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Closer Chronicle: Week 8

Over the past seven days, there have been 16 blown saves in baseball, with 10 of them coming from current closers (11 if you count Luke Gregerson, who is in a bullpen by committee in Oakland). That’s down from 29 bad ones over the previous seven days, but plenty of factors do come into play – not all blown saves are ninth-inning events. Still, it’s nice to see. Trevor Rosenthal was the only closer to blow two games in that span, after Gregerson, Mark Melancon and Tommy Hunter all coughed away a pair of leads the week before. Not surprisingly then, Rosenthal is my biggest loser in Week 8. He’s thrown 97 pitches over the past seven days, appearing in four straight games from Thursday to Sunday. And with former closer Jason Motte returning Tuesday, Rosenthal could soon have company in the ninth inning.

Tier 1

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

Kimbrel is first among closers with a 43.5% strikeout rate, and it may surprise you who is tied at the top when we stretch it out to include all relievers: Wade Davis and Dellin Betances, both at 44.7%. Kimbrel has made two appearances since last week, striking out a pair in two innings and earning his 11th save… Holland is first in the AL with 12 saves, but one thing I’ve noticed of late is that his first-pitch strike rate is down. That could help explain his three walks over his last three games, but he still owns a very solid strikeout-to-walk ratio… Chapman is averaging 100+ mph (!), according to FanGraphs, and he’s struck out seven in three innings since returning. Good luck major-league hitters… We’re closing in on the end of May and Uehara is still going strong. His strikeouts are down compared to last year, but he still has pinpoint control and a devastating splitter to work with… Jansen has made just one appearance since last Monday’s three-run fiasco that had Twitter abuzz, earning his 11th save with a drama-free ninth. I still believe in Jansen; just take a look at his last three years. Nothing is terribly out of line, other than a .432 BABIP. Stick with him.

Tier 2

Glen Perkins, Twins
↑ David Robertson, Yankees
↑ Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
Sergio Romo, Giants
Rafael Soriano, Nationals
↑ Joakim Soria, Rangers

Glen Perkins is second among closers with a 9.67 K/BB, trailing only Tier 2 newcomer Joakim Soria (10.00). The Twins closer is the most valuable reliever in baseball, according to FanGraphs WAR. At this pace, he’s easily going to pass his fWAR from a year ago, and he’s not that far from joining Tier 1… Robertson and Rodriguez both move up. I was a big Robertson believer in the offseason, and an early-season injury hasn’t done much to change that. He’s recorded back-to-back four-out saves for the Yankees, and he has eight strikeouts over his last three appearances. I hope you bought low… Rodriguez, meanwhile, has shown some warts, but we all knew he couldn’t stay perfect forever. He still leads everyone with 17 saves, and he’s become a high-strikeout/command hybrid reliever. He’d really have to screw up to give Jim Henderson a second chance… Romo is second with 15 saves, as he picked up three over the last seven days. He’s been pretty lucky thus far, however, with a .176 BABIP (career .251 BABIP). I should probably be a little worried, but I’m not really… Soriano gives you more strikeouts than Romo, but also more walks. Either guy makes a fine No. 2 closer. I think they’ll both record 30-35 saves… Soria moves up a tier. As I mentioned earlier, he leads baseball with a 10.00 K/BB, with 20 strikeouts and two walks in 15 innings. Soria hasn’t allowed a run since April 12, allowing just three hits in his last 10 appearances. He also owns a .235 BABIP, but Soria appears to be the real deal.

Tier 3

↓ Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Joe Nathan, Tigers
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↑ Huston Street, Padres
↓ Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Fernando Rodney, Mariners

Addison Reed. Making me look bad. I previously wrote that Reed could sneak into the top-five closers by season’s end, but that was always a long shot. And I noted it as such. Still, I like what Reed brings to the table. So what’s gone wrong? Home runs have been a huge problem, as Reed has served up six long balls in 22 games. That already matches his total from 2013. But look at everything else. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down and he still has very good velocity. In rotisserie formats, I’m buying. I’ll predict 32 saves, a 3.75 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 9+ Ks per nine… All of a sudden, the Tigers bullpen looks legit. Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque have provided a nice bridge for Nathan, who hasn’t allowed a run since April 19, a span of 10 clean innings. He just isn’t striking out enough batters these days, and the walks haven’t gone away… I wanted to rank Cishek ahead of Nathan, but there’s a risk that involves Cishek pitching for another team that isn’t there for Nathan. Otherwise, I really like him. Maybe even like-like… Street has the experience, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that he’s doing so well. But I didn’t see this coming. Street’s strikeout rate is up from 20.7% to 31.3%. His strand rate is 100%, which is highly unlikely to continue, but it was 99.5% last year. Who’s to say he can’t do something similar? He just needs to stay healthy, and he can find his way to 30 more saves… Rosenthal has elite stuff, but it hasn’t translated to the closer’s role. He’s walked seven batters in seven games since the calendar changed to May, and there’s a good chance Mike Matheny makes a switch soon. Like today soon. Rosenthal’s first-pitch strike rate is down to 53.1%, and former closer Jason Motte is rehabbing in Triple-A, so there’s a logical replacement available, assuming Motte is healthy. I’m standing my ground with Rodney, much like I did with John Axford. And that really came back to bite me. But, unlike the Axe, Rodney hasn’t been nearly as disastrous, and he has a very recent track record of success. I’ve always believed he keeps the job in Seattle, and that hasn’t changed.

