Closer Chronicle: Week 5

Raise your hand if you had Francisco Rodriguez leading all relievers in saves at the end of April. Now raise your hand if you had Huston Street in second place (tied). No one could have predicted this start to the 2014 season. Remember when the year was in its infancy and we were all high on Nate Jones and Jim Henderson? I even liked Joaquin Benoit enough to roster him in a 12-team mixer given Street’s fondness to the disabled list. In the past week there’s only been one injury and one performance-based replacement, which is light given all that we’ve experienced in the first month. Only five more months to go!

Tier 1

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

Tier 2

Yes, Kimbrel is struggling. But at this time last year, the Braves closer encountered a similar lull at the end of April, giving up five runs and three home runs in the span of five games. He went on to convert a National League best 50 saves with 98 strikeouts in 67 innings. His velocity is fine, and so is his release point. Don’t sell low. He’ll right the ship soon, at which point you can reassess whether or not you want to sell… Holland and Jansen have been elite, but the former leads the American League with a 43.8 percent strikeout rate (Kimbrel leads the NL at 47.8 percent). Either can unseat Kimbrel at No. 1, and Jansen might be the best choice to do so. The Dodger has already made 16 appearances (to Holland’s nine), and he’s second in the NL with nine saves. He could eclipse 40 saves… Uehara is backing up his stellar 2013 campaign with an equally impressive start to 2014, striking out 16 and walking one in 9 1/3 innings. He led the majors with an 11.22 K/BB last season. The shoulder appears fine.

Tier 2

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Glen Perkins, Twins
Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Sergio Romo, Giants
↓ Joe Nathan, Tigers

Rosenthal lowered his ERA from 6.75 to 5.56 with a pair of clean games since the last time. He even recorded a Kimbrel (three batters faced, three strikeouts) in his most recent appearance. Those who stuck with Rosenthal will be handsomely rewarded… Perkins continues to be one of the most underrated closers in the game, converting 6 of 7 save chances with 18 strikeouts and three free passes in 11 innings. Dating back to last year, Perkins has 93 Ks and 18 walks in 73 2/3 innings… Reed is making Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers look smart for once. Arizona’s stopper is still rocking a double-digit strikeout rate along with improved control, and he leads all current closers with a zone percentage of 59.9 percent… Romo’s biggest improvement has come against lefties. He’s held left-handed bats to a .118 batting average after they hit .276 against him a year ago. He’s throwing the changeup at an all-time high, which could be what’s doing the trick… After I bumped Nathan up a few spots last week, the veteran closer was passed over last Tuesday for Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain relieved a struggling Phil Coke in the ninth, but manager Brad Ausmus explained after the game that he only used Joba because he can warm up faster than Nathan. Nathan is still the guy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Nathan was given more off days in his age-39 season.

Tier 3

Rafael Soriano, Nationals
↑ David Robertson, Yankees
Steve Cishek, Marlins
Tommy Hunter, Orioles
↑ Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

Soriano has tossed nine scoreless innings, striking out 11 and walking two. He’s barely touching 90 mph, but he owns a career-best 14.9 percent swinging strike rate this April. Last year his strikeout rate slipped to 18.4 percent, so expect some regression… As expected, Robertson took over for Shawn Kelley in the Bronx upon his return. Mo’s replacement has two saves since being activated from the 15-day disabled list, striking out four Angels over the weekend. He could rise very quickly… Cishek converted 34 consecutive saves entering the weekend, but the streak was snapped against the Mets on Friday… Everyone that predicted Hunter to lose his job first among closers looks mighty foolish right now, myself included. He’s rattled off three straight saves, but he’s yet to record a multi-strikeout game in nine appearances, with just six punch-outs in 8 2/3 innings. On the flip side, he’s allowed only one walk. Maybe the best news in Baltimore is that Hunter’s leash is long… Rodriguez leads all big-league closers with 11 saves. I’ll let that sink in. K-Rod, who was expected to serve behind incumbent Jim Henderson in Milwaukee, leads all of baseball with 11 handshakes. No one else has 10, and the veteran has looked lights out with perfect 0.00 ERA and 21:3 K:BB ratio in 14 innings. You can’t predict ball.

