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Closer Updates: Top Performers

Last week might have been a dramatic one for our soldiers of the ninth, but this one has stayed the course pretty well. Sure, Addison Reed notched one of the stranger wins in relief history, and the Marlins had to quash trade rumors about Steve Cishek, and Chris Perez might want to hire an attorney, but pitchers who had been struggling like Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Fernando Rodney all took steps in the right direction.

As for injured pitchers, keep Vinnie Pestano in for the aforementioned Perez, but Jim Henderson looks to be back as early as tomorrow for Milwaukee. In San Diego, Luke Gregerson seems to be the primary closer and Dale Thayer the secondary in a quasi-committee situation for Huston Street.

Why burn through the roundup so quickly? So we have the chance to take a look at the season's top saves-getters. As we continue into June, we no longer get to talk about hot starts and have to start thinking about good seasons. As the trading season begins, it might help to have an idea about which top closers are worth targeting if you need saves...and which ones you might want to deal away before things head south. 

Alone Above the Wreck

Jason Grilli: 22 SV
Grilli has been a beast this year. He was relatively unheralded coming into the season (this author may have made the mistake of alerting his father to Grilli; said father is now dominating their shared fantasy league), but had pitched seriously well in setup last year. It doesn't look like smoke and mirrors for Grilli, as his 1.01 ERA is actually worse than his FIP of 0.63. His xFIP is a bit of a downer at 1.92. If that isn't enough, he's rocking a 14.51 K/9 and has yet to allow a home run. Grilli remains a great investment going forward, though his rate of save opportunities is likely to go down--he's on pace for 59 of them. 

Mariano Rivera: 21 SV
The Best Reliever in Baseball doesn't have that name because he has the best season of any reliever very often, it's because he has that rare ability to always have one of the best seasons. This year is no exception so far. In fact, his purported final season is shaping up to be one of the best of his career. (Let's hear it for making sure I drafted him one last time!) His 2.26 FIP and 3.09 xFIP aren't as great as his 1.61 ERA, but his 8.06 K/9 and his amazing 0.81 BB/9 should do the job just fine. With the Yankees success, he should see plenty of save opps for the rest of the season, though, like Grilli, it will probably be at a somewhat lower rate than he has so far. Otherwise both these guys will be challenging the record. Rivera is a great bet for quality production over the rest of the year, but his trade value will be inflated due to his well-earned brand name. If you need saves, Grilli might come at a better (but still high) price.  

 You're Not as Brave as You Were at the Start

Jim Johnson: 19 SV
How are you among the saves leaders despite going through a stretch of blowing three in a row? Get a ton of opportunities, of course. Johnson hasn't pitched terribly bad (except that one stretch), and his FIP (3.71) and xFIP (3.54) are both better than his ERA. Moreover, his 7.71 K/9 is much better than what we're used to from him. Johnson is a decent bet for good production the rest of the way, but his non-saves numbers are far from elite. All it will take is a little rough luck--or even normal luck--and his saves total won't be elite either.

Joe Nathan: 18 SV
Nathan's resurgence continues, and Texas is giving him plenty of opportunity to lock down saves. His 8.88 K/9 and 1.85 ERA are excellent, but his 2.59 BB/9 rate might be contributing a little to his not-as-amazing 3.15 FIP and 3.75 xFIP. Though his is a strong candidate for continued success, his peripherals and the likely high trade value associated with his brand and strong team mean he might be an even better sell-high candidate.

Addison Reed: 17 SV
Until yesterday, Reed was all over the closers' leaderboards. I don't feel bad about setting aside his weird extra-innings performance, but then, I wasn't totally sold on his previous success. His 10.67 K/9 rate gives him more value in strikeouts than many closers, and his 2.29 FIP is markedly better than his 3.67 ERA (which his 3.56 xFIP thinks is spot-on). His 3.00 BB/9 is a little high, but not terrible. Now is far from the time to trade Reed, but his short track record of greatness suggests he's at least as good a trade candidate as a keeper.

Edward Mujica: 17 SV
Jason Motte was supposed to be one of the year's top closers, but instead we've got his third-in-line replacement on this list. Mujica has a nifty 1.67 ERA, with a very good 2.36 FIP and 2.83 xFIP. His 8.00 K/9 gets the job done, while his 0.33 BB/9 makes Mariano Rivera look wild. Pitching for the dominant Cardinals, Mujica is a great candidate for continued success. His owners probably know that, but make him a trade target anyway to be sure.

Craig Kimbrel: 17 SV
Kimbrel was expected to be the season's best closer from beginning to end, so I guess this counts as a disappointment. I'll say now that if his owner really is disappointed in his performance, you should jump on that with a trade offer. His 12.34 K/9 and 1.93 ERA put him with the game's elite. His 3.02 FIP isn't terribly optimistic, but his 2.39 xFIP looks plenty good. Expect him to continue in greatness as the season goes on, but his high draft position and name value will probably give him a high price tag.

 You'll Never Settle Any of Your Scores

Sergio Romo: 16 SV
Romo has been almost definitively serviceable this season. None of his stats are with the elite, but none show cracks in his armor either: 9.25 K/9, 1.11, BB/9, 2.59/2.45/2.97 ERA/FIP/xFIP. He rather epitomizes great-but-not-the-best. To me, that means Romo might make a high-quality trade target, as he may not be the best closer on his own fantasy team--or at least not the one who's seemed the best so far.

Aroldis Chapman: 15 SV
Like Kimbrel, Chapman has been a big disappointment so far. This is mostly because of the unreasonable expectations put on him (by his own incredible 2012 season). Chapman leads all closers with a 15.92 K/9, and he's doing it without walking people at rates like Carlos Marmol or Ernesto Frieri. Not that his 4.15 BB/9 is particularly good. His FIP (2.41) is a dead-on match for his ERA (2.42), while his xFIP is a tad better, at 2.29. Having underperformed huge expectations, Chapman might make a good trade target--but his owners are probably still able to enjoy the saves and strikeouts, so he'll probably come at a high price in most leagues.

Rafael Soriano: 15 SV
The Nationals were expected to be one of baseball's top teams, and Soriano one of the top closers. Though Sori has 15 saves, neither expectation has come to pass. Though Soriano has a solid 2.74 ERA, it comes with a mediocre 3.24 FIP, and a downright bad 4.16 xFIP. With just a 6.65 K/9, something seems to be wrong. Either trouble is coming, or Soriano will find his strikeout pitch again. For now, his solid saves and ERA stats make him a very good trade candidate...if you're dealing him away.

Tom Wilhelmsen: 14 SV
Wilhelmsen burst onto the scene from obscurity last season (a pretty common closer story, actually), and was highly regarded by many going into this year. Part of the reason he was so well-liked was the fact that he struck batters out in bunches last year. This season, not so much; he's got just a 6.49 K/9 rate. That alone is enough for me to shop him, but a 4.44 BB/9 and 4.24 xFIP should be enough to convince most everyone else. Sell him while you can, because he won't hold onto that 2.05 ERA much longer.

Well, that's what we get for having a slow news week. Hopefully your opponents don't look terribly far into the numbers when evaluating your upcoming trade offers. We'll look at some of the lower-level performers next time no closers manage to lose their jobs or endanger their careers with injury. Until then, don't forget to check out our Closer Depth Chart and follow @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information.

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