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Closer Chronicle: Week 11

Could we be witnessing the end of Joe Nathan? The closer with 354 career saves (ninth all time) has been abysmal for the Tigers, posting a 7.04 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and a 59.7 percent strand rate. He’s allowed two or more earned runs in four out of his last five appearances (10 runs total), and his 20.4 percent strikeout rate and 91.4 mph average velocity represent career lows. But just when you thought Nathan was on his way out, Joba Chamberlain, who had been pitching great, enters in a save situation on Sunday and promptly coughs up a three-run home run to Big Papi. Nathan’s leash is extremely short, and you have to wonder if the next step in the narrative is a made-up injury. As you’ll see in my rankings below, Nathan is free falling to the fantasy wasteland.

Tier 1

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

Who else? Kimbrel is still No. 1, with an MLB-leading 42.1 percent strikeout rate among closers. Only the Yankees’ Dellin Betances has a higher K-rate (45.9 percent). Both are video game numbers… If he qualified, Chapman’s 53.3 percent strikeout rate would lead everyone. His dominance since returning, which includes a 1.38 ERA, 0.54 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 13 innings, 100 mph heat and health move him ahead of Holland. Chapman is already up to nine saves… I still love Holland, but he can’t match up with the big boys in the National League. Holland leads American League stoppers with 18 saves, and his 6.33 K/BB represents a career best… The difference between Holland and Uehara is insignificant, but I’m giving Holland the advantage based on a slightly higher strikeout rate (39.6 percent vs. 36.7); Uehara has the advantage in ERA (0.70) and WHIP (0.78). You can argue either side for days… Jansen’s ERA is down to 3.60 and he has 13 straight saves. The Dodgers closer has a strikeout in 26 of 28 appearances, and 13 multi-strikeout performances. Who’s worried now?

Tier 2

Glen Perkins, Twins
David Robertson, Yankees
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
Joakim Soria, Rangers
↑ Sean Doolittle, Athletics
Sergio Romo, Giants

Perkins gave up a four spot to the Twins on Sunday, including a grand slam to rookie Jon Singleton, but none of the runs were earned. Phew. It’s just a blip… Some are calling for Betances in New York, but Robertson has been excellent. He had one stinker against the Twins (five runs allowed), but other than that he’s been lights out with 36 strikeouts in 21 innings. Injuries and inexperience are the only things keeping him from Tier 1… Rodriguez converted a four-out save on Sunday despite walking two. The strikeouts are trending down after a hot start, but his job is safe… Soria wasn’t drafted in the majority of leagues (Neftali Felix was still around), but he’s been one of the best closers to date, with a 2.05 ERA, 0.76 FIP and 1.96 xFIP. Long story short, what Soria is doing is legit. Soria’s K-rate is up from 27.7 percent to 35.7… Doolittle moves up a tier as he continues to dominate AL hitters. In four June games, the 27-year-old has two perfect appearances (three batters faced, three strikeouts), moving his K/BB rate to an astounding 42. Soria is second with 10.00 K/BB… Romo’s strikeout rate has decreased for the fourth consecutive season, and now sits at a career-low 21.2 percent; four seasons ago, it was 40 percent. The Giants are baseball’s best team, however, which has led to a major-league leading 20 saves for Romo.

Tier 3

↑ Steve Cishek, Marlins
Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Huston Street, Padres
Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
↑ Fernando Rodney, Mariners

The Cubs blew a late lead Sunday, which opened up the 14th save chance for Cishek, who converted with two strikeouts. Cishek would be considered a premiere closer if he were in, say, New York or Los Angeles. He has never owned an ERA larger than 2.69, and he’s striking out more than 11 batters per nine for the first time… Cishek leaps Soriano because the strikeouts don’t match up, but the latter’s durability and consistency keeps him here. Soriano has two straight seasons with 40-plus saves; I don’t think he gets there again, but 30 is likely… Street is two saves behind the leader, Romo, for the NL lead. His strikeout rate has jumped form 20.7 percent to 28, but his .172 BABIP is 86 points below his career norm… Rosenthal entered in a non-save situation Sunday, allowing one hit and striking out one against the red-hot Blue Jays. Rosenthal’s walk rate is still too high (12.6 percent), but he’s been better of late. His 16 handshakes are tied with Kimbrel and Perkins, and his 0.6 fWAR is 29th best among relievers… Rodney has faced the minimum in his last three games, striking out four in three innings. His WHIP is down to 1.35, along with a solid 2.28 ERA. More importantly, Rodney’s walk rate is down from 12.4 percent to 9.7, despite a 52.4 percent first-pitch strike rate. I’ve been saying all along, Rodney won’t lose his job.

