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Closer Chronicle: Week 10

Welcome back to the Closer Chronicle for Week 10. Week 10? Already? This season is flying by. The All-Star Game is a little over a month away, with heavy Twitter speculation on who should and should not start the mid-summer classic. Veteran hurlers’ Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle both have a case in their respected leagues, and wouldn’t that be something? Buehrle, 35, is on his third team in four years, and Hudson, 38, struggled to reach 130 innings in 2013. Buehrle leads baseball with 10 wins, and Hudson trails only Johnny Cueto in earned run average. If they started the All-Star Game, Buehrle and Hudson would match the combined age of the starters in the 2000 Game, Randy Johnson and David Wells (h/t @SethDaSportsMan).

Tier 1

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

Kimbrel has just one strikeout in his last two save chances, dropping his strikeout rate to 43%, which is fourth best in baseball. I’m running out of awesome things to say about Kimbrel. There’s no one better… Holland didn’t allow a run in 10 of 11 May appearances (0.84 ERA), striking out 14 batters in 10 2/3 innings. It doesn’t appear that Holland will come close to matching last year’s 47 saves, but he’s quickly become an elite end-game option… Chapman is making my prematurely high ranking of him look wise, as the Reds closer is 7 for 8 in save chances since returning with 18 strikeouts in 10 innings. And he’s still averaging 100 mph, according to FanGraphs… Uehara owns a remarkable 34:3 K:BB ratio in 23 2/3 innings, and he hasn’t allowed a run since the first day of May. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is second best in baseball, behind Sean Doolittle, and he sports a 100 percent strand rate… Jansen’s ERA keeps shrinking, and it now stands at 3.75. Jansen’s 2.15 FIP and 2.09 xFIP is right in line with 2013, as is his 37.1% strikeout rate. He had worse command in May than April, but fewer balls in play are finding dirt and grass. Jansen, who has 16 saves, could still make a push for 40. He’s a workhorse.

Tier 2

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

Perkins is third in baseball with an 11.00 K/BB rate. He hasn’t issued a free pass in 19 consecutive outings dating back to April 9. If WAR is more your thing, Perkins’ 1.2 fWAR is first overall, better than both Kimbrel and Uehara… One bad outing is not going to send Robertson spiraling down my ranks. Sunday was particularly bad, as the Yankees closer gave up a five spot to the Twins and suffered his first blown save in 13 chances. Just chalk it up to a bad day at the office. His 43.5% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate both represent career bests… Rodriguez’s May (5.63 ERA) was a disaster compare to his April (0.00 ERA), but so goes the life of a big-league closer. The Brewers have surprised everyone and K-Rod will benefit with tons of save chances going forward. I don’t see a reason to bail… Soria jumps Romo, but not because Romo is struggling (and he is). Soria’s strikeout rate is far superior to Romo, and there aren’t any whispers of the former being replaced. Those whispers are very faint in San Francisco and I ultimately see Romo finishing out the season, but you can’t tune them out entirely (even though San Francisco says it won’t be changing closers)… Soriano is the least sexy of the Tier 2 closers with a middling strikeout rate and a rising walk rate. But he hasn’t allowed a run over his last seven outings, and his 12.3% swinging strike rate is the best since 2009 with the Braves.

