Stability in the world of closers seems to be cyclical. Right now, most of the jobs are pretty well locked down. One closer was demoted prior to yesterday's game and another may be close to losing his job. Everyone else seems to have some margin of error.
When building closer tiers, the main factors I consider are talent, expected future performance, and job security. When nearly everybody has some degree of job security, the tiers get lumpy in the middle. I briefly considered enforcing more stringent requirements for Tier 2, but that would have just pushed the lump to Tier 3. Rather than tinker with tier prerequisites, let's just enjoy the brief period of closer stability and quality.
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As with last week, let's discuss particularly good setup relievers too. There may not be too many closers at risk today, but injuries and inconsistency can strike without a moment's notice. It's good to be prepared.
Tier 1: Elite (5)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
The top tier remains unchanged. Jansen is the only one in question due to a couple blow up outings. He's been sharp since allowing one run on May 21. With Chris Withrow out for the year, the club lacks a front line setup man. J.P. Howell is a good source for holds since he comes in for high leverage, situational relief (20 innings, 28 appearances).
The Atlanta Braves have a new name to watch – Shae Simmons. His 95 mph heater has him climbing the bullpen depth chart. Jordan Walden recently returned from the disabled list and David Carpenter is still around too, so it's a crowded picture for holds.
Aroldis Chapman wants the top spot. He's struck out over half of batters faced with a tiny 6.7 walk rate. This is a new kind of dominant even for him. He's thrown more sliders and changeups than ever before.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (11)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
With 44 strikeouts to one solitary walk, Doolittle is quickly climbing my closer depth chart. Base runners are the bane of a pitcher's existence. Doolittle has succeeded by refusing to allow free passes. His walk rate currently sits below one percent! To be certain, right-hander Luke Gregerson has pitched well this season, and could step in if Doolittle falters. Gregerson picks up his share of holds, but his strikeout rate is pretty nondescript for a reliever.
It's been a rough season for the Texas Rangers. Soria is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lost season. Texas is quickly falling out of the playoff race and with so many players on the disabled list, a return to relevance isn't very likely. Could Soria be on the trade block this summer? Where might he land? Detroit seems like an obvious candidate.
Back when a 94 mph fastball was something special, Rodriguez used to rely upon his heater to succeed. Now he's averaging just 89.9 mph with his fastball, which makes him one of the few high leverage relievers working under the 90 mph bar. A nasty changeup has sustained his excellence. He's been in the league for 12 seasons, but he's also only 32-years-old, so he may have more good seasons ahead of him. The Brewers have a couple good holds candidates in Will Smith and the resurgent Zach Duke.
If I had to pick one guy who might fall off this tier, it's Romo. His stat line reads as rather fluky and he doesn't have a reputation for durability. The Giants don't have a typical closer on the roster; it looks as though Jean Machi might be next in line should Romo falter.
Allen is the only guy in this tier with a short leash, since he just earned the closer job. The Indians only had one save opportunity in the last week. Bryan Shaw worked two innings before handing the ball off to Allen.
The Nationals have an interesting bullpen. Someday, Tyler Clippard is going to break from overuse. He once again leads the team in games played. Drew Storen appears to be back in top form too, although he no longer has the 95 mph heat he once featured. The new kid on the block is Aaron Barrett. He's a bit of a slider specialist. As you can see, there's a lot of competition for high leverage reps in Washington.
Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (6)
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
With three perfect outings since we last met, I was very tempted to bump Rodney up a tier. He now hasn't allowed a run in about a month (May 13) and he's only walked one batter in those nine appearances. Walks are Rodney's devil, so he's a nice reliever if he's avoiding them. Danny Farquhar is the heir apparent if Rodney goes sour. There seems to be more hype around Farquhar than he deserves. He's good enough to close games, but he'd be a Tier 3 guy.
Addison Reed's penmate J.J. Putz is back in action. Reed allowed another home run on June 7, and Brad Ziegler earned his first save of the season on June 8. Supposedly, Reed just needed a day of rest. It may be time to get a bit edgy all the same since there are viable alternatives. Ziegler will remain ahead of Putz in the pecking order, but he's been a righty specialist (ROOGY) over his career.
It's time to bump Frieri up a tier – at least for now. His 4.18 ERA isn't particularly impressive and he's allowed seven home runs in 28 innings. This promotion is an educated guess, but he's performed very similarly to Reed. Based on his career numbers, his home run rate should halve. His walk rate is a career best by a wide margin. It seems like he's traded a few swinging strikes for better control. Joe Smith gets a lot of work out of the Angels 'pen (four appearances in the last five days). He'll give you holds, but the other stats are merely good.
Speaking of bumps, it might be time to get over Janssen's low strikeout rate and career worst velocity. He's working his command and control profile to full advantage. Atypical success in the closer role is still success. Unless he crumbles or Sergio Santos comes back in top form, Janssen should net plenty of low drama saves.
