Closer Chronicle: Week 9

Hyun-Jin Ryu was six outs away from throwing a perfect game and making baseball history on Memorial Day, a day after Josh Beckett twirled his first no-hitter of his career and of the 2014 season. It would have been the first back-to-back no-no’s in baseball history, but Todd Frazier spoiled the fun with a single to start the eighth. My Twitter friends alerted me of the perfecto, and, like magic, the no-no was erased immediately after I switched the game on. Did I jinx Ryu? Probably not. But can I say I did (along with everyone else on Twitter, and Charley Steiner)? Absolutely.

Tier 1

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

Kimbrel has three saves since the last time we met, with seven strikeouts and one hit in three innings. We haven’t seen Kimbrel strike out this many batters since 2012, and his K/9 is actually larger now (17.67) than it was then (16.66). What’s even scarier is that Kimbrel’s BABIP (.355) is substantially greater than his career average (.285)… Holland leads the American League with 14 saves and he too has been unlucky with a .341 BABIP. But the important thing here is he’s not walking many batters… Chapman’s average fastball velocity sits at a nice fat 100 mph, according to FanGraphs. He blew his first save in two innings of work a week ago, but then bounced back and collected his third and fourth saves. He’s made six appearances since returning, and each one has been must-see television… Uehara continues to work his 39-year-old magic, striking out 29 and walking three over 19 2/3 innings. He picked up his save No. 10 on Monday, and he should have no problem recording his first 30-save season. Uehara’s 40.3% strikeout rate trails only Kimbrel among closers… Jansen picked up his 15th save Monday, his first four-out conversion of the year. A lot of his 3.91 ERA and 1.43 WHIP can be blamed on a .400 BABIP. He’s still elite.

Tier 2

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

Perkins is tied with Holland in the AL with 14 saves, and his 10.33 K/BB is fourth best in baseball. His last two saves have been three up, three down, and over his last 17 appearances, Perkins has no walks and 25 strikeouts… Robertson is already up to 11 handshakes after missing time with a strained groin. The strikeouts that weren’t there pre-injury have reappeared, with 22 strikeouts in 12 innings. His velocity is up, as is his swinging strike rate (9.6% in 2013, 13% in 2014)… Rodriguez blew his second save on Monday, giving up a two-out home run to Jonathan Schoop, followed by a single and an RBI double to Nick Markakis. K-Rod has been rock solid for the Brewers, striking out 30 and walking five in 26 innings, and in no way am I panicking. Jim Henderson even suffered a setback, meaning Rodriguez’s leash just got longer… Romo continues to stifle left-handers to the tune of a .143 batting average. He trails K-Rod in saves, 17 to 16, although he’s given up three runs in his last two appearances. No one is taking Romo’s job, however, especially now that Santiago Casilla (hamstring) is DL bound… Soria’s comeback is one of the better stories in baseball. The once great closer is doing great things once again in Arlington, picking up eight saves in eight chances with a 33.4% strikeout rate and 3.3% walk rate. Soria’s walk rate would be his best finish by far (5.9% in 2010). He’s never had a sub-2.00 K/9 until this year… Soriano’s velocity is a touch above 90, and he has just two strikeouts over his last seven innings. His K-rate is up from 18.4% to 22.7%, but his O-Swing% is down from 33% to 29.2%. I think you’ll be happy with the save total, but he’s a sell high candidate with a 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. There will be bumps and bruises.

Tier 3

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

If you ignore Reed’s 4.18 ERA, he’s been fantastic. Unfortunately, I don’t know any league that doesn’t play with earned run average. His K/9 is up from 9.08 to 10.65, and his BB/is down from 2.90 to 1.52. There’s still every reason to buy Reed, who has 14 saves… Street is currently the No. 5 closer in 5X5 leagues with 14 saves, a 1.42 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. His strikeout rate is up from 20.7% to 30.6%, and he’s walked only six batters in 19 innings. I’m buying Street’s turnaround… Cishek is No. 4 among closers on the ESPN Player Rater, but I’m simply guessing that he doesn’t finish with as many saves as Street. These two are very close and you can’t go wrong with either as your No. 2 closer. I prefer Street by a hair… Since dropping Rosenthal in my rankings, the Cardinals closer has found his command with no walks in four appearances. If he can continue to command the strike zone, I’ll slowly move him back up the ranks. But we’re not out of the woods yet… Nathan blew his third save last Wednesday and everything is trending down. Thirty saves are still in the picture, but it might come at the cost of a high ERA… Rodney cant’ be ranked any higher than this considering his 1.55 WHIP, but he does give you saves and strikeouts, which is half the battle. Despite the high hit and walk total, Rodney owns a solid 3.05 FIP and 3.32 xFIP.

