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Closer Chronicle: Week 7

Welcome back, Aroldis Chapman. After suffering the spring’s scariest injury, the Reds closer made his 2014 debut on Sunday and put on a show for the home crowd. While we are used to seeing Chapman dominate the competition, it was fair to wonder if he’d be all the way back right away. On Sunday, we got our answer. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Cincinnati’s fire baller threw 21 pitches, hitting 100 mph on 15 of them, which was the most by a pitcher this season. The previous best was held by Carlos Martinez, with 12. Chapman walked Troy Tulowitzki to open the ninth, but turned around and struck out Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Justin Morneau to earn his first save of 2014. In an early season filled with closer controversy and turnover, it was awesome to see Chapman popping the glove at 102 mph weeks after being hit in the head. Let’s keep the good times rolling.

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Greg Holland, Royals
*Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Kimbrel keeps adding to his multi-strikeout appearances, with 11 in 15 games. The only negative you can find is an elevated walk rate (7.8 percent in 2013, 11.3 in 2014), but, on the other hand, his first-pitch strike rate is up from 57 percent to 61.3… Holland leads American League closers with a 38.2 percent strikeout rate, but his control is the real prize (11.8 percent walk rate in 2012, 3.6 in 2014). Opposing batters are hitting .240 against Holland, but look no further than a .379 BABIP… Chapman is back. Didn’t you read the intro? He’s immediately an elite option again… Uehara recorded a “Kimbrel” against the Reds Wednesday, striking out the side for his eighth save. Uehara already has four three-strikeout performances after recording five all of last season. He’s since added his ninth save… Jansen is striking out 15 batters per nine, and no closer had made more appearances than his 21. I’m fully confident in Jansen’s ability to close games, but the workload needs to be reduced by Don Mattingly. Jansen was very ineffective in a non-save situation Sunday, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks while recording one out. I can’t imagine the Dodgers pulling the plug on Jansen unless there’s something wrong physically, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with increased velocity.

Tier 2

Glen Perkins, Twins
Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Sergio Romo, Giants
↑ Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
↑ David Robertson, Yankees

Perkins earned a four-out save against the Tigers Sunday, giving him 10 straight conversions. The Twins closer has 23 strikeouts and three walks in 16 1/3 innings, and Sunday marked just the second time he’s failed to record a strikeout in 16 appearances. I’ve been saying it for a long time: Perkins is very good… I still like Rosenthal a bunch, but it’s irresponsible to rank him ahead of Perkins, who has a higher K-rate and significantly lower walk rate. Rosenthal closed out the Pirates on Sunday Night Baseball, but he allowed three hits, a walk and a run in the process. Rosenthal has now issued seven free passes over his last eight innings, and he’s only generating an 18.2 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone… Soriano blew his first save over the weekend, snapping a 13-inning scoreless streak. His strikeout rate has rebounded nicely (28.3 percent in 2014, 18.4 in 2013), and I think a K per inning is sustainable…Reed has given up a run in 10 of 19 appearances, but his ERA sits at 4.34. A high-3 or low-4 ERA might be the reality, but he’s a fantastic source of strikeouts. His K-rate is up for the third consecutive season, and his walk rate is under five percent… Unless you play with WAR (and if you do, stop it), Romo has been elite thus far. Entering play on Sunday, Romo was the No. 2 stopper behind Francisco Rodriguez. He then allowed a game-tying two-run home run to Hanley Ramirez, his first blown in 13 chances. Ramirez has had the right-hander’s number, hitting two home runs off Romo last season… Rodriguez gave up a solo shot to Mark Teixeira in a blown save Sunday, but K-Rod had worked 19 scoreless innings before blowing his first game in 16 tries. I’m still buying Rodriguez, who owns a 26:4 K:BB ratio in 20 frames… Robertson has given up a pair of runs in six innings since returning, but I’m more encouraged by the nine strikeouts. The right-hander owns a 31.1 percent strikeout rate over five-plus seasons. He looks healthy.

