Closer Chronicle: Week 12

It was a light week in terms of closer turnover, so I’ll get into the big news first. Chicago’s Hector Rondon took the weekend off with elbow soreness, giving way to Neil Ramirez – who picked up two saves for the Cubs – but manager Rick Renteria said Rondon was available. The situation should be monitored closely, and savvy owners would be wise to roster both Chicago closers, even on a team with a National League low 28 wins. Remember: Kevin Gregg earned 33 saves off the street for the Cubs a year ago, before the closer got on Theo Epstein’s bad side. Ramirez was acquired – along with C.J. Edwards, Mike Olt and Justin Grimm – in the deal that sent Matt Garza to Texas, and the 25-year-old has been brilliant for the Cubs, striking out 26 batters in 17 innings. Sergio Romo, Addison Reed and Ernesto Frieri are all pitching on thin ice, and changes could be coming soon, while Jake McGee might be the lead dog in Tampa Bay.

Tier 1

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

I briefly considered moving Chapman to the head of the class, but Kimbrel hasn’t done anything to deserve a demotion. In my estimation, Kimbrel and Chapman are 1a and 1b. Chapman has allowed two base runners over his last nine appearances, with 19 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. In 15 games, the Reds closer has already been worth 0.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Kimbrel, meanwhile, has been worth 1.5 WAR in 28 games… Uehara and Holland have almost identical strikeout rates, but Uehara owns the better command (along with a superior ERA and WHIP). Uehara actually has more strikeouts than Holland, so I’m flip-flopping the two best American League closers … Believe it or not, there’s still a buy-low opportunity on Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers closer allowed single runs on Friday and Saturday to start the weekend, but he earned the save in both games. The pair of runs moved his ERA to 3.86, which might be enough for the casual owner to consider moving Jansen. It never hurts to ask.

Tier 2

Glen Perkins, Twins
David Robertson, Yankees
↑ Sean Doolittle, Athletics
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
Joakim Soria, Rangers
↑ Steve Cishek, Marlins

Perkins is backing up his stellar 2013 campaign with an even better 2014. Among closers, Perkins is in the top-five in K/BB (7.80) and inside the top-10 in saves (17) and strikeout rate (32. 2 percent)… Robertson continues to rack up the strikeouts in New York, with 41 punch-outs in 22 2/3 innings. Dellin Betances is not a threat; the only thing holding Robertson back from Tier 1 is a 9.6 percent walk rate… With Jim Johnson doing Jim Johnson things, Doolittle is locked in as Oakland’s closer. The Athletics are arguably the best team in baseball, and Doolittle is a big piece of the pie. He owns a ridiculous 44:1 K:BB ratio in 32 innings and hasn’t blown a save in eight chances since being named closer… Francisco Rodriguez leads everyone with 21 saves, but the strikeouts have predictably decreased. The last time K-Rod struck out multiple batters was on May 21, a string of 10 appearances. Doolittle, on the other hand, has multi-strikeout appearances in 10 of 15 games, including four games with three or more Ks… Soria is on pace for his best season ever, which is saying a lot from a guy with a 43-save season on his resume. He’ll have a hard time cracking more than 30 saves on this Rangers team, but he’ll provide you with an elite ERA (1.80) and WHIP (0.64)… Cishek is similar to Soria, but with a little less control. If you own Cishek, it’s in your best interest that the Marlins stay in the postseason hunt. And, with an underperforming NL East and an extra wild card, Miami should stay a playoff contender.

Tier 3

Huston Street, Padres
Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
↓ Sergio Romo, Giants
Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Fernando Rodney, Mariners
↑ Cody Allen, Indians

