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The Closer Chronicle: Week 25

In case you missed it, Billy Hamilton went Ricky Henderson on the Astros last night, stealing four bases in his first career start for the Reds, including two thefts on pitchouts. The 23-year old speedster is up to nine steals in eight games, which is already the second most on the team. I was skeptical of Hamilton initially, but he’s an obvious game changer in Cincinnati. In fantasy, he can single-handedly win you the steals category on a week-to-week basis. You can’t say the same of any other player.

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

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
2013: 3 W, 48 SV, 4 BS, 90 K, 1.31 ERA, 0.89 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman, CIN
2013: 4 W, 37 SV, 5 BS, 106 K, 2.67 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Kenley Jansen, LAD
2013: 4 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 102 K, 1.98 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

Greg Holland, KC
2013: 2 W, 43 SV, 3 BS, 94 K, 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP

↑Koji Uehara, BOS
2013: 4 W, 19 SV, 3 BS, 96 K, 1.16 ERA, 0.56 WHIP

Joe Nathan, TEX
2013: 5 W, 39 SV, 3 BS, 64 K, 1.56 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Koji Uehara moves up to Tier 1, ahead of Joe Nathan, who doesn’t have the same strikeout upside as his closing peers. Uehara retired 37 straight batters – over a span of 11 games – before allowing a hit on Tuesday, falling six batters shy of tying the record set by Mark Buehrle (45) in 2009. Uehara should collect plenty of Cy Young votes as one of the premiere relievers in the American League. The Red Sox closer has a .126 BAA, which is tops in baseball. Craig Kimbrel was un-Kimbrel like for the first time in a long time on Tuesday, giving up three runs in the first of two games against the Nationals. The Braves closer walked two, struck out none and recorded only one out to take the loss and the blown save. But there’s nothing to take away here. Kimbrel will be fine. Aroldis Chapman and his league leading 15.73 K/9 will also be fine. The Reds closer has walked a pair in his last two appearances, but he’s come away with the save both times. Kenley Jansen should be the No. 3 closer selected in 2014 drafts behind Kimbrel and Chapman. He has a ridiculous 102:16 K:BB ratio in 72 2/3 innings and will compete for the top spot next season. Greg Holland has been used only once since Saturday, which seems a bit odd. He leads the AL with 13.65 K/9. Continue to use him and hope Kansas City does, too.

Tier 2

Glen Perkins, MIN
2013: 2 W, 36 SV, 4 BS, 75 K, 2.41 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Mariano Rivera, NYY
2013: 6 W, 44 SV, 7 BS, 52 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

Edward Mujica, STL
2013: 2 W, 37 SV, 3 BS, 45 K, 2.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP

↑Sergio Romo, SF
2013: 4 W, 35 SV, 4 BS, 56 K, 2.41 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Grant Balfour, OAK
2013: 1 W, 38 SV, 3 BS, 66 K, 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Perhaps my best call of the 2013 season is the rise of Glen Perkins, who I touted heavily in the preseason. I don’t know how I feel about a closer being one of my better calls, but I’ll take it with a smile. I said it last week, but it bears repeating: Along with Uehara and Jansen, Perkins is one of three closers with a strikeout rate above 30 percent and a walk rate below six percent. He’s elite. As is the case with Perkins, a closer on a bad team can still be plenty valuable. Sergio Romo and his 35 saves for a slacking team in San Francisco is another example. The Giants closer has struck out exactly one batter per inning while walking only 11 batters in 56 innings. There’s no room to complain if you own Romo. I’ve flip flopped Mariano Rivera and Edward Mujica plenty of times this season, and, wouldn’t you know, I’ve done it again. I feel a tad more comfortable with Rivera at this critical point of the season, as he’s done this closing thing once or twice before. Mujica, meanwhile, has a 6.75 ERA in September and appears tired. He has just twos strikeout in his last seven appearances. Grant Balfour blew a must-win game for the Athletics on Wednesday, giving up a pair of runs against the Angels. Balfour has a 4.05 ERA in the second half after cruising to the tune of a 1.63 ERA in the first half. Oakland won’t go away from using Balfour, but he needs to get his act together. And fast.

Tier 3

Joaquin Benoit, DET
2013: 4 W, 21 SV, 0 BS, 64 K, 1.94 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

Jim Henderson, MIL
2013: 5 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 67 K, 2.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP

↑Jim Johnson, BAL
2013: 3 W, 47 SV, 9 BS, 51 K, 2.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

↑Rafael Soriano, WAS
2013: 2 W, 41 SV, 6 BS, 48 K, 3.25 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

Steve Cishek, MIA
2013: 3 W, 31 SV, 2 BS, 67 K, 2.51 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

Jim Johnson and Rafael Soriano both move up a tier. Soriano is creeping up the league leaderboards with 41 saves, which is second most in the NL behind Kimbrel. The Nationals closer has transformed from a strikeout-per-inning relief pitcher to a control pitcher in one year, posting his lowest walk rate of his career (5.3 percent). Over the last 30 days, Soriano has the most saves (10) in baseball. Johnson, meanwhile, continues to pile up save chance after save chance in Baltimore. It’s very possible he leads the league in saves again after saving 51 a year ago. Joaquin Benoit is still the only closer in my rankings without a blown save. Can he go the entire year? Even though he hasn’t been the Tigers closer from Day 1, he’s been the most reliable reliever on this list, which goes a long way in fantasy. No nail biting or hair pulling necessary! Jim Henderson has been a strikeout machine since the All-Star break, racking up 32 Ks in 22 2/3 innings, good for a 35.2 percent strikeout rate. The talent is there to be a top-10 closer in 2014, and he’s someone I’ll be targeting on draft day. Steve Cishek has put together a fine year in Miami, posting his highest WAR (1.2) in four seasons, according to FanGraphs. He has only two blown saves in 32 chances, and I imagine he’ll be a value pick in drafts next year. Cishek’s biggest improvement has come in the form of walks. The Marlins closer walked 29 batters in 63 2/3 innings last year; he’s walked 21 in 64 2/3 innings this year.

