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Closer Rankings: We should be considering the setup guys

There are a lot of good, successful closers right now. More than ever. Which makes the fantasy position much less complicated, and that's no fun.

David Banks

I'm writing this at 8:07 p.m. Sunday, so if Craig Kimbrel and/or Rafael Soriano blow up in the Sunday night game and changes what I'm writing below this, that will be awfully mean of them and I will note it in their permanent records.

Anyway, there are so many good relievers right now. I made the comparison in its own right a while back when I talked about All-Stars, but today I'm making it in relation to recent history.

The chart below lists the number of relievers each year since 2000 who (a) finished in the top 30 in saves in a given year (theoretically one per team, or close enough as makes no difference), and (b) had a WHIP of less than 1.00.

Year Number Best WHIP Names
2000 1 0.85 Robb Nen
2001 5 0.89 Keith Foulke, Troy Percival, Mariano Rivera, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Jeff Zimmerman
2002 3 0.86 Eric Gagne, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Wagner
2003 5 0.69 Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Eddie Guardado, John Smoltz, Billy Wagner
2004 9 0.77 Armando Benitez, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Eddie Guardado, Trevor Hoffman, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Shingo Takatsu, Billy Wagner
2005 4 0.84 Chad Cordero, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner
2006 7 0.78 Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Mariano Rivera, B.J. Ryan, Takashi Saito
2007 5 0.70 Bobby Jenks, Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Takashi Saito, Joakim Soria
2008 6 0.67 Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Joakim Soria, Billy Wagner
2009 6 0.88 Andrew Bailey, Jonathan Broxton, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Huston Street
2010 5 0.80 Andrew Bailey, Neftali Feliz, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Billy Wagner
2011 5 0.90 Kyle Farnworth, Jonathan Papelbon, J.J. Putz, Mariano Rivera, Fernando Salas
2012 9 0.65 Grant Balfour, Aroldis Chapman, Ernesto Frieri, Kenley Jansen, Casey Janssen, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Motte, Fernando Rodney, Huston Street
2013 7 0.57 Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, Casey Janssen, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Koji Uehara
2014 14 0.64 Cody Allen, Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Sean Doolittle, Greg Holland, Craig Kimbrel, Jake McGee, Mark Melancon, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Smith, Rafael Soriano, Huston Street, Koji Uehara

Now, for my thoughts:

  • Shingo Takatsu?
  • Koji Uehara's 0.57 last season is other-worldly, and he didn't even start the year as the closer.
  • A lot of repeat names there. Mariano Rivera appeared seven times. Billy Wagner and Joe Nathan were there six each. Jonathan Papelbon made it five times, including this year.
  • No, really, Shingo Takatsu?

Now, to the current season. For the 14 seasons before this one, baseball has averaged five and a half such closers a season, and didn't have more than nine in any given year. (And yes, that's Takatsu up at the top of the page.)

To be fair, some of the guys could fall off the list between now and the end of the season. Greg Holland and Cody Allen are both sitting at 0.99, with six total guys between 0.90 and 0.99. A bad stretch could bring the numbers down, and with only David Robertson between 1.00 and 1.09, there aren't many names that could go the other direction.

Still, it seems really likely we'll be setting a 21st-century high this season. That's in line with a lot of other pitching stories - Collin McHugh, Scott Kazmir, Alfredo Simon - in that things are just different right now. But it also relates back to fantasy, and some changes I've pushed for in recent years.

In fantasy football, I have pushed in recent years for my own leagues to move to two-quarterback setups. I don't know how viable it is long-term, but the quarterback position in the league right now is just crazy deep. There are something like 15 quarterbacks who could be a fantasy team's starter without worry. So in 10-, 12-team leagues, by and large you're just drafting a quarterback and ignoring the position until bye week. There's no thought to quarterback in such a setup. If you have Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, you're just playing a league with RB/WR/TE and ignoring a whole position.

The same is the case right now in fantasy baseball. There are a lot of fine-in-fantasy closers. My 21st-ranked closer right now, Fernando Rodney, has a 2.40 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.

That's why I push for any league, every league to go to Saves+Holds as a category, and in many cases add another RP or two to the starting lineup. It's easy to say "Oh, Zach Britton took over for Tommy Hunter, better add him." It's more difficult - and much more interesting - to decide between Luke Gregerson and Darren O'Day, between Will Smith and Wade Davis.

It makes fantasy more interesting. The other day, I packaged Anibal Sanchez, Greg Holland, and Glen Perkins in order to get Yu Darvish, who (a) is my favorite little guy, (b) is on my favorite team, (c) is good, and (d) most importantly, is a keeper. If my league was Saves only, I couldn't have done it, but because we use Saves+Holds, I could fill the vacated Holland and Perkins roles with Will Smith and Darren O'Day, and that works perfectly for me.

You don't need your fantasy game to be calculus class. But you don't want it to be fourth-grade arithmetic, either. Don't have a roster spot you can set and forget. Mix it up a bit. Complicate things.

