Closer Rankings: Managers are morons

Kevin C. Cox

Like, maybe that headline was too harsh, but damnit, be better at your jobs, guys. This is ridiculous.

Things in the "managers don't know crap about closer usage" camp came to a head this weekend. It always happens. Closers don't pitch in non-save situations. Home-team guys can in extras, because their team can't offer a save situation. But road closers? No chance. Better to use the guy in a 4-1 game to start the ninth than in a 1-1 game with two outs and the bases loaded.

Now, if it were just some pitcher, okay, I guess you could pose an argument. But teams use their best reliever as their closer, then deploy them in the most ass-backward ways they could imagine.

And then this weekend happened. It didn't get big play. But when teams don't give their "closers," their best relievers, sufficient opportunity, they decide to get them work. Never mind that there might have been better, more important opportunities to use those guys before, no, it's been enough time, and the guy is pitching, no matter what.

  • The Braves used Craig Kimbrel three times in a five-day period - including a blown save - May 6-10. He got the day off May 11, with David Carpenter getting the save. Then they lost three of four (by three or fewer twice), and won the other 5-0. Kimbrel pitched the ninth inning of a 4-1 loss Saturday.
  • Koji Uehara pitched May 7, and got the save May 11. After that, the Red Sox lost three of four - with their lone win coming by five. Included in those losses was a 4-3 10-inning loss to the Twins on Thursday, which featured Andrew Miller pitching the ninth and getting the loss without Uehara seeing the field. So he pitched the ninth of a 6-1 loss Saturday.
  • Jonathan Papelbon pitched May 9 and 10, then apparently said he wasn't available for May 11. The Phillies lost four straight, all by three or fewer runs, all without Papelbon pitching. So he threw the ninth inning of a 12-1 win Saturday.
  • Addison Reed blew the save Monday. The team got a complete game from Bronson Arroyo Tuesday, then lost Wednesday and Friday, so Reed pitched the ninth inning of Saturday's 18-7 win.
  • The Rangers have been pretty terrible lately (sad face), so Joakim Soria hasn't gotten a save opportunity since May 2. He did pitch the ninth inning of the team's 5-0 and 4-0 wins May 8 and 12, but didn't see the field again all week, which featured a one-run and two two-run losses. The one-run loss was a walkoff to the Astros, in which Nick Martinez got the ninth-inning loss. That all led to this Sunday morning:

You get that? No matter what happened in Sunday's game - winning 15-0, losing 15-0, up 3-2, tied - Joakim Soria was going to pitch Sunday, and he was going to pitch in part because he hadn't seen the field in a game the Rangers lost because they used a subpar pitcher. That the score was relatively close when Soria pitched - 6-2 - is irrelevant.

It goes on. Matt Lindstrom got used in a pointless situation Sunday because he hadn't pitched in a while. Fernando Rodney. Ernesto Frieri. It got crazy.

I guess this is more real-baseball than fantasy analysis. But when guys flat refuse to use a good reliever in a 3-3 road game because there is some chance that, later in the game, they might have a 4-3 lead and need him then, that's ludicrous. Why save a guy for a situation that might never arise when the guy you use instead of him could ruin it for you?

I could only find three examples of team's primary closers being used in ... I don't know, creative situations. Road games, close games. Basically, crucial situations where "conventional thinking" would say not to use the closer. LaTroy Hawkins pitched the eighth inning Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to the Rockies. Kenley Jansen entered with the score 7-4 and two outs in the ninth on March 23, after three runs had already scored in the inning, in a "just stop the bleeding now" situation. And then there was that Greg Holland game on Opening Day, when he came in to a tie game with one out in the ninth and let the winning run score. And yes, as far as I could find, that was the only time all season in which a closer entered with a tie game on the road in the ninth. You know, the time his manager said he "really wanted to win that game."

