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Closer Rankings: What do losses mean for closers?

Is a closer who accrues a lot of losses bad, or does he just time his struggles poorly?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The old saying goes that a pitcher would have to be pretty dang good to lose 20 games in a season. After all, if you suck and lose all the time, they aren't going to let you keep going.

Well, no closer is ever going to lose 20 games. But heck, you'd have to be at least decent to lose a lot of games from the bullpen, right?

Brad Boxberger has 32 saves on the season, with a 3.18 ERA. He also has nine losses, spaced out pretty evenly over the schedule. So he's got to be pretty good, right? If he was bad, they wouldn't let him lose all those games and stay as their closer, would they?

(The obvious counter is that it depends on who they would have to replace Boxberger. With Jaek McGee twice-DL'ed this year and Kevin Jepsen now in Minnesota, it's true that Tampa Bay isn't exactly flush with closer options. Two things: First, that would also apply to starters — a team with no viable starters might let even a terrible pitcher lose 20 if there's no one else — and second, teams can make decent relievers out of used gum and Legos, so replacing a bad closer shouldn't be that hard.)

I figured I'd check. How good are the closers who end up losing lots of games? Are reliever losses as fluky as they seem?

Boxberger is the only reliever this year with 20-plus saves and five-plus losses, so that's a small sample. Let's go back a few years:

Closers with 20+ saves and 5+ losses, last 10 years
Year Number Pitchers
2015 1 Brad Boxberger
2014 8 Steve Cishek, Jenrry Mejia, Mark Melancon, Addison Reed, David Robertson, Fernando Rodney, Trevor Rosenthal, Koji Uehara
2013 9 Aroldis Chapman, Steve Cishek, Kevin Gregg, Jim Henderson, Jim Johnson, Bobby Parnell, Sergio Romo, Huston Street, Jose Veras
2012 10 Alfredo Aceves, John Axford, Jonathan Broxton, Santiago Casilla, Aroldis Chapman, Tyler Clippard, Jason Motte, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papepbon, J.J. Putz
2011 7 Brandon League, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Perez, Fernando Salas, Sergio Santos, Joakim Soria, Jordan Walden
2010 7 David Aardsma, Jonathan Broxton, Francisco Cordero, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstom, Brandon Lyon, Jonathan Papelbon
2009 11 David Aardsma, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Brian Fuentes, Kevin Gregg, Brad Lidge, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, C.J. Wilson
2008 7 Brian Fuentes, Kevin Gregg, Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Lyon, Mariano Rivera, George Sherrill, Salomon Torres
2007 8 Joe Borowski, Ryan Dempster, Brian Fuentes, Kevin Gregg, Trevor Hoffman, Bobby Jenks, Brett Myers, David Weathers
2006 8 Francisco Cordero, Ryan Dempster, Jason Isringhausen, Todd Jones, Brad Lidge, Mariano Rivera, Derrick Turnbow, Bob Wickman

You would think, if there were bad pitchers getting saves and losing games, they wouldn't do it many years in a row. Like, "Oh, this guy keeps losing. Maybe literally anyone else should save games." But Brian Fuentes popped up there twice. Kevin Gregg, three times (and still had an MLB gig this year!). Ryan Dempster was there a couple times. Fernando Rodney showed up five years apart.

On the flip side, Mariano Rivera is on there a couple times. Aroldis Chapman too. Trevor Hoffman, Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Lidge all made appearances.

Remember my parenthetical up there, before the chart? About how closers grow on trees, so if teams have bad ones they should replace them? I stand by that. But the teams themselves don't, always. It's why retreads like Gregg, John Axford and Rafael Betancourt keep getting gigs. It's why Rodney could do what he did so many years apart (and still be a closer for a big chunk of this year). Guys who get saves keep getting saves. Some teams can shuffle through nine relievers and each one is great (*cough*Royals*cough*), but some look at the nine kids in the minors throwing 100 each, and say "Wait, do we still have LaTroy Hawkins' phone number?)

The other thing is that yeah, quite often, closer losses are random. No one's out here saying Mariano Rivera should have been replaced by a new flame-throwing kid because he lost a handful of games a couple times. Judging relievers by games they lost is as conclusive as, well, as judging starters by games they lost.

Brad Boxberger has been decent this year. Despite his nine losses, his 1.42 WHIP and his slide since the first half, he's saved 32 games, which leads the American League, and he's done that while striking out more than 11 per nine innings, with a 3.24 ERA and a 3.84 FIP. It's not a vintage Rivera season, but it's good enough.

Even if it weren't, though, that number 32 would be enough to have him saving games next year, and getting "hey, we need a closer" looks until something like 2018.

On to the Closer Rankings, which will be followed by What They're Talking About. Here goes:

Closer Rankings

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

What They're Talking About

  • On Kenley Jansen:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Current Cincinnati Reds are 0-for-37 with 1 walk and 16 strikeouts against Kenley Jansen. Small sample size, certainly, but, wow.</p>&mdash; Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) <a href="">August 27, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Trevor Rosenthal:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ridiculous that it&#39;s even necessary to have to defend Trevor Rosenthal&#39;s decision to take three days paternity leave <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) <a href="">August 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On David Robertson:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">With his save tonight, David Robertson in his career against Seattle: 20 innings, 33 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA. <a href="">#WhiteSoxTalk</a></p>&mdash; Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) <a href="">August 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Jeurys Familia:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">On mid-90s splitter-throwing Jeurys Familia, the &quot;nastiest pitcher in the world.&quot; <a href=""></a> <a href="">#Mets</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) <a href="">August 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Wade Davis/Greg Holland:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Not an easy choice - KC Royals: Greg Holland Or Wade Davis <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Joel Wagler (@jawsrecliner) <a href="">August 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Shawn Tolleson:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Texas has won 24 games since All-Star break. 21 have either been close or extra innings (won 11-3 in extras).&#10;&#10;Shawn Tolleson&#39;s gonna die.</p>&mdash; Daniel Kelley (@danieltkelley) <a href="">August 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Dellin Betances:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">13 stolen bases allowed by Dellin Betances this season. &#10;&#10;No other reliever in MLB has allowed more than 8 this season.</p>&mdash; Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) <a href="">August 8, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Tom Wilhelmsen:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">McClendon says Tom WIlhelmsen remains his closer for now,  &quot;as we speak.&quot; Wilhelmsen has pitched well in first 2 save opps.</p>&mdash; Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) <a href="">August 26, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Jean Machi:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Junichi Tazawa bumped back to 8th inning. Jean Machi will close for <a href="">#RedSox</a>. They feel Tazawa is more comfortable setting up.</p>&mdash; Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) <a href="">August 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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  • On Bruce Rondon:
    <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bruce Rondon this season&#10;First ten appearances: 10.57 ERA &#10;Next 11 appearances: 1.80 ERA &#10;Last five appearances: 11.56 ERA&#10;<a href="">#GettingBetter</a></p>&mdash; Chris Ca-STAT-llani (@Castellani2014) <a href="">August 30, 2015</a></blockquote>
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