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Relief Pitcher Rankings: Early Top-15 Closers for 2014

We’ve reached the end of our rankings and fittingly, we’re closing with the closers. Going through this list and even the “Just Missed the Cut” list, I realized that this is an incredibly deep position.

Before we get to the rankings. If you haven’t done so already, check out our rankings at catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, and starting pitcher. Now to the closers.

  1. Craig Kimbrel: I actually consider 2013 a slight down year for Kimbrel, given what he did in 2012 and 2011. He was still the top reliever on ESPN’s Player Rater. He also won’t even turn 26 until the end of May, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down any time soon.
  2. Greg Holland: Was actually a little better than Kimbrel in 2013, with a few extra saves giving Kimbrel the nod on the aforementioned Player Rater. Holland was a lockdown closer in 2013. He doesn’t have quite the track record, or the race for No. 1 would actually be a little closer.
  3. Joe Nathan: I normally don’t love free agents. But Nathan wants to play for a winner, and I don’t see a team with the combination of the Texas payroll and likelihood to win this year that needs a closer out there. Nathan’s been one of the best in the business since becoming a full-time closer in 2004, with a 2.14 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, and well above a strikeout an inning.
  4. Kenley Jansen: Will be the guy in LA from the get-go in 2014 and could very well rival Kimbrel for the top guy.
  5. Aroldis Chapman: The stuff is exceptional, but Chapman will need to walk fewer guys if he wants to rival the four guys ahead of him. We compare Jensen and Chapman here.
  6. David Robertson: I don’t think he’ll be the next Mariano Rivera, but I also think he’ll be as good in 2014 as Rivera was in 2013, which says quite a bit. We profile him here.
  7. Glen Perkins: No real weaknesses to speak of, except for the fact that the Twins just aren’t that good. Still, the games they win will be close, which means Perkins should be good for another 30 or more saves. We profile him here.
  8. Koji Uehara: He’s the guy in Boston now and just pounds the strike-zone with good stuff. The fact that he’ll 39 worries me and keeps me from putting him with the guys ahead of this (Nathan has a bit more of a track record as a closer, if you were wondering.) Still, the concern for 2014 isn’t that great. The fact that he’s No. 8 says more about the guys ahead of him.
  9. Sergio Romo: As the full-time closer, Romo was very good in 2013, just not as dominant as in previous years when he was more of a set-up guy. Closer-in-waiting Heath Hembree also looms.
  10. Jim Johnson: Different kind of closer than the guys above him. Johnson isn’t anywhere near a strikeout an inning, so his ceiling in things like strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP isn’t as high. But, he’s had 101 saves over the last two seasons. He’s profiled with Kimbrel and Holland here.
  11. Casey Janssen: The top of the closer position is absolutely stacked. I’d like a few more strikeouts from Janssen, but he should theoretically be a Top-10 closer. But if he’s in the Top-10, someone else has to come out.
  12. Steve Cishek: Similar to Perkins, just not quite as accurate. Still, the games Miami wins will all be close and Cishek is a good closer. That should be a recipe for 30 or more saves.
  13. Jonathan Papelbon: Great closer, but the walks worry me. I also worry about how focused he’ll be in the later months if the Phillies don’t contend.
  14. Grant Balfour: Walks too many guys, especially for a guy who will turn 36 at the end of the year. Still, those walks haven’t translated to a high ERA.
  15. Rafael Soriano: Too many hits, too many walks, and not a great ERA for a closer. Having said all of that, he’s not bad in any of those categories, and has saved 40 or more games in each of his last three seasons as a closer.

Just Missed the Cut: Jason Grilli & Mark Melancon (Can’t help but wonder if these two will take saves from each other); Addison Reed (has a career ERA above 4.00 and was just below that in 2013); Bobby Parnell (Had a great year in 2013, but recovering from neck surgery is a serious issue); Huston Street (Can’t stay healthy); Trevor Rosenthal (Was a starter before 2013, and the St. Louis bullpen has too many arms to count. Just not sure he’ll be the closer all year).

Tags: Aroldis Chapman Closers Craig Kimbrel Relief Pitchers

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