Tier 4

↓Addison Reed, CHW
2013: 5 W, 38 SV, 6 BS, 69 K, 3.57 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

Casey Janssen, TOR
2013: 4 W, 31 SV, 2 BS, 47 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Fernando Rodney, TB
2013: 5 W, 35 SV, 8 BS, 79 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Mark Melancon, PIT
2013: 2 W, 16 SV, 3 BS, 67 K, 1.32 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

↑Ernesto Frieri, LAA
2013: 2 W, 35 SV, 4 BS, 92 K, 3.62 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

↑Rex Brothers, COL
2013: 2 W, 17 SV, 2 BS, 71 K, 1.71 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Ernesto Frieri and Rex Brothers both make the jump from Tier 3 to Tier 4. It’s been a rollercoaster year for Frieri, but the Angels closer is on a hot streak at the right time for fantasy owners – posting a 2.29 ERA with 26 strikeouts in his last 19 2/3 innings since Aug. 1. He’s recorded nine straight save chances since reclaiming the job from Dane de la Rosa. Brothers, meanwhile, has put together a solid season of his own, saving 17 in 19 tries with 71 strikeouts in 63 innings. Brothers must cut down on the walks (32) if he wants to move up the closer ranks next season. Addison Reed slides down a tier after giving up runs in three out of his last four. He could be a value pick in 2014 drafts. Casey Janssen and Fernando Rodney are polar opposites. Janssen is all about location while Rodney, well, isn’t. Rodney’s 34 free passes in 61 2/3 innings are troubling (especially after being so accurate in 2012), but he’s allowed just one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings since the start of September. If you own Mark Melancon, it might be in your best interest to own Jason Grilli, too. I expect Melancon to receive the bulk of save work down the stretch, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Grilli snuck in a save or two.

Tier 5

Danny Farquhar, SEA
2013: 0 W, 14 SV, 4 BS, 76 K, 4.53 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
2013: 5 W, 28 SV, 7 BS, 54 K, 2.61 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Kevin Gregg, CHC
2013: 2 W, 32 SV, 5 BS, 47 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Huston Street, SD
2013: 2 W, 31 SV, 1 BS, 39 K, 2.56 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Chris Perez, CLE
2013: 5 W, 25 SV, 4 BS, 49 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

Danny Farquhar has a 78 percent conversion rate, which isn’t great, but he does offer something no one else this low can offer: strikeouts. And plenty of them. The Mariners closer has a 35.9 percent strikeout rate, which is topped by only six relievers, five of which reside in Tier 1. There’s no denying that Jonathan Papelbon has a nice ERA and WHIP, but that’s where the praise stops. His strikeout rate has dipped from 32.4 percent in 2012 to 22.7 percent in 2013, and his velocity has decreased from 93.8 mph to 92 mph. Raise your hand if you had Kevin Gregg in the 30-save pool at the start of the year. That’s what I thought. Gregg traded street clothes for Cubs blue and ran away with the job, but he likely won’t be back on the North Side in 2014. All year I expected Huston Street to break down, but it never happened. The Padres closer won’t hurt your ERA or WHIP, but he lacks upside with 39 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. Like Papelbon, his strikeout rate has plummeted, from 32.6 percent in 2012 to 19.3 percent in 2013. Chris Perez scares me as a fantasy owner, so I can’t imagine the terror he elicits from Indians fans when he enters a close game in the ninth. Cleveland’s closer has converted six straight saves for the Tribe, but he’s allowed four hits and four walks in his last four innings.

Tier 6

Brad Ziegler, ARI
2013: 8 W, 11 SV, 2 BS, 38 K, 2.36 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

LaTroy Hawkins, NYM
2013: 3 W, 10 SV, 3 BS, 52 K, 3.15 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Josh Fields, HOU
2013: 1 W, 5 SV, 1 BS, 35 K, 5.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

Brad Ziegler won’t win you any strikeout titles, but he’s effective out of the pen as an extreme groundball pitcher. His 70 percent groundball rate ranks No. 1 in baseball. Surprisingly, it was even higher in 2012, at 75.5 percent. Ziegler is non-traditional, but he gets the job down. Is it possible LaTroy Hawkins is underrated in New York? The Mets closer has converted seven straight save chances while allowing just four hits and no walk to go along with 10 strikeouts in his last nine innings. But don’t forget about Bobby Parnell next season. He’s likely still to be a Met. Josh Fields has three saves since the start of September, but he walked three batters in his last appearance. As far as who closes for Houston next season, anyone’s guess is a good as mine.

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