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
↑ Cody Allen, Indians
Jason Grilli, Pirates
↓ Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays

Papelbon’s strikeout rate leaves a lot to be desired, and I sense there could be some rough times ahead. He hasn’t allowed a home run despite a 54 percent fly ball rate. He’s a good sell high candidate with the name value to get it done… I wanted to move Allen higher, but news came out that the Indians would like to give back the ninth to Axford eventually. That was my thought all along, but Allen has been too good to make the switch. He has five consecutive saves, striking out six and walking one in five innings… Grilli, 37, has gone 5 for 5 since returning, but injury is a real concern. Melancon is a must-have handcuff in Pittsburgh… According to Kirk Gibson, Reed has tired arm. Brad Ziegler picked up the save on Sunday, despite giving up a leadoff home run. Reed is having a strange season, with a 4.13 ERA, 5.09 FIP and 3.28 xFIP. With two home runs allowed in June, he’s up to eight on the season, which is unacceptable for a closer. Ziegler is worth a speculation pickup if Reed is sidelined for any significant length of time. But it doesn’t sound serious…I see Frieri ranked too low on other closer rankings and I don’t get it. 4.71 K/BB is solid, as are his 33 strikeouts in 27 innings. He’s a good buy low target… Janssen hasn’t allowed a run in 11 2/3 innings, but he’s been extremely lucky thus far with a .202 BABIP. He’s below 90 mph for the first time since 2006, and his strikeouts are suffering (6.17 K/9).

Tier 5

Hector Rondon, Cubs
Chad Qualls, Astros
↓ Joe Nathan, Tigers
LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

Rondon blew his second save on Friday, giving up three runs on four hits. On the plus side, the first three hits were all cheapies and he didn’t walk anyone. In 25 2/3 innings, Rondon has 29 strikeouts and eight walks. This is still someone you should want… Qualls has quietly been great for the Astros, with seven saves and 22 strikeouts and three walks in 20 2/3 innings. He hasn’t allowed a run since April 19, and he’s still available in almost half of ESPN leagues. That’s crazy! Pick him up… How the mighty have fallen. Back in Week 1, Nathan was a Tier 2 closer (albeit at the bottom). I said this in the first week: “Nathan takes over in Detroit, but he’s 39 and wasn’t the same guy in 2013. The velocity was down, the walks were up, and he’s not getting any younger.” Well, he’s still throwing with decreased velocity, the walks are once again up and he hasn’t reverse aged. The Tigers haven’t said anything about a potential change. There has been speculation about Chamberlain getting the job, but he imploded in a save situation Sunday night, as I mentioned above… Nathan at least strikes people out. Hawkins has eight strikeouts in 21 innings. Eight! I’m sorry, but that’s not how I play with closers. And I don’t think he’s long for the job. I’ll still take Nathan rest of schedule.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Zach Britton (Darren O’Day), Orioles
Ronald Belisario (Daniel Webb, Jacob Petricka), White Sox
↓ Jenrry Mejia (Jeurys Familia, Vic Black), Mets
Grant Balfour (Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Juan Oviedo), Rays

Britton has five saves since mid May, and he’s even provided a small strikeout boost in his last three games with five punch-outs in four innings. Tommy Hunter is back, but it would take a lot of good to undo his a lot of bad… I don’t feel good about either Belisario or Mejia. If either makes it past June as closer, I’ll be surprised. They are bottom of the barrel, but they have jobs… Balfour allowed five runs on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts, pushing his season ERA to 6.46. Joe Maddon has been extremely faithful in the past, but with the Rays falling out of the race, it’s time for a change. If not, Balfour doesn’t belong anywhere near your fantasy team. Peralta, a right-hander, could be the guy to target. He has recorded 12 of 13 clean appearances since May 11, and he owns a 30:10 K:BB ratio in 28 innings. But home runs have been a problem. I like McGee more, but Maddon typically uses him before Peralta. Plus, he’s left-handed. And then there is Juan Oviedo, who has the most closing experience by far (92 saves in 2009-2011 with the Marlins). He’s the dark horse, but, really, it wouldn’t surprise me if any one of the three got the job.

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