I've seen Papelbon's current season compared to Nathan's 2013 performance. He has a low ERA, but the inputs aren't adding up to the good output. Regression will come, but as Nathan showed, it need not be this season. Continue to ride the good ERA for now, just don't be surprised if it all goes sideways. The Phillies bullpen is a mess, but they did recently promote hard thrower Ken Giles. Don't expect big things this season.
Tier 4: Questions (4)
Chad Qualls, Houston Astros
Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Qualls hasn't allowed an earned run since mid-April, so he's definitely settled into the role. It's hard to promote a guy with such a shaky history, but he's proven to be effective over parts of seasons in the past. His numbers – both surface level and peripherals – are better than this ranking. It's his history that's holding him back. Jesse Crain is slowly working his way back, but Qualls will hold the job if he keeps pitching this well.
Not everybody has a clean transition to the bullpen. I wonder if that's what we're observing with Mejia. Right now, he's an adequate reliever pitching out of the closer role. The Mets have no reason to do anything about it in what's shaping up to be another lost season. Jeurys Familia isn't much different than Mejia while Vic Black is suffering from some extreme control problems.
This season has been Rondon's best at any level. His strikeout rate is at a career high by a healthy margin and he's rolling grounders half the time. These are very good numbers and deserving of a mid-third tier ranking on their own. There are two approaches you can take with Rondon. Now may be the time to buy before he proves these stats are real. If you're worried about getting stuck with regression, it's safer to wait it out and pay more later. Fellow Cub Neil Ramirez has the top closer prospect pedigree with big strikeout rates throughout his minor league career. His biggest issue has been walks (although not through his first 17 major league appearances), so Rondon remains in the driver's seat for now.
Tier 5: Roller Coasters (4)
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Ronald Belisario, Chicago White Sox
Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Neither McGee nor Peralta are fifth tier pitchers. In fact, McGee is probably a Tier 2 arm. With Grant Balfour only recently demoted, it's not 100 percent clear if McGee or Peralta will be the go to guy. They're calling it a committee, but McGee is probably the front runner. He's been very good this season with a 1.53 ERA and no home runs allowed. By comparison, Peralta has a 4.08 ERA and weaker peripherals. I bet this will be cleared up by next week.
Tommy Hunter is back in the Orioles pen, but Britton has done nothing to lose the job. When Hunter went down with injury, Britton was on the brink of taking the job. The funny thing is, Britton is basically replicating Hunter's 2013 season right now. Neither guy is your typical closer candidate. Unlike Janssen, they lack the superior command and control necessary to be reliable. Hunter does throw very hard (about 96 mph), but it doesn't translate to whiffs.
Belisario's claim to fame is a crazy ground ball rate above 60 percent. Otherwise, he's your typical middle reliever. Since he doesn't strike out many batters, I wouldn't even use him for holds. As a closer, he has some value. His ground ball rate should prevent him from being too badly abused.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus claims he isn't even thinking about removing Nathan from the closer role. What else is he doing to say? Nathan had another rocky outing in the last week. Joba Chamberlain has continued to pitch well enough to close. The rest of the Tigers 'pen leaves something to be desired. Joel Hanrahan (remember him?) is slowly working his way back from injury. The Tigers don't have many trade assets, so a closer rental might be out of their budget.
Matt Lindstrom (ankle), Chicago White Sox
Sergio Santos (forearm), Toronto Blue Jays
Jesse Crain (calf, biceps), Houston Astros
Bobby Parnell (elbow), New York Mets
Lindstrom had his cast removed recently. He's still a long way from a major league mound, but he should make it back late this season. Santos is closer to the majors. He's been sent to Double-A to rehab. Crain is still targeting late June for a return, but it sounds like early July is a more realistic timetable.
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs
Josh Fields, Houston Astros
John Axford, Cleveland Indians
Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays
Say hello to Mr. Balfour. Not only did he lose the closer role, he was demoted. He's on a guaranteed contract with many millions of dollars still owed, so don't shed too many tears for him.
Seems like Johnson was missing from this list.
The Steals Department
Last week, I speculated the possibility of Brock Holt playing the outfield when Mike Napoli returned. Looks like I was right. Holt's still leading off for the Red Sox most days. While he isn't a big steal threat, sometimes we have to settle for a few swipes.
It would be easy for me to recommend Craig Gentry, James Jones, and Chris Denorfia every week. For one, they're available in most leagues. They also steal at a healthy rate. Actually, I'm not above taking the easy way out if it's also good advice. Jones plays most days while Denorfia and Gentry are platoon bats.
Kolten Wong is hitting...better...in his latest major league spin. He's drawing starts out of the two-hole which gives him some multi-category value.