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Closer Rankings: Look at paces, but don't go crazy

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Some teams don't have a lot of saves so far. Others have record-pace numbers. Does it mean much?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's fun to play around with pace early in the season. A dude homers a couple times on opening day, and you can bet there will be dozens of "He's on pace for 324 homers!" tweets within a few minutes.

The problems in that are obvious. No, Davey LaBadBallplayer isn't going to hit 324 homers. On the other hand, we know that, and that's why it's funny. The problem comes in when we don't really know when "pace" is a real thing. A couple weeks ago, the Nationals were on pace for 57 wins. Today that's 91. I still think they'll win 100-plus, pace or no.

The same holds true for players. A hot player can stay hot for two months before it all vanishes — remember Bryan LaHair? A cold player can stay cold for weeks, month, half a season, and that throws the idea of "pace" way off. Sure, all we're saying with pace is that it's the most likely mathematical outcome, but it can throw things off.

So when I discuss paces and the like in the next few paragraphs, know that things aren't in any way guaranteed to continue. Some paces will fall off; others will pick up. A lot of this is just ... interesting.

The total number of saves in a season has held reasonably steady the last few years. There were 1,263 last year, 1,266 in 2013, 1,261 in 2012. There are slightly fewer in 2011 (1,243) and 2010 (1,204), but games have ended with a save in right around half of games for the last five years:

Year Saves Games Saves/Game
2010 1,204 2,430 0.495
2011 1,243 2,429 0.512
2012 1,261 2,430 0.519
2013 1,266 2,431 0.521
2014 1,263 2,430 0.520
2015 297 (on pace for 1,317)
548 0.542

You probably noticed there that I included this year as well, and this year, the pace is slightly higher. If (if) this pace holds, we'll see more than 1,300 saves this year, 50-60 more than in any of the last five years. That's about two more per team.

The thing is, though, that the saves aren't breaking down well by team. Again, there's that pace caveat, but the fewest saves by a team in a full season over the last five years was 24, by last year's Rockies. Only four teams (those Rockies, the 2012 Blue Jays and Cubs and the 2011 Astros) have put up fewer than 30 in a season in the last five years.

Well, through a month and a half of 2015, a solid six teams came into Sunday on pace for fewer than 30 saves. All six teams have complicated closer situations — the Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Marlins have all changed closers; the Rangers and Indians have to be considering it; and the A's are still waiting for their closer to come back — but it's crazy that, for example, Arizona has two saves on the season so far, and are on pace for 9.3 over the full season.

(Of course, the most saves any team has had in the last five years is Arizona's 58 in 2011, and six teams are on pace for more than that, so, like I said, grain of salt.)

In every season, there are complicated closer situations — remember the masterful tenures of Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka with last year's White Sox? — and this year is largely the same. There are 10 or so teams whose closers you get excited about owning. There are another 10 or so who will help you, do you well, even if they might cause you stress and/or mess with your WHIP. But beyond that, you run into a few teams, a few closers who looks marginally attractive because, hey, having the closer role is all that matters, right?

If you have no other choice in the matter, then yeah, Cody Allen or Neftali Feliz or Tyler Clippard is (probably) better than no closer at all. But man, is it better to have one of the top 10. Or even the next group.

Interestingly, I started looking at saves paces for the season because I knew the A's, Marlins and Diamondbacks were all sitting with seriously low saves numbers, and I assumed 2015 was way behind pace on saves. It didn't click with me that the numbers put up so far by Andrew Miller, Glen Perkins, Jeurys Familia and others are crazy high on the other side of the ledger, but they are.

My main takeaway here? A lot is going to change. The Cardinals and Rays aren't going to set new saves records; the Diamondbacks are definitely going to save double-digit games. It's why Familia doesn't rank as high in my rankings as his saves totals might indicate, and why I still think the A's will end up with plenty of saves by season's end.

Which brings me to this week's Closer Rankings:

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Andrew Miller NYY 2 Yep, that's a change at the top. Miller has been incredible, and he's earned the No. 1 until further notice.
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1 Chapman had, for him, a rough week last week -- six strikeouts in four innings, one run allowed, six baserunners.
3 David Robertson CWS 3
4 Craig Kimbrel SDP 5 After no runs allowed in his first six outings, Kimbrel has allowed runs in six of his last 10. This is definitely not vintage Craig Kimbrel.
5 Joakim Soria DET 6
6 Drew Storen WAS 7 There was like a day of worry about Storen the first week or two, but as of now he has a 1.17 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.
7 Greg Holland KCR 4 He's still excellent, but only six strikeouts through 10 innings isn't as good as you'd like.
8 Kenley Jansen LAD 19 Jansen looks none the worse for wear. Four strikeouts in one inning (!) on 14 pitches in his first outing; no baserunners through two now.
9 Huston Street LAA 9
10 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 8
11 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 13 The mix from here to No. 15 is largely random. I used number of games in the next week as a tiebreaker, but Papelbon through Perkins is "do what you want."
12 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 14
13 Zach Britton BAL 12
14 Koji Uehara BOS 10
15 Glen Perkins MIN 11
16 Brad Boxberger TAM 15 Jake McGee is back now, and there are other question marks, but I'm sticking with faith in Boxberger until I get told otherwise.
17 Luke Gregerson HOU NR He's appeared in 17 games this year, and the Astros have won all 17.
18 Mark Melancon PIT 17 His numbers have really settled down since that rough start. Still not great, but acceptable.
19 Santiago Casilla SFG 21 Check out his appearance Sunday: one inning, three batters faced, three strikeouts, nine pitches.
20 Jeurys Familia NYM 16
21 Hector Rondon CHC 18
22 John Axford COL NR The Rockies play eight games next week, all at home. There are six teams that only play five times. Going quantity-over-quality here.
23 A.J. Ramos MIA NR Ramos isn't as good as he's been, and Steve Cishek isn't as bad. But as long as Ramos has success, it'll likely be him.
24 Fernando Rodney SEA 22
25 Dellin Betances NYY 28
26 Wade Davis KCR 27
27 Brett Cecil TOR 20
28 Jason Grilli ATL NR He's started to look like he's fading the last week or two; be on the lookout for Jim Johnson.
29 Brad Ziegler ARI NR Ziegler is good, but lacks the traditional closer profile, meaning his leash will be shorter than you'd like.
30 Tyler Clippard OAK 23 He hasn't looked good, and the save chances haven't been there.

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week
1 Andrew Miller NYY 2
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 1
3 Craig Kimbrel SDP 3
4 David Robertson CWS 4
5 Greg Holland KCR 5
6 Drew Storen WAS 7
7 Kenley Jansen LAD 8
8 Joakim Soria DET 6
9 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 10
10 Huston Street LAA 9
11 Glen Perkins MIN 11
12 Koji Uehara BOS 12
13 Zach Britton BAL 13
14 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 15
15 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 14
16 Brad Boxberger TBR 18
17 Luke Gregerson HOU 25
18 Mark Melancon PIT 17
19 Jeurys Familia NYM 19
20 Santiago Casilla SFG 23
21 Hector Rondon CHC 20
22 Sean Doolittle OAK 16
23 Fernando Rodney SEA 21
24 Brett Cecil TOR 22
25 Dellin Betances NYY 28
26 Wade Davis KCR 26
27 Jason Grilli ATL 24
28 John Axford COL NR
29 Brad Ziegler ARI NR
30 A.J. Ramos MIA NR