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2011 Closer Rankings Update: May

Our preseason reliever rankings were just that, reliever rankings. I’m going to break things up during the season, looking at closers and non-closers separately. There will be some overlap of course, but middle relievers don’t have much value in most leagues, so these rankings are based on the almighty save. As you’d expect, there’s already been a ton of changes since the season began. Guys have lost their jobs, others have gotten hurt, others have come out of (seemingly) nowhere. That’s just the name of the closer’s game. Let’s start off with three familiar names…

Tier One
Heath Bell
Joakim Soria
Brian Wilson

The three names haven’t changed, they’re just in a slightly different order within the tier. Wilson has walked a lot of guys this year (7.15 BB/9), but I’m blaming that on his oblique injury and the lack of a proper Spring Training. I expect him to get back to being himself this month. Bell’s a fantasy monster, and Soria is as solid as ever despite some early hiccups.

Tier Two
Neftali Feliz
Carlos Marmol
Mariano Rivera
Craig Kimbrel
Jonathan Papelbon

Feliz will pitch in a rehab game today and might return to the Rangers by Friday, so his shoulder-related disabled list stint doesn’t appear to be too severe. Rivera’s annual two-blown save week came a little early this year, but he’s still as great as ever. Marmol’s strikeout has dropped almost five full whiffs per nine innings from 2010, but he’s still striking out more than eleven dudes per nine. He’s ridiculous.

Kimbrel jumps into this tier because he’s the clear closer in Atlanta now and his strikeout numbers are through the roof (despite a recent whiff slump). Papelbon looks to be back to his old (sub-2.00 FIP) self, and Bobby Jenks‘ awfulness makes him that much safer in the ninth inning.

Tier Three
Huston Street
Joel Hanrahan

Chris Perez
Francisco Rodriguez
Jordan Walden

Lots of risers in this tier. Hanrahan came out of the gate on fire and has settled in nicely, and I expect his 7.31 K/9 to get back over one per inning in time. Street is still an injury risk, especially after such a heavy early season workload, but playing for a team with one of the best records in the game has its benefits. That last part is surprisingly true for Perez as well, though like Hanrahan I expect his 6.23 K/9 to climb upwards during the summer. K-Rod is K-Rod, and his control problems have settled down after an early season walk fest.

Walden usurped Fernando Rodney in no time, and is a perfect 5-for-5 in save opportunities. Those chances haven’t come as often as the Angels would like, but he’s striking out close to a batter per inning and is keeping men off base (thanks to a .171 BABIP).

Tier Four
Leo Nunez
Jon Rauch
Kyle Farnsworth
John Axford
Brian Fuentes
Jose Valverde
J.J. Putz
Drew Storen

Blue Jays manager John Farrell insists that Rauch and Frank Francisco are co-closers, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Axford drops one tier because of his sketchy performance, which already includes two blown saves and a lot of walks. His job is secure though, especially with Takashi Saito on the shelf for the foreseeable future. Fuentes’ job is safe for the time being as well, ditto Valverde and Putz. Storen has grabbed hold of the ninth inning job from Sean Burnett and run with it; he’s 6-for-6 in save chances. The helium is strong with this one.

Tier Five
Andrew Bailey
Francisco Cordero
Brandon League
Jose Contreras
Matt Capps
Kevin Gregg
Jonathan Broxton
Sergio Santos
David Aardsma
Chris Sale
Ryan Madson
Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas
Vicente Padilla
Matt Thornton
Brad Lidge

Bailey will face live hitters for the first time today, but his return as been delayed on a few occasions already. I expect him to assume the closer’s role once he’s activated off the disabled list, but who knows when that will be. Fuentes is safe for now. Broxton is an absolute mess and probably won’t be closing much longer, which is why Padilla jumped into the rankings. Hong-Chih Kuo‘s injury and early season awfulness help Padilla’s stock as well.

Madson is temporarily filling in for Contreras, who was temporarily filling in for Lidge. Lidge’s injury was significant but he’ll start throwing soon, and I expect him to resume ninth inning duties once healthy based just on loyalty and reputation and all that. Contreras had done well in his absence, but he’s on the shelf for the time being as well. Madson is nice little grab for cheap saves over the next week or two, but I figure he’ll hands the reigns back to Contreras when the time comes. While on the injury subject, might as well mention that it’s looking more and more likely that League will remain the closer even after Aardsma comes off the disabled list. Call it an old fashioned Wally Pipping.

Does anyone know what’s going on in St. Louis? Boggs was the closer for a while but then Salas got a few save opportunities, and now it seems Sanchez is the flavor of the week. I lumped those three together, but I’d rank them Sanchez > Salas > Boggs in terms of save chances right now. That, of course, is subject to chance by the day. Tony LaRussa hates fantasy baseball, what can I say. The White Sox situation is cloudy as well, but Santos has gotten the last three save chances. His teammates don’t give him too many of those though.

Cover Your Eyes
Brandon Lyon
Joe Nathan
Ryan Franklin

This is pretty much self explanatory. It’s a shame to see how far Nathan has fallen, but it’s not completely unsurprising for the other two. Lyon will still give you some saves, but your other stats are going to suffer. Just avoid the other two at all costs, don’t fall victim to nostalgia and hold onto Nathan thinking he’ll turn it around at some point. He might, but he’s just a closer, it’s not worth the wait.