I know I'm not the first to raise these questions. But until something changes, baseball - both real and fantasy - will be stuck. Guys bunting a runner second-to-third in the first inning. Guys intentionally walking for stupid reasons. Closers being saved for situations that never arise. I just ... you know what? I'll let Joe Sheehan finish this off:

With that, here are this week's closer rankings, both for the week to come (first) and the rest of the season:

Right-Now Rankings:

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Craig Kimbrel ATL 1 Still averaging more than two strikeouts an inning. Dude's great.
2 Greg Holland KCR 2 He's the best non-headline-making closer in the game, easily.
3 Aroldis Chapman CIN 5 Seven of the nine outs he's recorded have been by strikeout. He's still him.
4 Glen Perkins MIN 3 His ERA is a high-ish 3.54, but his FIP is only 1.31.
5 Koji Uehara BOS 4 His overall numbers are good, but his walk rate is climbing.
6 Kenley Jansen LAD 7 Maybe he's not super-elite, but he's still on the top end of closers.
7 Sergio Romo SFG 6 He's not striking out as many guys as normal; only 7.4 K/9 so far.
8 David Robertson NYY 9 Got two four-out saves in the last week; Girardi has loosened the leash a bit.
9 Joakim Soria TEX 8 He's not getting many saves, but that's on the team, not him.
10 Huston Street SDP 12 Basically flawless on the year; only run came on a Brandon Belt home run April 18.
11 Steve Cishek MIA 13 He still shocks me by his lack of any bad numbers in his career.
12 Joe Nathan DET 15 Early struggles appear to be behind him; he hasn't allowed a run in a month.
13 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 16 Kudos to him for telling his manager he was unavailable; the heck with Ryne Sandberg for fussing.
14 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 14 Finally had a blowup game Wednesday, but season numbers still look good.
15 Casey Janssen TOR 18 Only closer with a 0.00 ERA. Of course, that's in four games, but still.
16 Rafael Soriano WAS 17 18 games, 18 innings, 12 hits allowed.
17 Mark Melancon PIT 10 I think his blown save Thursday cinches Jason Grilli getting the gig back on his return.
18 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 11 ERA in April: 5.11. ERA in May: 5.40. Maybe he is this?
19 Chad Qualls HOU 28 Bo Porter announced he's definitely the closer, and he's been great.
20 Hector Rondon CHC 30 He's easily been the best Cubs' reliever. Not that that's a high bar to clear.
21 Cody Allen CLE 24 I think John Axford gets his job back. The question is when.
22 Addison Reed ARI 21 Hasn't had more than two scoreless outings in a row all year.
23 Grant Balfour TAM 20 I keep expecting he'll settle down, but his season ERA sits at 6.06.
24 Fernando Rodney SEA 23 When he took over for Hisashi Iwakuma after his great outing Tuesday, I was sure he'd blow it. That's ... not reassuring.
25 Matt Lindstrom CWS 25 His K:BB ratio is barely above 1. You'd rather it be, you know, better.
26 LaTroy Hawkins COL 26 Blew his first save of the season Sunday; still only six strikeouts.
27 Ernesto Frieri LAA 29 I don't think he's definitely back in his job yet, but he'll get more chances than Smith.
28 Jenrry Mejia NYM NR I'm still not sure how long he'll close, but he's started out doing okay.
29 Zach Britton BAL NR I think he'll get saves for now; long-term, I'm not sure.
30 Joe Smith LAA NR See Frieri. Both will get chances. Frieri will get more.

Rest-Of-Season Rankings:

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Craig Kimbrel ATL 1
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 2
3 Greg Holland KCR 3
4 Glen Perkins MIN 4
5 Koji Uehara BOS 5
6 Kenley Jansen LAD 6
7 Sergio Romo SFG 7
8 Huston Street SDP 11
9 David Robertson NYY 9
10 Joakim Soria TEX 8
11 Steve Cishek MIA 12
12 Joe Nathan DET 13
13 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 15
14 Casey Janssen TOR 17
15 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 16
16 Rafael Soriano WAS 14
17 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 10 If he continues struggling, could Carlos Martinez or even Jason Motte take over?
18 Grant Balfour TAM 19
19 Addison Reed ARI 20
20 Fernando Rodney SEA 22
21 Matt Lindstrom CWS 23
22 Chad Qualls HOU 27
23 LaTroy Hawkins COL 25
24 Ernesto Frieri LAA 26
25 Hector Rondon CHC 29
26 Jason Grilli PIT NR I still think Melancon is better, but Grilli will get every shot.
27 John Axford CLE 28 See Grilli. Allen is probably better, but Axford is "the guy."
28 Jim Johnson OAK 24 Eh. Who knows in Oakland.
29 Tommy Hunter BAL 21 Last four appearances as closer: 8 runs, 7 hits, 2.2 innings.
30 Jenrry Mejia NYM NR Pretty cool how I had Kyle Farnsworth here last week, right before he got released. Pretty dang cool.

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