allowed one run since a three-run hiccup on Aug. 9. And, over his last four, he hasn’t allowed any base runners while striking out eight. I may have been wrong about Jason Grilli overtaking Mark Melancon in Pittsburgh. All signs pointed to a switch, but Melancon continues to get all the save chances for the Pirates (except for Wednesday, when Kyle Farnsworth picked up the save after Melancon was used in two straight). My ranking of Melancon is still on the cautious side, but he’s a must own at this point. And he’s still available in nine percent of ESPN leagues. Grab him if you can. Melancon can still help lower your staff’s ERA and WHIP if Grilli does take over at any point.

Tier 5

Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 2 BS, 66 K, 1.78 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

↑Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 2 W, 32 SV, 4 BS, 86 K, 3.46 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 13 SV, 4 BS, 73 K, 4.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

↓Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 5 W, 26 SV, 7 BS, 52 K, 2.54 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 31 SV, 5 BS, 47 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 2 W, 29 SV, 1 BS, 37 K, 2.72 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

↓Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 5 W, 23 SV, 4 BS, 46 K, 3.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Rex Brothers, Ernesto Frieri and Danny Farquhar all have their warts, but they each come with big strikeout potential. Farquhar, especially, has been a swing-and-miss monster in the second half with a 37.3 percent strikeout rate. Frieri looks refreshed since being handed the ninth-inning reigns in Anaheim, as he’s issued just two walks and struck out 20 in 15 2/3 innings since the start of August. I hesitate to rank him any higher because he has a track record of losing things in a hurry. I considered moving Brothers up, but his 12.7 percent walk rate quickly detracted me from doing so. Jonathan Papelbon continues his plunge in Philadelphia. He needs four saves in the Phillies final 17 games to reach 30 for the eighth straight season. Will het get there? Kevin Gregg has reached 30 saves for the Cubs and that’s something no one could have predicted prior to the season. Thank you, Carlos Marmol. Huston Street has raised his strikeout rate to 19.3 percent, but that’s still a long, long way from 32.6 percent in 2013. He’s OK as a third closer. Chris Perez doesn’t miss enough bats to be ranked any higher. The Indians closer has given up 47 hits in 49 2/3 innings. Add on 19 walks and that’s simply way too many base runners to be consistently effective.

Tier 6

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 8 W, 10 SV, 2 BS, 37 K, 2.30 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 8 SV, 3 BS, 50 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

Josh Fields, HOU
2013: 1 W, 4 SV, 1 BS, 32 K, 5.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

Brad Ziegler leads the threesome in Tier 6, but I’m not exactly confident in his abilities as a closer. It just so happens that I’m even less confident in J.J. Putz, so Ziegler is the man to own in Arizona. He’s been the anti-Kimbrel with four appearances of no hits and no strikeout in his last five. LaTroy Hawkins continues to get the job done in New York as Bobby Parnell’s injury replacement, but his upside remains limited. In his last six appearances, however, Hawkins has allowed just two hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. Josh Fields has somewhat convincingly taken over as closer in Houston, but it’s not like he had a big obstacle of a man standing in his way either. He has two saves in the past week, but he did allow a home run in his latest save chance. Pick him up only if you really, really need saves.

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