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2011 Closer Rankings: June

It’s time to update our closer rankings as the calendar flips to June. Here are the preseason and May rankings for reference, and here’s the saves leaderboard as well. Obviously those saves are the most important thing here, but the best closers give you more than that, boosting your strikeout total while pulling your ERA and WHIP down. A number of high-end ninth inning guys lose their jobs this month or are now dangerously close to losing it, so there’s been some movement up top.

Tier One
Heath Bell
Brian Wilson
Jonathan Papelbon

The two NL West guys remain the cream of the fantasy crop, and Papelbon joins them in the top tier thanks to absurd peripherals in line with what he posted from 2006 through 2008. Plus being a really, really good team helps.

Tier Two
Craig Kimbrel
Carlos Marmol
Mariano Rivera
Leo Nunez
Ryan Madson

No movement for Kimbrel, Marmol and Mo, but it’s time to give Nunez his due. Aside from a slight hiccup last week, he’s been money in the bank for the Fish, with a sky high strikeout rate to match his league leading saves total. The Madson ranking might be a little aggressive considering that he hasn’t had the job all that long, but he’s been an elite reliever for several years and I’m comfortable expecting him to continue to pitch that way.

Tier Three
J.J. Putz
Huston Street
Joel Hanrahan
Francisco Rodriguez
Drew Storen
Jordan Walden
John Axford
Chris Perez
Jose Valverde
Francisco Cordero
Andrew Bailey

The Diamondbacks are winning and Putz is piling up the saves, but his lack of an elite strikeout rate limits his value a bit. Same for Hanrahan. Street has turned into a homerun factory (almost 2.5 for every 9 IP) but for all intents and purposes has gotten the job done. K-Rod remains both a strong option and a WHIP killer, and I dropped Perez within the tier because a ~1.00 K/BB ratio is as scary as it gets.

Storen has taken hold of the Nationals’ closer job and run with it, offering gaudy peripherals but also a lack of track record. Same deal with Walden, who’s a little less kind on the WHIP. Axford has settled down and pitched very well following some early season struggles, and both Valverde and Cordero are pretty much the same guys they’ve always been. Effective, but flawed. Bailey came off the disabled list over the weekend and threw a scoreless seventh inning a close game in his first appearance of the year. That was more of an “ease him back into it” thing than a “he lost the closer’s job” thing. He’ll see the save opportunities very soon, though this ranking is obviously based on track record and not actual performance right now.

Tier Four
Neftali Feliz
Sergio Santos
Fernando Salas
Kyle Farnsworth
Brandon League
Brian Fuentes
Matt Capps
Mark Melancon
Aaron Crow
Frank Francisco
Kevin Gregg
Brad Lidge

There’s something very, very wrong with Feliz, but yet he’s still holding onto the job. I can’t imagine he will much longer at this pace, but there’s always a chance he turns things around. Farnsworth isn’t striking out as many as he used to, Capps is on a terrible team, and Gregg is just terrible (he sports the dreaded sub-1.00 K/BB ratio) but still getting save chances. Fuentes is on the way day because Bailey figures to take his job very soon, and Frankie Frank has been anything but reliable lately. Lidge is here based on reputation and because I still suspect that he’ll get his old job back once he returns from the disabled list. Fair or not, sometimes money (he’s making $11.5M this year) talks.

The risers are far more interesting here. Santos emerged from the wreckage of the ChiSox bullpen to earn the ninth inning role and has been very good so far, but you’re going to have to live with all the walks. Salas seems to have finally solved the Cardinals ninth inning woes, but one or two blowups and he could be on the way out. The position has been that volatile in St. Louis and we have no reason to expect otherwise going forward. Melancon replaced the brutally ineffective Brandon Lyon but isn’t a huge help in the non-save categories. Crow has been fantastic in setup work, but he just got the job two days ago.

No Longer Closing (for various reasons)
Jon Rauch
Joakim Soria
David Aardsma
Jonathan Broxton
Brandon Lyon
Ryan Franklin
Jose Contreras
Eduardo Sanchez
Mitchell Boggs

I wouldn’t give up on Soria just yet, but man is it ugly right now. Keep him glued to the bench until he shows signs of turning it around. Broxton is the only Dodger in this post because I don’t think anyone knows who is closing there anymore. Is it Javy Guerra? Rubby De La Rosa? Matt Guerrier? Your guess is as good as mine with Broxton, Vicente Padilla, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Kenley Jansen on the disabled list. That really is the bullpen of the doom right now.