Tier 4

↑ Sean Doolittle, Athletics
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Mark Melancon, Pirates

Doolittle is this week’s biggest riser. I was afraid he wouldn’t receive regular save chances because he’s a lefty, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem for Bob Melvin. Doolittle leads all of baseball with 33.00 K/BB (33 strikeouts, one walk in 24 innings). He’s been simply dominant and has the stuff to keep the job the rest of the way… Janssen hasn’t allowed a run in eight appearances, but he only has four strikeouts. I expect that number to go up, but he’s never been a big contributor in the strikeout department; a clean ERA and WHIP is more his game… Papelbon is up to 13 saves, but his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up (4.3% in 2013, 11.8% in 2014). I say it almost every week, but I can’t sell fast enough… Like Reed, Frieri has run into some bad luck. Home runs have torpedoed his value, but he’s homer free in his last six appearances, with only three hits allowed in seven innings. I like Frieri as a buy low… Melancon notched his 10th save of the season Monday, giving up a home run in the process. Jason Grilli isn’t 100% healthy, so Melancon should continue to see save chances in the short term.

Tier 5

LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
Hector Rondon, Cubs
Grant Balfour, Rays
↑ Chad Qualls, Astros

Hawkins has 11 saves and seven strikeouts, which might be the strangest closer mix I’ve ever come across. Rex Brothers was pitching well of late, but he coughed up three runs in 2/3 innings on Monday, extending Hawkins’ leash in Colorado… Rondon saved the Cubs from the free agent signing of Jose Veras, but the latter could sneak some saves if the team is looking to build trade value… Balfour. What can I say? He’s been awful. But he still has a job and that counts for something. He still has more walks (18) than strikeouts (15), and he’s producing an ugly 15.8% swinging strike rate on pitches outsider of the strike zone (down from 28.9%)… I didn’t think a Houston closer would ever make it out of the bottom tier, but he we are. Qualls has put up very respectable numbers, including 17 strikeouts and three walks in 14 2/3 innings. He remains available in almost 75% of ESPN leagues, so give him a look. Still, he has jus three saves and we’re still not sure when Jesse Crain will return. I know this ranking will be the kiss of death for Qualls.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Jenrry Mejia (Jeurys Familia), Mets
Zach Britton (Darren O’Day), Orioles
Bryan Shaw (John Axford), Indians
Ronald Belisario (Daniel Webb), White Sox

Meija has two saves in the past week, but the big news in New York is that Jose Valverde is out the door. Mejia can lose the strike zone from time to time, but he’s New York’s best option… Britton has two saves since last Monday, allowing one hit and one walk in two innings against the Indians and Brewers. He’s not dominant in any one area, but it’s clear that he’s the closer to own in Baltimore… Shaw has two saves in three attempts, and Cody Allen hasn’t handled the pressure well in the ninth. Axford continues to get bullpen work, and he hasn’t walked a batter in two innings (!). It’s a start. I think Axford reclaims the job the first week of June… Belisario has been Jose Veras like on the other side of Chicago, giving up five runs on eight hits over his last three innings. Robin Ventura hasn’t replaced him yet, but it won’t be long. Webb would already be the closer if not for 18 walks in 26 innings.

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Players mentioned in this post
Aroldis Chapman
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Craig Kimbrel
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David Robertson
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Francisco Rodriguez
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Glen Perkins
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Greg Holland
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Hyun-jin Ryu
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Joakim Soria
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Kenley Jansen
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Koji Uehara
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Rafael Soriano
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Sergio Romo
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