Street is the most surprising closer, in my opinion, with 18 saves in 18 chances. His velocity is the same (89 mph), but his swinging strike rate is back up to 13 percent, right in line with his career average. He’s a trade candidate, however, with the Padres struggling to score runs… Rosenthal is the No. 12 closer on the ESPN Player Rater, which might come as a surprise. The whole Jason Motte-returning-to-closer thing never got serious, and Rosenthal continues to pick up saves for St. Louis, with 20 in 23 chances. He has 43 Ks in 33 innings, but 19 walks. At this point, you have to take the good with the bad and hope Rosenthal’s true talent shines through. The good news is Mike Matheny has never once turned away from his closer… Romo had a weekend to forget, blowing two saves against the Rockies and allowing seven runs in 1 1/3 innings. Romo could be in danger of losing his job, with Jean Machi first in line to pick up the pieces. Machi owns a microscopic 0.29 ERA and earned his second career save on Sunday… Soriano had a light week, with one save on Tuesday. It’s been light go of it since the start of June, really, with only three save attempts. You can’t fault Soriano for that, but he doesn’t provide the same upside in strikeouts like a Street or Rosenthal does… Rodney allowed his first run in 11 games on Saturday. Still, the Mariners closer has allowed just four free passes since the start of May, and his WHIP (1.29) continues to shrink… Even if Terry Francona’s plan were to give John Axford another shot, who in their right mind would mess with Allen right now? Allen has been dominant in the closer’s role, with six consecutive saves since May 30 and four multi-strikeout performances. He earned the win on Sunday, striking out three over two innings. Allen should be trusted going forward.

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Jason Grilli, Pirates
Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
↓ Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
↑ Chad Qualls, Astros

I can see ranking Grilli ahead of Papelbon because the Pirates are the superior team, but the latter is more reliable, in terms of both health and performance. Grilli simply walks too many (10 walks in 16 2/3 innings) to instill complete confidence from Clint Hurdle, and Mark Melancon is always a blown save or two away… Janssen has pinpoint control, with a 1.9 percent walk rate and 68.5 percent first-pitch strike rate. He should get to 30 saves on a strong Toronto team despite missing the opening month… Reed got some much-needed work in a non-save situation on Sunday, allowing a run on two hits without recording a strikeout. It’s been a disappointing season for Reed to say the least, as he can’t string together three or four clean appearances. The strikeouts are up and the walks are down, but Chase Field has been a nightmare for the closer (five home runs allowed at home)… Qualls continues to shine in Houston, as the Astros have won five of seven. He did serve up a game-tying home run to Miguel Montero on Thursday, but it was Qualls first blown save since April 19. The bump in strikeouts appears legit, with an 11.7 percent swinging strike rate and 41 percent O-Swing%. He’s still available in over 25 percent of ESPN leagues.

Tier 5

LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
↓ Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Joe Nathan, Tigers
Hector Rondon, Cubs

Hawkins, 41, is making his case for the All-Star Game, but saves are the only thing he provides. I don’t expect his ERA to stay in the 2s and, if you play in a K/9 league, 11 strikeouts in 25 innings won’t get it done… Frieri was a disaster on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits without recording an out. The performance moved his ERA to 5.46, but Mike Scioscia hasn’t completely abandoned his closer. Joe Smith should see more save chances as a result, leading to a bullpen by committee in Anaheim. But Frieri is dangerously close to losing his job… I was maybe too quick to rank Nathan – he of 354 career saves – below first-time closer Hector Rondon. The veteran 39-year-old earned the win on Sunday, but he hasn’t struck out a batter in three appearances. Still, Nathan is the guy to own in Detroit until told otherwise. It’s possible Joel Hanrahan makes some noise when he’s ready… Rondon sat out the weekend with elbow soreness, which is never a good thing. The 26-year-old has already undergone Tommy John surgery once, and Neil Ramirez has displayed near-elite stuff in his absence, picking up two saves over the weekend. I can see Rondon and Ramirez sharing save duties in Chicago. This entire tier has warts.

Tier 6 (next in line)

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

Britton isn’t giving up his job to Tommy Hunter any time soon, as the Orioles closer picked up his second save in three days on Saturday against the Blue Jays. Britton owns an uninspiring 26:11 K:BB ratio in 35 2/3 innings, but his leash is growing longer… Mejia earned a two-inning save Sunday, despite dealing with back stiffness. It was a surprise to see Mejia even available, but he appears to be the guy to own for the Mets… Joe Maddon is doing weird things in Tampa (surprise). Balfour earned a seven-out save his last time out, striking out one without allowing a single base runner. It was McGee’s turn on Sunday, however, with Tampa holding a one-run lead. McGee came through with his first save of the season, and I expect him to receive the majority of chances going forward. He’s clearly Tampa’s best option… Belisario is the White Sox best option in the ninth because of his control (eight walks in 34 innings). Webb might have better stuff, but he’s walked 22 in 33 innings.

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