Happy Birthday, America.
In honor of the holiday today, let's name the tiers after all the great things you can do on July fourth. A summer holiday is still a summer holiday, even if it comes in the middle of the week and costs you two (or more) vacation days to take advantage of.
Tier 1: Elite (4) (AKA: The "Grilling and Beveraging" Tier.)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
This is what the holiday is about. Sorry, patriotism and celebrating the fallen -- this holiday is about grilling German and Italian sausages, perhaps enjoying some French fries, throwing a couple patties on the grill, and quaffing a cold beverage out in the sun. Isn't it? Okay, it's about both, but you'll spend much more time enjoying the food and drink than you will thinking about our nation's founders. I promise. And it's fine.
These closers are like a fine cheeseburger paired with a great pilsner (or soda): they'll fit your needs perfectly. Want strikeouts, risk be danged? Take Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel and enjoy a heaping spoonful of swinging Ks. Want a pitcher with a ton of leash and great control? Take Jonathan Papelbon and Jason Motte and sleep soundly in the hammock after your big meal.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Outdoor activity" Tier.)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Really this is a subset of the first July fourth activity, but it's different enough. There's swimming, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, even running if that's your bag. And the fourth is a great time to get out and enjoy the outdoors, even if it doesn't come with bratwurst.
Rex Brothers looks like he might be ready to go. He's finally put together a nice stretch -- only three walks in his last fifteen appearances -- that shows that he could be closer material. The problem is that Rafael Betancourt is an excellent reliever and he's on a decent contract. The Rockies have an affordable option on him next year, and they are a team that could look to contend next year. They could use Betancourt and it might take a better prospect to pry him loose than teams want to give up for a reliever. Betancourt is much less likely to go than other closers with trade rumors attached to their names.
Rafael Soriano has survived David Robertson's return and has just about a strikeout per inning. His control is a little off this year, and he's been more hittable, and a home run or four will come calling, but he's the closer for the Yankees. Save opportunities are correlated with run scoring and bullpen quality, both things that the Yankees own.
Tier 3: OK options (8) (AKA: The "Watching the game" Tier.)
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
I love baseball. I watch at least a game every day. I'll watch some on the fourth. But you'll see that it's in direct conflict with tiers one and two -- you can't watch the game outside. Maybe some of y'all have a setup that allows you to do this, it's not impossible, but it's also not probable that you can enjoy the outdoors while also watching the game. That's a decision you have to make. Most of these closers make you decide what you value most.
Scott Downs got a save on July 2nd, but it was a two-inning rarity. The save before that came on June 10th. If Ernesto Frieri cedes a save per month to Scott Downs, the pairing will not be a big deal for his value. We already know that deception and arm action have turned Frieri's 93-mph fastball into an unhittable pitch that will give you more than a strikeout-and-a-half per inning. All that's worth worrying about now is Frieri's tendency to give up a walk every two innings or so. That could be a problem, but not if he keeps the strikeout rate high.
Fernando Rodney's out-of-nowhere year should continue past Kyle Farnsworth's return. Consider the fact that last year, he walked more than five times as many batters as he has this year… in fewer innings. It's a remarkable story. A change of positioning on the rubber, a new catcher known for framing pitches, and presto-bingo-bango, a pitcher throwing like he's never thrown before, all in his mid-thirties.
TOM WILHELMSEN. He's a beast. He moves up because that power hook is so nasty, but don't under-rate his fastball. Jack Moore on FanGraphs found that, in two-strike counts, Wilhelmsen has gotten more swinging strikes than balls. That's pretty amazing. There are whispers of trading Wilhelmsen -- the Mariners need to use a trade piece at some point -- but he's also under team control for a while and is really good.
Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Parade" Tier.)
Heath Bell, Miami Marlins
Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Maybe some of y'all love parades. I don't. The crowds, the parking, the standing, the looking for bathrooms. I suspect it will all get worse with children to corral. Or maybe that's why people are at parades, for their children. Because they aren't doing it for themselves, right?
It's not just that Heath Bell blew the game Tuesday night by allowing a home run to Aramis Ramirez. After all, Ramirez has hit 325 over the course of his career. And it's not even that plus the blown save in St. Louis, where he gave up a home run to noted slugger Yadier Molina to allow the Cards back into a blowout. It's not even how he started the season. Or is it the fact that he's getting strike one at a below-average rate, and giving up the worst contact rate of his career, and not getting batters to reach at pitches outside the zone any more. It's not the worst ground-ball rate of his career, or the fact that he's been the beneficiary of a nice home-run suppressing park his whole career and now some of that magic seems to be running out. It's all of these things, together, that have made Bell drop a tier.
Jose Valverde is back, and he's the Tigers' closer. That doesn't mean that the wrist thing won't come back, or that his peripherals -- all at or near career-worsts -- won't come back to bite him. Tyler Clippard moves up because his team insists he's the closer even when Drew Storen comes back next week. Both of these guys are still risky.
Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.