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Closer Chronicle: Week 13

Last Friday was one of the worst weeks for closers I can remember in a long time. Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen and Glen Perkins all allowed multiple runs and/or blew a save/earned a loss, and the elite closer hiccups carried over to the untouchable Koji Uehara on Sunday. All six closers are in my top-eight rankings, making last weekend one to forget. If you play in a daily league and chose the reliever route on Friday (like me), all you can do is laugh it off. You should trust all six going forward and shouldn’t adjust your personal rankings much if it all.

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
Greg Holland, Royals
↑Sean Doolittle, Athletics

Keith Law had an interesting tidbit about Kimbrel over the weekend, tweeting: “Craig Kimbrel has given up as many runs this year (10) as he gave up in all of 2013, and three more than he gave up in 2012.” The tweet came after Kimbrel blew his fourth save last Friday, serving up a two-run home run to Anthony Rendon. Kimbrel has been more hittable the last two seasons, but Rendon’s home run was the first surrendered by Kimbrel in 29 1/3 innings. Don’t sweat it… Chapman had a disastrous outing on Friday, too, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks, but came back Sunday with a perfect outing. I watched Chapman the other day, throwing 100-plus then dropping in an 88 mph change-up. Not. Fair… Not even Uehara could survive the weekend hex, as he allowed two home runs to Stephen Vogt and John Jason on Sunday. He did return for a second inning of work and earned the win… Holland also got hit around over the weekend, allowing two runs in a non-save situation on Sunday (and allowing a home run the following Monday). They were Holland’s first runs allowed since May 5, so rest easy… Welcome to the big boy tier, Dr. Doolittle. You can make a case that Doolittle has been the most valuable closer since he took over the job in Oakland. 50 strikeouts and one walk in 36 innings? Remember that Jim Johnson guy? Neither do I.

Tier 2

↓Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
David Robertson, Yankees
Glen Perkins, Twins
Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
Joakim Soria, Rangers
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↑Huston Street, Padres

Jansen blew his third save over the weekend, giving up three runs to the Padres last Friday. There’s no denying Jansen’s elite stuff, but it’s hard to look past a 1.35 WHIP when all the closers in Tier 1 are posting close to 1.00. I understand a lot of his 4.13 ERA is misfortune, but I’d like to see a longer stretch of donuts… Mo’s replacement, Robertson, has been lights out since a five-run blowup on April 1, striking out 12 and walking two in 6 2/3 innings without surrendering a run. Robertson, 29, should have a long career ahead of him in pinstripes… Perkins has encountered a minor lull and now owns a 3.34 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He’s allowed six hits and three runs in his last two outings, but, on the plus side, his low walk rate (4.4 percent) remains and his K/BB is elite… Rodriguez leads the majors with 25 saves, two ahead of Jansen in the National League and three ahead of Holland in the American League. I don’t see K-Rod slowing down. His velocity charts haven’t changed, as he’s consistently throwing in the low 90s (not great, but OK) and generating a healthy swinging strike rate… Soria hasn’t allowed a home run 25 2/3 innings, which is doubly impressive when you consider his home park in Arlington. It’s a very small sample size, sure, but Soria’s overall body of work has been excellent. His 1.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs, is the second best mark among relievers, behind only Dellin Betances and Doolittle… Cishek and Street are tough cases. Both are top-five closers, according to the ESPN Player Rater, but both could be on the trading block. Street is more likely to be traded with the Marlins still in the hunt, but both deserve top billing.

