Closer Chronicle: Week 4

Sergio Santos’ performance last Thursday pretty much summed up the state of the closer position in April. After it was announced that injured closer Casey Janssen (back) suffered a setback in recovery, substitute closer Santos imploded in celebration, walking three batters and throwing three wild pitches that resulted in three runs. It was Santos’ first blown save of the season, but, more impressively, he became the first pitcher in 100 years to face three batters, walk all three and throw three wild pitches. Let that sink in. To Santos’ credit, he came back the next day and picked up his fifth save – and he only walked two. Progress!

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Greg Holland, Royals
↑ Koji Uehara, Red Sox

Week 4 reminded us that even the best fall down sometimes. Funny thrower of baseball Jordan Walden relieved Kimbrel after the Braves closer allowed three hits, two runs and a walk in 2/3 innings on Saturday. Walden earned the one-out save to preserve Kimbrel’s perfect save record (5 for 5), but Kimbrel was visibly upset after manager Fredi Gonzalez yanked him in the ninth. It was Kimbrel’s first appearance in a week, as he’s been dealing with mild shoulder soreness. If you own Kimbrel, there’s nothing to do but hope and hold… Jansen hasn’t been his usual sharp self, allowing a run in three of his last six appearances, but everything appears fine. It’s just a matter of time before he starts performing like an elite closer. If there’s a panicky owner in your league, go get Jansen… Holland is proving that 2013 was no fluke, with six saves in six chances and a 12:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven innings. He remains my favorite closer in the Junior Circuit… Uehara avoided a trip to the DL and has come back looking like vintage Uehara. He’s already collected two saves since returning from injury, striking out three Orioles in his latest effort.

Tier 2

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Glen Perkins, Twins
Joe Nathan, Rangers
↑ Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
↑ Sergio Romo, Giants
↓ Jason Grilli, Pirates

Rosenthal is still adjusting to life as a high-leverage reliever, with a 6.75 ERA and four walks in eight appearances. I expected some bumps along the way for the first-time closer, but things should get better for the 23-year-old going forward. The velocity is still there (96 mph), and he’s generating plenty of swings and misses. Remember: it’s only April, and Rosenthal has been closing for less than two calendar months, including last September… Perkins’ 4.50 ERA shouldn’t scare you; he’s tossed five consecutive clean sheets after allowing four runs in his first three appearances, and he’s punched out eight and walked one over that span… Nathan’s dead-arm period appears to be a thing of the past, as the 39-year-old was clocked at 93 mph on Sunday. He’s not out of the woods yet, but his stock is pointing up… Reed continues to dazzle despite his team’s 5-16 record. His strikeouts are up for the third year in a row, and if he can maintain a double-digit strikeout rate he can be elite… Romo is finding new life at 31 with an 88 mph fastball. No, that’s not a joke. He’s continuing a three-year trend of stingy walk rates and is currently enjoying a 31 percent strikeout rate. He’s even holding lefty bats to a .100 batting average… Grilli can’t find the strike zone, and he’s blown two straight saves at the hands of Ryan Braun. The velocity is still there and so is the swinging strike rate, but none of that matters if he can’t throw strikes. Mark Melancon is the handcuff to own in Pittsburgh.

Tier 3

Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↑ Tommy Hunter, Orioles
Grant Balfour, Rays
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
*David Robertson, Yankees

Soriano hasn’t allowed a run in eight appearances, and he owns an impressive 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight innings in addition to a 15.3 percent swinging strike rate. I’m no longer fearful of Soriano losing his job in Washington… Cishek’s velocity is down, but like Romo, he’s still capable of a strikeout per nine. He probably won’t climb much higher than this, but he’s solid… Hunter has been a pleasant surprise in a frantic first month for closers. Baltimore’s stopper hasn’t issued a free pass in six appearances, saving four games in five tries… Balfour is staying away from his fastball, and he’s been held without a strikeout in two of his last three appearances. His velocity is down from 93 to 91, and his pitch-mix usage is concerning, but I expect him to march forward. He’s recorded a sub-2.59 ERA in three straight seasons… Frieri is getting BABIPed to death ala Rick Porcello, and I’m willing to give Anaheim’s closer a pass for the time being. The main thing is keeping his walks down, which he has (1.23 BB/9)… Robertson (groin) pitched in an extended spring training game on Saturday, and he’s on track to rejoin the Yankees when first eligible on Tuesday. I think Robertson will rise to Tier 2 eventually; he might need a week or two to get there.