Tier 3

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

Cishek moves to the top of Tier 2 despite a shaky outing on Sunday. The Marlins closer took the loss in a non-save situation, allowing a two-run homer to Evan Gattis. He still owns a 2.78 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings… Street’s been too good not to get more respect, so here it is. He offers four-category production and his strikeout rate has risen from 20.7% to 29.3%. That’s not so unbelievable based on his early career marks, and the Padres, despite being a bad team overall, are still giving him plenty of save chances… If not for an 18.2% HR/FB rate, Reed would be a lock for Tier 2. But he’s coughed up six home runs already and the fly ball pitcher is going to have his clunkers in Chase Field. He owns a career 4.15 ERA, but he’s a good source of strikeouts (29 in 24 2/3 innings) and saves (14)… Doolittle leads everyone with a 35.00 K/BB rate. Since taking over for the inept Jim Johnson, Doolittle is a perfect 4 for 4 in save chances with 17 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. It appears the left-hander has the job locked up… Rosenthal has been much better of late, striking out eight and walking none in his last six appearances. This is the Rosenthal I expected to see, but I want to see more of it before committing to him again… Rodney offers three-category production, with the only caveat being a high WHIP. On the plus side, he only allowed one run and four walks in May. Danny Farquhar is not a threat… Nathan moves to the bottom of Tier 3, his lowest ranking since I started these rankings. His stuff is in serious decline and keeping him here is more of a hat tip to his excellent career. Could Joba Chamberlain be a legit threat down the line?

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Pirates
↑ Jason Grilli, Pirates
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays

Papelbon might be lower if not for job security. The Phillies paid him too much money not to close, so he’s going to get every opportunity in Philadelphia. The ERA has been elite, but he’s been lucky thus far with a .254 BABIP. The swinging strike rate is up but it hasn’t led to more strikeouts (18 in 21 1/3 innings), and that’s why he’s just a Tier 4 closer… I believe in Grilli as long as he’s healthy, but it’s hard to trust a 37-year-old with a cloudy past. He picked up his eighth save of the season on Sunday, but it was shaky: he allowed one run on one hit and two walks (and two strikeouts). Melancon could still see save chances, but Grilli should receive the majority. I think he falls short of 25 handshakes when it’s all said and done… Frieri jumps Janssen, thanks to a commanding 28-to-6 lead in strikeouts. OK, so it’s not a level playing field (Frieri has 13 more innings than Janssen), but Janssen is closer to LaTroy Hawkins than he is to Frieri.

Tier 5

LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
Hector Rondon, Cubs
↑ Jenrry Mejia, Mets
Chad Qualls, Astros

Hawkins has allowed six earned runs over his last 5 2/3 innings. He was hit hard in May (29.4% line drive rate), and the clock is ticking. Rex Brothers isn’t quite ready, in my opinion, but Adam Ottavino could be another option. Of course, Ottavino allowed two runs on Sunday, so Hawkins bought himself some more time… Rondon was placed on the paternity list Friday, but the Cubs didn’t create any save chances over the weekend anyway. Rondon has been at times filthy for Chicago, and you shouldn’t avoid him just because he plays for the Cubs. That 53.4% ground ball rate plays very well in Wrigley Field… Mejia is close behind Rondon. There’s too much volatility in both bullpens to commit any higher, but Mejia has transitioned well from starter to closer. I’m more worried about Mejia’s control, however (24 walks in 47 2/3 innings)… I’m still sticking with Qualls in Tier 5. He now has a modest five saves and 21:3 K:BB ratio in 17 2/3 innings, matching his fWAR from a year ago.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Zach Britton (Darren O’Day), Orioles
Bryan Shaw (Cody Allen, John Axford), Indians
Grant Balfour (Joel Peralta), Rays
Ronald Belisario (Daniel Webb, Jacob Petricka) White Sox

Britton is distancing himself from the pack in Baltimore, but that’s not saying much. Tommy Hunter is now on the DL, buying Britton and his average 17% strikeout rate some time. Expect some regression (.207 BABIP). I can see the Orioles trading for a closer eventually… Shaw has been great for Cleveland, but I still see Axford reclaiming the job. For now, Shaw and Allen are sharing save duties, so it’s a closer-by-committee headache for fantasy owners… Balfour can’t be the Rays closer for much longer, can he? Peralta and Jake McGee would be easy upgrades, and it’s hard to justify owning Balfour in any league right now, even in an AL-only… Belisario isn’t working out for the White Sox, but where do they turn? Webb has serious control problems (21 walks in 29 innings), and Petricka isn’t far behind (16 freebies in 30 2/3 innings). Keep Nate Jones filed away in your memory.

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