Tier 4

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

Papelbon is a confusing case. He’s clearly regressing (decreased velocity, decreased strikeout rate, decreased zone percentage), but he’s off to a fast start with eight saves in nine attempts. The walks are up, and he has yet to allow a home run despite a 43.8 percent fly ball rate… Street’s nine saves trail only K-Rod in the NL. What year is this? 2009? There’s no beating around the bush. Street has been great, recording 12 strikeouts in 10 innings to go along with a 14.1 percent swinging strike rate. Maybe he can hold off Benoit after all… Rodney is what he is: a high wire act that’s one wind gust from tumbling over. His walk rate is atrocious, but he can shake off a bad game with the best of them. I still think he notches 30 saves in Seattle… Since manager Ron Washington announced Alexi Ogando would get save chances going forward, Soria has rattled off five in a row while allowing one base runner… Axford is pitching over his head, with a 4.74 FIP and 5.15 xFIP (2.79 ERA). He’s quieted the Cody Allen crowd with four straight saves, and now leads the AL with eight good ones. One bad week can turn things upside down, but Axe is safe for now… Balfour is this week’s biggest faller. With seven strikeouts and nine walks in 10 1/3 innings, something is clearly wrong. Last week I chalked it up to a bad stretch, but now I’m worried. He allowed a walk-off grand slam to Jose Abreu on Friday night, and his first-pitch strike percentage is at an all-time low (42 percent).

Tier 5

LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
↑ Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
*Mark Melancon, Pirates
Jonathan Broxton, Reds
Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

Hawkins is now up to seven saves in seven tries despite four strikeouts in nine innings. He gave up a gopher ball in his last appearance, but it was Hawkins’ first runs allowed in nine games. Brothers, meanwhile, is struggling with his command, walking nine batters in 10 2/3 innings. Hawkins is clearly the arm to own in Colorado… Lindstrom is the product of an ineffective White Sox bullpen. If manager Robin Ventura had a better option to turn to, Lindstrom wouldn’t be closing. I only ranked him this high because his job is safe for now, and these also reflect rest-of-season rankings… I struggled where to rank Melancon, who takes over for an injured Jason Grilli. We all saw how dominant the right-hander could be last season, when he saved 16 games in the middle of a pennant chase. I expect Melancon to be solid again, but until I know how long Grilli will be sidelined, I can’t rank him any higher… Since returning from the disabled list, all but one of Broxton’s five appearances have been of the save variety. He’s looked confident subbing for Chapman, who is already throwing in simulated games and expected back mid-May. Ride Broxton until then… After an epic blown save (three batters faced, three walks, three wild pitches), Santos has settled down with three scoreless appearances, striking out four and walking a pair in three innings. When Casey Janssen is ready to return, my guess is he gets the job back.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Jim Johnson (Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle), Athletics
Hector Rondon (Pedro Strop), Cubs
Kyle Farnsworth (Gonzalez German), Mets
Josh Fields (Anthony Bass), Astros
Joe Smith (Ernesto Frieri), Angels

Johnson would have been used to close out Friday’s ballgame, according to manager Bob Melvin, but it wasn’t a save situation for the Athletics. It sounds like Johnson, who has 7 2/3 scoreless innings since being lifted from the ninth, is ready to reclaim his job; however, it could be another week or two until he sees consistent save chances… There appears to be a pecking order in Chicago, with Strop working the eighth inning on Sunday, followed by Rondon in the ninth. It was a non-save situation, but Rondon struck out all three batters he faced in Milwaukee, and he now owns a 14:4 K:BB ratio in 12 1/3 innings. With Jose Veras landing on the disabled list with a mystery injury, Rondon could see a handful of save chances going forward. But keep in mind that the Cubs are really bad, and that will hurt… I don’t expect the final three closers on this list – Farnsworth, Fields and Smith – to keep their jobs for the long haul. Fields is interesting, considering Jesse Crain had a setback in recovery, but he’s been given a chance to close before and failed. Smith takes over for Ernesto Frieri in Anaheim, but the 30-year-old reliever has just three career saves and 17 blown saves in 450 games.

Fantasy Baseball Newsletter

Enter your email for our free fantasy baseball newsletter.

Leave a Comment