Tier 3

↓ Joe Nathan, Tigers
Joakim Soria, Rangers
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↑ Fernando Rodney, Rays

Nathan’s velocity is down, but he’s starting to find those almighty whiffs again, with a strikeout in 10 of his last 11 appearances, including four games with two. He’s rattled off six consecutive saves and his leash is extra long in Detroit… Soria earned his seventh save in seven chances over the weekend, and he now owns a 16:2 K:BB ratio in 13 innings. I’m not sure he qualifies, but Soria is making a case for Comeback Player of the Year. After Ron Washington tinkered with Alexi Ogando in the ninth, it’s now clear this is Soria’s job… Cishek has seen an uptick in strikeouts that I don’t believe is sustainable. His velocity and swinging strike rate are both down, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable. He can still give you a strikeout per inning and his ratios are near elite. The surprising Marlins offense have given him more work than expected… Trust me. I’m surprised to see Rodney this high, too. But the guy gets strikeouts (21 in 15 2/3 innings), and his 2.30 ERA isn’t a total fluke (2.32 FIP, 3.23 xFIP). That .375 BABIP is going to come down, and I think he keeps the job for 162.

Tier 4

Huston Street, Padres
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
↓ Tommy Hunter, Orioles
↑ LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

I almost feel bad leaving Street in Tier 4, but this comes down to rest of season rankings. If he can stay healthy, he more than likely finishes in the top 10, but he hasn’t thrown more than 60 innings since 2009. I’d be happy to own Street, but I’d also be cautious… Papelbon’s velocity is down and his strikeout rate is still hovering around 22-23 percent. What’s different is worse control, with five walks in 15 1/3 innings (he had 11 walks in 2013). Things could get worse, too, as he currently owns a .241 BABIP and a career-worst 52.5 percent fly ball rate… Hunter has given up runs in three straight outings, and his 1.67 WHIP is last for current closers. Opposing batters are hitting .333 against Hunter, but things should get better. He owns a .422 BABIP (fifth highest among relievers), and he’s not exactly killing himself with the walk. He simply doesn’t have the stuff to support a high strikeout rate, but I’m not sure I see a guaranteed better option in Baltimore right now… With five strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings, Hawkins is fortunate to be this high.

Tier 5

↓ Grant Balfour, Rays
Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
*Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Mark Melancon, Pirates
Jim Johnson, Athletics

Balfour is having a terrible year, with more walks (12) than strikeouts (10) in 14 1/3 innings. His velocity is down from 93 to 91, and his 15.4 percent swinging strike rate on pitches outside of the strike zone is atrocious. I’m officially worried… Lindstrom just doesn’t do it for me. He’s meh across the board and I’m praying Nate Jones returns sooner than expected. (Yes, I’m still on the Jones train.)… Frieri is officially the guy in Anaheim again, and he should be owned in all leagues. Everything but his ERA is more than fine. He’s always been a high strikeout reliever, but I’m most impressed by three walks in 15 1/3 innings. Buy low if you can… Melancon has been fine, but Jason Grilli is starting to throw and could be back in a week or two… Johnson earned a save last week, but Bob Melvin hasn’t officially named him closer. I expect Johnson to save the most games for Oakland going forward, but he could be sharing chances.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Cassey Janssen, Blue Jays
Hector Rondon (Pedro Strop), Cubs
Chad Qualls (Anthony Bass), Astros
*Jeurys Familia (Gonzalez Germen), Mets
*Bryan Shaw (Cody Allen), Indians

Janssen was activated from the 15-day DL on Sunday, but I want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before moving him any higher. He saved 34 games for the Blue Jays in 2013 with a 2.56 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He’s a must own in all leagues… Rondon has been fantastic for the Cubbies, but he’s not going to get a lot of save opportunities in Chicago. I’d set the over/under at 14… Familia is close to being the new Mets closer, according to Terry Collins. The 24-year-old right-hander can get wild at times, but he can put you away with a 96 mph heater and devastating slider. Take a flier… With Jesse Crain suffering a setback, Qualls’ leash is longer, but this situation is similar to the one with Rondon — there’s just not many save chances to go around… I was wrong about John Axford. I thought last year’s end-of-season gains in St. Louis were real, but I was fooling myself. Shaw got the first save chance post Axford, angering owners who handcuffed Axford with Allen. Allen should get his, but this isn’t a one-man job.

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