Tier 3

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

Rosenthal would be ranked higher if not for his 20 walks in 36 innings. That’s simply too many free passes for the ninth inning, but the Cardinals closer has made it work – his 22 saves are third most in baseball and Mike Matheny hasn’t seriously considered making a switch (at least publically)… Soriano’s 1.13 ERA and 0.84 WHIP are elite, but I see some serious correction on the horizon (.211 BABIP in 2014). Soriano isn’t allowing hard contact (15.6 percent line drive rate), but I don’t trust his 2.6 percent HR/FB rate will hold up either… Romo has been worth negative 0.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs, but that hasn’t stopped him from recording 22 saves. If Romo didn’t have such a strong track record, he likely wouldn’t be ranked this high. He still holds a very strong 14.3 percent swinging strike rate and 39.3 O-Swing%… Rodney is in a pitching groove in Seattle, with 10 strikeouts and only one walk in 10 June appearances. Rodney’s WHIP (1.25) continues to shrink by the appearance. If you’ve avoided Rodney in the past, it’s time to buy in… Allen should be the run-away closer in Cleveland, but Terry Francona hasn’t publicly committed. On the field, Allen has been given all the save chances, however, with Bryan Shaw and John Axford working in the seventh and eighth. Allen is far from a perfect closer (9.7 percent walk rate), but he’s clearly Cleveland’s best option for a postseason run.

Tier 4

↑ Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
↑ Hector Rondon, Cubs
Chad Qualls, Astros
LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

Janssen has had no issues re-adjusting to the closer life, posting a 1.13 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 13:1 K:BB ratio in 16 innings (and 12 saves). Toronto’s closer hasn’t had a 3.00-plus ERA since 2010 or a 1.00-plus WHIP since 2011. His strikeouts are down (as is his velocity), but this is someone you can trust to stabilize your ratios… Papelbon’s ridiculous contract will keep him entrenched as Philadelphia’s closer for the short-term, but this is a pitcher in decline. His velocity has decreased for the fourth straight season, but, to Papelbon’s credit, he’s adjusted with less stellar stuff. He’s kept his ERA (1.48) down by keeping the ball in the ballpark, but even those numbers appear fluky, as his fly ball rate is 49.4 percent. If you own Papelbon, you’re likely just getting by… Rondon is back and healthy, which is all I need to see. I love that Rick Renteria didn’t hesitate to use Rondon after Neil Ramirez filled in admirably. Rondon, who owns 34:10 K:BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings, needs to be owned in all leagues… Qualls and Hawkins are surprise additions to Tier 4, but their jobs are safe for the time being. The Astros have stepped their game up offensively, which has led to more save chances for Qualls. The extreme groundball pitcher should stick, in my opinion. Hawkins, meanwhile, continues to pick up saves (14) and nothing else. I think we’ll see the Rockies audition someone else (Rex Brothers?) in the second half and shop Hawkins.

Tier 5

Mark Melancon, Pirates
↓ Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
↓ Joe Nathan, Tigers
Zach Britton, Orioles

I’m not convinced Melancon will keep the closing gig in Pittsburgh, hence the low ranking. I can see Grilli being given one more opportunity, so this is a more long-term outlook than short-term… Reed is in real danger of losing his job after blowing his third save of the season. Arizona’s closer has allowed runs in 12 of 33 appearances, and Brad Ziegler did have some success in the role last year (13-for-15 in saves). Reed has been excellent in the strikeout and walk departments, but his eight home runs allowed are already a career worst… Nathan struck out three for a perfect save against the Royals last Thursday, but allowed one run on three hits two days later, blowing his fifth save of the season. Street’s name has come up in trade rumors, and Joba Chamberlain is someone that should be stashed in 12-teamers just in case… Britton moves up despite a very shaky outing last Friday, in which the Baltimore closer gave up four runs, including a three-run, walk-off home run to Carlos Beltran. It was only his second blown save, and his ERA still stands at an impressive 1.60.

Tier 6 (next in line)

Joe Smith (Ernesto Frieri), Angels
Ronald Belisario (Javy Guerra, Zach Putnam)
Jenrry Mejia (Jeurys Familia, Carlos Torres), Mets
Jake McGee (Joel Peralta, Juan Oviedo)

Smith takes over for Frieri in Anaheim, but Mike Scioscia didn’t rule out Frieri coming back eventually. I think it would be a mistake to go back to Frieri at this point. He’s been given every chance to succeed, but hasn’t taken advantage… Belisario looked like he was on his way out Monday, serving up a three-run shot to Chris Davis, but he was back on the bump on Tuesday. Belisario allowed a run to score in the outing before converting the save. Javy Guerra was warming up in the pen, so that might tell you where Ventura goes next… The Mets and Rays situations are avoids for me. Tampa is a true bullpen-by-committee, and Mejia is too volatile.

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