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Fernando Rodney, Mariners
↑ Huston Street, Padres
John Axford, Indians
↓ Joakim Soria, Rangers

Papelbon is 5 for 6 in saves and has posted six straight scoreless frames. His lone bad appearance resulted in a blown save and three runs, but he’s been sharp since, allowing just two hits and one walk in six innings. We saw Papelbon’s strikeout rate decline last year, and that’s likely to continue with decreased velocity… Rodney already has nine punch-outs in 5 1/3 innings along with a 14.3 percent swinging strike rate, but his Zone% is down (38.3 percent). Rodney is susceptible to the occasional blowup, but I’m confident he can work through the tough times. Danny Farquhar hasn’t been any sharper… Huston Street picked up his NL-leading sixth save on Friday, and he’s already struck out nine batters in seven innings. Free-agent signee Joaquin Benoit isn’t a threat unless until Street gets injured… Axford was cruising on Sunday, recording the first two outs before loading the bases. The Indians closer escaped with his sixth save, but he rarely makes it easy. Seven walks in 7 1/3 innings spells trouble… Soria is no longer Texas’ lone closer, according to manager Ron Washington. Alexi Ogando will also get save chances going forward, which is a big blow to Soria and his owners.

Tier 5

Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
↑ LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
Jonathan Broxton, Reds
↓ Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

Henderson’s velocity is still lagging some, and K-Rod isn’t giving manager Ron Roenicke any reason to insert his former closer into the ninth. Rodriguez leads the NL with six saves, and he’s yet to allow a run in nine innings, along with 13 strikeouts… Hawkins won’t give you many strikeouts, but coupled with an ugly start from Rex Brothers, he’s clearly the guy to own in Colorado… The clock is ticking for Broxton, who continues to sub for Chapman (head). Broxton is five seasons removed from 36 handshakes in Los Angeles; he’ll do just fine until Chapman returns in mid-May… Santos owners received a bit of good news when Casey Janssen (back) suffered a setback in recovery. Santos then had about the worst performance imaginable, walking three batters and throwing three wild pitches, all resulting in runs. He was right back out there the next day, earning his fifth save despite two more walks. With a 2.21 WHIP, Santos is a liability. Steve Delabar could get some save chances in the near future.

Tier 6 (Next in line)

Luke Gregerson (Jim Johnson), Athletics
Matt Lindstrom (Daniel Webb), White Sox
Hector Rondon (Pedro Strop), Cubs
Kyle Farnsworth (Gonzalez German), Mets
Chad Qualls (Anthony Bass, Jesse Crain), Astros

The Athletics’ closer committee could soon turn into a one-man affair, as Johnson has reestablished some life in the bullpen. Gregerson and Doolittle each blew a save in his place, while Johnson has tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and two walks. If someone prematurely dropped Johnson in your league, pick him up before it’s too late. He should receive another opportunity… Lindstrom has three strikeouts in eight innings with one save and three blown. His possible replacement, Webb, was stretched out in his last outing, throwing 60 pitches over three innings. The White Sox bullpen has a 6.12 ERA, worst in the majors… On the other side of town, the closer situation is unclear. I’ve picked up Rondon in a couple of leagues, betting on the closer with better control. This could easily be Strop’s job to lose, however. Monitor the situation closely… On Sunday, Terry Collins declared Kyle Farnsworth closer, stripping away Jose Valverde’s manhood in the process. Valverde had allowed four home runs in his last three appearances. I’m not expecting Farnsworth to keep the job all season, but he has started the year with one run allowed in 8 1/3 innings… In Houston, stay away from Qualls. Pick up Bass. Or better yet, wait until Crain returns.

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