Anyway, this is the week's closer rankings. As always, the first chart is the Right-Now rankings, and the second is the Rest-Of-Season rankings. I've included my thoughts on the first group.


Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1 Um ... (checks Baseball-Reference) ... yup, still striking everyone out.
2 Craig Kimbrel ATL 3 My worries last week were founded -- they didn't pitch him for six days between Saturday and Friday, and he rebounded with two perfect innings in two days.
3 Sean Doolittle OAK 7 He walked one and gave up four runs in 0.1 IP June 30; outside of that game he has three walks and a 1.75 ERA on the season.
4 Greg Holland KAN 2 He's a mini-Chapman, with at least one strikeout in 27 of his last 28 outings.
5 Koji Uehara BOS 4 Hasn't allowed a run in a month.
6 David Robertson NYY 5

Mariano Rivera never struck out more than 10.9 per nine innings. Robertson right now is at 14.3.

7 Kenley Jansen LAD 9 One run, 26 strikeouts in 18.1 innings since mid-June.
8 Huston Street LAA 8 Four runs allowed as a Padre; no runs allowed as an Angel.
9 Glen Perkins MIN 6 He's cut his walk rate way down this season -- it's below 2.0 for the first time in his career.
10 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 10 His 1.64 ERA is complemented by a 2.57 FIP and a 3.78 xFIP, so all is not perfect in Papelbon-land.
11 Mark Melancon PIT 11 Any worries that Ernesto Frieri might steal his job have gone unfounded -- he has a 10.13 ERA as a Pirate.
12 Zach Britton BAL 12 Even with three runs allowed Sunday, his ERA is only at 1.99.
13 Rafael Soriano WAS 16 He hasn't spent a day with his ERA above 2.00 all season.
14 Joaquin Benoit SDP 14 With Joakim Soria ont he DL, I could still see the Tigers adding him.
15 Cody Allen CLE 15 The run he allowed Sunday was his first given up since June 21.
16 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 17 His results have been better, but he's still allowing way too many baserunners.
17 Santiago Casilla SFG 21 Since getting the closer job at the start of July, he's given up only two runsi n 10.1 innings.
18 Steve Cishek MIA 13 After a great start to the season, his ERA is at 6.62 since late June.
19 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 22 Just when I think I have him pegged, he switches it up. I thought he was falling off, but now he's had 0 ER, 2 H in his last 4.2 innings and six outings.
20 Jake McGee TAM 19 The Rays have given a couple other guys save chances, but McGee still seems to be the main guy.
21 Casey Janssen TOR 18 I give LaTroy Hawkins a hard time for not striking anyone out, but Janssen has only 17 in 31.1 innings himself.
22 LaTroy Hawkins COL 26 Three strikeouts in one inning Sunday. Considering he had 20 in 39 innings before that, that's one of the most surprising moments of the season.
23 Joe Nathan DET 23 He was looking better, but in three straight games Friday-Saturday-Sunday, he gave up nine baserunners in 2.1 innings.
24 Fernando Rodney SEA 20 August: 4 R (3 ER) in 5 innings. Ten baserunners in that time.
25 Neftali Feliz TEX 27 He's looked okay since his return, but he isn't really striking anyone out (7 in 16 innings).
26 Addison Reed ARI 25 Since late May, he's only had one day with an ERA outside of the 3.77-4.30 range. He's consistently sub-mediocre.
27 Hector Rondon CHC 24 I still think Pedro Strop is a better pitcher and a better closer option.
28 Chad Qualls HOU 29 Had a 1.78 ERA on July 23. Since, 8 ER in 4.2 IP.
29 Jake Petricka CWS NR He hasn't given the White Sox a great reason to go away from him. (Yet?)
30 Jenrry Mejia NYM 28 Has allowed multiple hits in six straight outings. Might Jeurys Familia get the job?


Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
2 Craig Kimbrel ATL 2
3 Greg Holland KAN 3
4 Sean Doolittle OAK 5
5 David Robertson NYY 4
6 Huston Street LAA 7
7 Koji Uehara BOS 6
8 Kenley Jansen LAD 9
9 Glen Perkins MIN 8
10 Mark Melancon PIT 10
11 Zach Britton BAL 11
12 Rafael Soriano WAS 14
13 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 15
14 Cody Allen CLE 16
15 Casey Janssen TOR 17
16 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 13
17 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 20
18 Steve Cishek MIA 12
19 Jake McGee TAM 22
20 Santiago Casilla SFG 21
21 Fernando Rodney SEA 18
22 Joe Nathan DET 19
23 LaTroy Hawkins COL 26
24 Addison Reed ARI 25
25 Joaquin Benoit SDP 23
26 Neftali Feliz TEX 29
27 Chad Qualls HOU 28
28 Hector Rondon CHC 24
29 Jake Petricka CWS 30
30 Jenrry Mejia NYM 27