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Closer Rankings: Some random musings

A few things I was thinking about while sorting through the closers.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about any baseball players over a tiny sample can be frustrating. Talking about closers, though, might be the worst.

A week ago, David Robertson was sitting on an ERA of 0.98, looking all but untouchable. Today, he's at 2.49, thanks to four runs over 3.1 innings in the last week. Fancy little statistical interestingnesses can vanish in a real hurry with closers, where the denominator on any rate stat stays crazy small.

In the end, that means that a lot of my pieces about closers end up being "here's some stuff I noticed." Some of it means something. Some of it will disappear next week when, I don't know, Jeurys Familia gives up seven runs in 1.2 innings.

But this week, I'm just offering some interesting statistical nuggets I've noticed about closers (and/or general relievers, but we're sticking with mainly closers because it's cleaner) with some quick hits. All these stats are through Saturday's games:

Success stories

With a minimum of five saves (chosen because no closer had exactly five saves through Saturday; it was all four or fewer or six or more), the only closers who have zeroes for blown saves and losses are Jonathan Papelbon, John Axford, Wade Davis and Shawn Tolleson. Papelbon is the only one who has been a closer all year, and the only one of that group in double digits in saves.

Strikeouts on strike

Get a stat list down to just closers, and the K/9 category starts to really stand out. It's hardly notable if a closer strikes out more than 10 batters per nine innings; a guy at less than 7.0 is pretty shocking. The only guys with more than five saves (28 pitchers total) who are below 7.0 are Axford (again) at 6.43, and Mark Melancon at 4.70. A year after 71 strikeouts in 71 innings, Melancon's lowered velocity has him striking out nobody.

Wins that don't make sense

Remember Jean Machi last year? He randomly won seven games for no real reason on the Giants. I mean, he had a good year — 2.58 ERA, 0.95 WHIP — but seven wins for any reliever is crazy. Well, the Giants are at it again. Two pure relievers have won four or more games this year — Joaquin Benoit with San Diego and another Giant, Santiago Casilla. Yeah, Casilla's numbers took a hit Sunday evening, and I don't really think the fact that he's finding wins means anything, but it is interesting.

Rays relievers

When Jake McGee came back, the Rays were all about the idea that they'd use Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee situationally; with one righty and one lefty, they could give the save chance to whichever guy made the most sense. And maybe they'll go that way eventually, but McGee has been back for two weeks now, and hasn't gotten a save chance yet (his blown save came in an eighth-inning appearance). Boxberger, in the same time span, has gotten five.

Do as I say, not as I do

In the preseason, the Twins and Glen Perkins made a show of saying that they'd use him in the highest leverage spots, not just in ninth-inning save chances. Ultimately, though, that hasn't really happened. Perkins has two saves of more than three outs, but has pitched before the ninth inning only four times; those two saves, his first appearance of the year in a get-him-work outing, and one other game where he came on to stop the bleeding. It's nice to hear the Twins say they'll be more pragmatic in their closer usage; it would be nicer of them to actually do it.

Small margins

There are 19 closers with 10-plus saves. In terms of innings pitched, they range from 15.1 for Koji Uehara up to up to 23.1 for Trevor Rosenthal and Jeurys Familia. In other words, tiny, tiny windows. Uehara's outing Sunday (not counted in those 15.1 innings) included two runs allowed, though both were unearned — still, like I said above, with denominators that small, Uehara could go from "good season" to "awful season" long before he could catch up to Rosenthal and Familia in innings. (Not that I'm predicting that; just pointing out some denominators.)

That's it for this week. I'll revisit some quick hits again later in the season. It's good for, you know, a lazy topic idea when I don't know what to write about. But that out of the way, it's time for the rankings. (I almost didn't even both with two separate rankings this week; the two lists are going to be very similar. But tradition is tradition.)

Right-Now Rankings

Rank Player Team Last Week Thoughts
1 Andrew Miller NYY 2
2 Aroldis Chapman CIN 3 His 10 walks in May are his most in a calendar month since April 2011.
3 Drew Storen WAS 5 He allowed two runs and 10 baserunners in his first seven innings; he has allowed no runs and seven baserunners in 14.1 innings since.
4 Craig Kimbrel SDP 4 Well, at least he's been consistently subpar; he had a 5.19 April ERA and a 4.35 one in May.
5 David Robertson CWS 1
6 Kenley Jansen LAD 7 They certainly aren't trying to push Jansen; he hasn't pitched in a week. But he looks strong when he's out there.
7 Joakim Soria DET 6
8 Trevor Rosenthal SLC 9
9 Huston Street LAA 8 He blew back-to-back saves May 6 and 7, then allowed only three baserunners the rest of the month.
10 Zach Britton BAL 10
11 Glen Perkins MIN 12 Most saves in baseball. Who saw that coming?
12 Koji Uehara BOS 11
13 Jonathan Papelbon PHI 15 His contract gets all the attention, but he's only had an ERA over 3.00 once in his career, and that was 2010. He's as trusty as they come.
14 Francisco Rodriguez MIL 16
15 Greg Holland KCR 13 Quietly, because the team has been good, Holland has offered a lot of signs for worry this year. The strikeouts are down; the walks are way up. The 2.38 ERA comes with a 4.77 FIP.
16 Jeurys Familia NYM 19
17 Luke Gregerson HOU 18 A 1.64 April ERA has fallen to a 5.91 in May. It hasn't turned into blown saves, but that's not encouraging.
18 Mark Melancon PIT 17
19 Wade Davis KCR 14 Holland's leash is fairly long, but if he falters, Davis is maybe the best closer-in-waiting out there.
20 Shawn Tolleson TEX 30 He got his first save chance May 20. Since, he's thrown six innings, allowed three baserunners, struck out six and gotten six saves. Pretty good.
21 Cody Allen CLE 27 Had a really solid week: four innings, three hits, five strikeouts, no runs.
22 Brett Cecil TOR 21
23 Hector Rondon CHC 23
24 Brad Boxberger TAM 26 Despite what I mentioned earlier, I do think Jake McGee will see save chances eventually. Still, Boxberger has looked far more good than bad.
25 Santiago Casilla SFG 20
26 Dellin Betances NYY 22 Whereas Davis' 0.00 ERA is accompanied by no unearned runs, Betances has been touched for three unearned.
27 A.J. Ramos MIA 25 His ERA was 1.06 when he became the closer three weeks ago. It's risen since then ... to 1.07.
28 Fernando Rodney SEA 24 May: 11 innings, 15 hits, five walks, eight strikeouts, 10 earned runs. Yeesh.
29 John Axford COL 29 If time starting April 1, Axford would be much higher. But he's shown a lot different before this.
30 Tyler Clippard OAK NR The ongoing injury issues of Sean Doolittle mean Clippard's look gets even longer, for better or worse.

Rest-Of-Season Rankings

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