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
↑ Ernesto Frieri, Angels
↑ Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

Ryne Sandberg made noise when he threw Papelbon under the bus, saying his closer should be able to pitch in back-to-back-to-back games. Either way, Papelbon has been effective (11 for 12 in saves), but he appears to be riding a lucky streak (.227 BABIP, 4.58 xFIP). He’s seen a big jump in walks with yet another decrease in strikeouts… Frieri picked up a save last Tuesday, seemingly signifying his return to the closer role. But Joe Smith picked up the save the next day, leaving Frieri owners scratching their heads. If you own an Angels closer, make sure it’s Frieri, who owns a 23:4 K:BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings. He also owns a 2.82 xFIP. I’m betting on him taking over full time again… Frieri and Janssen are very close, with the latter’s job security much safer. The problem is in the strikeouts. Janssen’s career strikeout rate is 18.1%, compared to 32.3% for Frieri. That’s a very significant difference, so give me Frieri… The Hawkins Experience: 4.11 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, six strikeouts, 10 saves.

Tier 5

↑ Hector Rondon, Cubs
Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
Grant Balfour, Rays
Mark Melancon, Pirates

Don’t look now, but Rondon has five saves. The 26-year-old has a 24:6 K:BB ratio in 20 1/3 innings, and Sunday he was throwing 98 mph on the home gun. I think the Cubs found something special here, but Jose Veras is the man they paid to close and that could be a factor down the line… I’ll take Rondon’s strikeouts over Lindstrom, who has just 11 punch-outs in 19 innings. Lindstrom has six saves in nine chances, but his walks have gone up for the third straight season… Balfour has been one of the bigger disappointments not to lose his job. Yet. His velocity is down from 93 to 91 and he still has more walks (14) than strikeouts (12). Joel Peralta is the handcuff to own. It’s hard to trust Balfour right now… Melancon has seen a big drop in his K-rate, from 25.1% to 14.8%. He blew his second consecutive save on Thursday without recording an out. Check if Jason Grilli (oblique) was dropped in your league. He’s close to returning.

Tier 6 (next in line)

↑ Sean Doolittle (Luke Gregerson, Jim Johnson), Athletics
↑ Jenrry Mejia (Jeurys Familia), Mets
Zach Britton (Darren O’Day), Orioles
Chad Qualls (Anthony Bass), Astros
Bryan Shaw (John Axford, Cody Allen), Indians

I pulled the Jim Johnson trigger too early, and I apologize. Just when Johnson looked ready to recapture the ninth inning, he loses all control, opening the door for Doolittle, who owns a 28:0 K:BB ratio in 21 innings. No, that’s not a typo. The only problem is Doolittle is a lefty, and managers are reluctant to give southpaws full reign. If nothing else, he’ll really help your ratios…The Mets are saying they will use a bullpen by committee until someone emerges, and I’m placing my fake money on Mejia. Terry Collins brought in Mejia to close out the Nationals on Saturday, and the 24-year-old responded and tossed a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts. He’s my No. 2 pickup among the BPBCs (bullpens by committee) after Doolittle… I predicted Hunter would be the first closer to lose his job. Boy was I wrong, but he’s finally out the door in Baltimore. Britton is the arm to own, but I won’t declare him closer just yet. That’s Buck Showalter’s job. He owns an uninspiring 15.2% career strikeout rate, and his current 0.81 ERA is a product of a .180 BABIP… Qualls has been damn fine with a 16:3 K:BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings, but he has just three saves. That’s the problem with closing in Houston… I’m avoiding the Cleveland bullpen unless I’m desperate. Cody Allen should be closing, but money/arbitration is a real issue. Shaw is an OK stopgap, but that’s all he is. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Axford.

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