Closer Rankings: Nos. 1-10

March 13, 2014

10. Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates — Had a great 2013, but he’s older than you might think, with lingering health concerns. Still the top option for a team good enough to win a lot, but not good enough to win by a lot.

9. David Robertson, New York Yankees — As the post-Mo era begins in the Bronx, we think Robertson will exhibit the talent to be a top-tier closer option, especially if he can improve his efficiency.

8. Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins — The team was lousy, but it wasn’t his fault. The Twins should almost certainly improve, and Perkins’s job security is excellent.

7. Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers — The 39-year-old was fantastic last year, and he’ll close for a better team in 2014.

6. Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox — Uehara has been very good ever since he entered the league in 2009, but his performance in 2013 was nothing short of shocking. He should have more save opportunities this year, and he remains an elite option, to be sure — but keep in mind that he turns 39 this April, and that he started in Japan for eight years, averaging 175 innings a year.

5. Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals — We’re high on Rosenthal based on his electric work in set-up, but we can’t help but be a little leery of Jason Motte at the same time.

4. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals — Now we’ve reached the Big Four, the highest level of bullpen excellence. Holland has been fantastic over the past few years, and if the Royals continue their improvement, his stock could rise even further. He did get a high number of save opportunities last year.

3. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers — For the first 4 1/2 years of his career, Jansen was a catcher who struck out in 27% of his at-bats. Over his last 4 1/2 years as a pitcher, he’s made hitters look even sillier, striking out 40% of batters faced.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds — Perhaps the best pure stuff in the game, although he walked a few more men than normal last year.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves — Never a doubt; Kimbrel has been utterly unhittable since his rookie season in 2011.

Closer Rankings: Nos. 11-20

March 13, 2014

11. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants — Romo hasn’t been throwing his slider this spring, so it’s not clear precisely what to make of his lousy spring numbers.

12. Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels — After a disturbingly high ERA last year, Mike Scioscia intends to use Frieri more sparingly this season.

13. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals — We just don’t trust Soriano, who has been getting shelled this spring — but I guess we trust the guys below even less.

14. Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays — The irascible Australian, rejected by Baltimore, will be out to prove something to his division rivals.

15. Jim Johnson, Oakland A’s — A second straight year of 50 saves, sure, but don’t forget the nine blown saves either. Oakland will probably not present the same wealth of save opportunities as Baltimore has.

16. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies — Decreased velocity and a plummeting strikeout rate drop the pricy Papelbon into the bottom half of our rankings.

17. Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins — Win a bet with your bullpen-ignorant friends: Cishek boasts the longest active string of successful saves, at 29.

18. Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners — Rodney’s astonishing one-off 2012 season, in which his 3.8 WAR doubled the total from his other ten years combined, makes him the “Gangnam Style” of relievers.

19. Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays — Janssen has pitched well for Toronto over the last two seasons; his reputation suffers because of his subpar team and their hitter-friendly ballpark. A shoulder injury this spring could make his position more tenuous.

20. John Axford, Cleveland Indians — The Ax Man hopes to cut down his sky-high WHIP now that he’s no longer tipping his pitches. Cody Allen is lurking.

Closer Rankings: Nos. 21-30

March 13, 2014

21. Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers — Pitched very well last year and has a bobblehead giveaway to look forward to — but also has Brandon Kintzler and human bobblehead K-Rod on his heels.

22. Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks — The closer who produced the widest variance in our rankings, Reed is either on the verge of a breakout year or about to lose a competition to J.J. Putz.

23. Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox — His tremendous strikeout rate and breakout potential have made him a trendy sleeper.

24. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets — Pitched well last year, but he’s coming off September neck surgery that caused him to lose 30 pounds. We’ll see how long Terry Collins’s “warm feeling” lasts.

25. Huston Street, San Diego Padres — Bad peripherals last year, a history of injuries, a tweaked groin, and Joaquin Benoit waiting behind him.

26. Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles — A very good WHIP last year, but Hunter doesn’t miss enough bats and gives up too many home runs.

27. Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers — As Joakim Soria excels and Feliz struggles to return from Tommy John surgery, Ron Washington is speaking of a closer committee and longing for “a guy who can get three outs.” Ominous.

28. Jose Veras, Chicago Cubs — If last year’s improvement in walk rate wasn’t permanent, Cubs fans will swear he’s a taller Marmol.

29. LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies — How long will the Rockies be able to keep Rex Brothers — who was three years old when Hawkins was drafted — in an eighth-inning role?

30. Chad Qualls, Houston Astros — A spotty history and two legitimate competitors combine to drop the ursine righthander to the bottom of our spring rankings. To add insult to injury, Matt Dominguez trounced him in the second round of Astros March Madness.