Top 10 Closers For 2016

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Saturday, February 13th, 2016
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With each passing day, hope continues to rise as winter winds down and Spring Training inches closer.  Baseball Hot Corner continues to preview the 2016 season by examining the top 10 players at each position.  Today’s spotlight falls on the best closers in the game.  Perhaps more than any position, the closer hierarchy remains fluid from year to year.  For instance, the Blue Jays have two pitchers who could fit into this category, depending on who wins the closer competition between Roberto Osuna and Drew Storen.  Making things even more muddled this year was the Yankees acquisition of Aroldis Chapman.  That gives the Yanks three players who could easily place in the top 10 if they were on any other team.  For now, Chapman has been named the closer by Joe Girardi, eliminating Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances from this list.  All stats listed below are from the 2015 season.

Honorable Mention

15. A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins

32/38 Saves, 2.30 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

14. Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians

34/38 Saves, 2.99 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

13. Ken Giles, Philadelphia Phillies

15/20 Saves, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

12. Roberto Osuna / Drew Storen, Blue Jays

Osuna: 20/23 Saves, 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

Storen: 29/34 Saves, 3.44 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

11. Brad Boxberger, Tampa Bay Rays

41/47 Saves, 3.71 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

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10. Huston Street, Anaheim Angels

40/45 Saves, 3.18 Saves, 1.16 WHIP

The veteran Street topped 40 saves for the second straight season in 2015, even if his ERA did jump over 3.00 for the first time since 2011.  With Street, Angels fans know what they’re going to get.  He’s not a big strikeout pitcher and he has a penchant for giving up the long ball every so often, but Street will not be rattled.  Street will turn 33 in 2016 and at some point age may catch up with him.  However, Street comes into 2016 with the fourth highest save total among active relievers and sneaks into the top 10 on the strength of his past two seasons in which he has converted 81 of 89 saves.

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9. David Robertson, Chicago White Sox

34/41 Saves, 3.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP

David Robertson‘s first season in Chicago was almost identical to his final season in New York.  After years of setting up Mariano Rivera, Robertson signed a $46 million contract with the White Sox and gave fans exactly what they expected.  Robertson saved 34 games and showed the fantastic control Yankee fans became accustomed to during his seven years in the Bronx.  Robertson walked a career-low 13 batters which led to a sub-1.00 WHIP for the first time in his career.  His 3.41 ERA is a bit unsightly for a closer, especially since his ERA over the previous four seasons was 2.20.

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8. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

36/38 Saves, 2.41 ERA, 0.78 WHIP

The hard throwing Jansen has developed into one of the most fearsome closers in the game and there is no reason to believe his upward trend won’t continue in 2016.  Jansen averaged 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings and his 0.78 WHIP is just what fans love about reliable closers.  Jansen simply does not allow baserunners in most of his appearances.  He walked just eight of the 200 batters he faced last season and allowed just 33 hits.  The one knock against Jansen is that on the rare nights when he doesn’t have it, he really doesn’t have it.  For having such a low WHIP and walk rate, Jansen’s 2.41 ERA doesn’t make much sense.  The same could be said about his 2.76 ERA in 2014.  That’s about the only thing keeping Jansen from jumping up into the top five in this list.

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7. Jeurys Familia, New York Mets

43/48 Saves, 1.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

With incumbent closer Jenrry Mejia getting suspended just before the start of the 2015 season, Mets manager Terry Collins called on Buddy Carlyle to close out the team’s Opening Day win after Familia pitched a solid eighth inning.  It didn’t take long for Collins to realize that Familia’s electric stuff would play much better in the closer role.  It turned out to be one of the key decisions that boosted the Mets to their first World Series appearance in over a decade.  Famila was the team’s unquestioned MVP before the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and if it wasn’t for a rough stretch right after the All-Star break, his stats would have been even more eye-popping.  Familia allowed just six home runs while facing 308 batters and led the National League with 65 games finished.  He also allowed just one earned run in 14.2 postseason innings.

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6. Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates

51/53 Saves, 2.23 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

Mark Melancon might not have the gaudy strikeout numbers or peripherals of other closers, but after he saved 51 of 53 games in 2016, the Pirates righty was named the 2015 National League Trevor Hoffman Award winner as the league’s top closer.  Melancon made the All-Star Game for the second time in his career and has had a WHIP under 1.00 in each of the past three seasons.  Melancon simply does not walk people or give up the long ball, and that kind of consistency has made him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.  Melancon finished eighth in the Cy Young Award voting last season and even if he isn’t the power arm that Aroldis Chapman of Kenley Jansen is, Melancon’s success converting saves cannot be underestimated.

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5. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

36/40 Saves, 1.92 ERA, 0.99 WHIP

After being moved to the closer role in 2014, Zach Britton has established himself as one of the top closers in the American League.  He has converted 73 of 81 save chances over the past two seasons and has a 1.77 ERA pitching in the powerful American League East over that time.  Like Melancon, Britton doesn’t have a fastball that approaches triple digits, but his strikeout rate increased up to 10.8 per nine innings last season.  He has also given up just seven home runs while facing 538 batters over the past two seasons.  Britton made his first All-Star Game in 2015 while leading the American League with 58 games finished.

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4. Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox

39/43 Saves, 2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP

Just because he didn’t continue to pitch at a historic rate in 2015, people seem to think Craig Kimbrel had a “down” season in 2015.  That’s only true when compared to the superhuman numbers he put up in Atlanta over the previous four seasons.  Kimbrel has struck out over 13 batters per nine innings every year he’s been in the majors and is 1.04 WHIP in 2015 was the first time his WHIP ticked over 1.00 since 2011.  Before 2015, Kimbrel was on a streak of four straight seasons in which he led the National League in saves, made the All-Star Game and finished in the top 10 of Cy Young Award Voting.  Even if his stats trended downward a bit in 2015, it wasn’t enough to drop him out of the top five closers in the game.  Kimbrel’s 2015 ERA was a career-high 2.58 and  the six home runs he allowed were the most he’s ever surrendered.  If his numbers continue to drop with the Red Sox in 2016, Kimbrel could drop below rising stars like Kenley Jansen and Jeurys Familia, but for now, his experience keeps him solidly in the top five.

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3. Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

48/51 Saves, 2.10 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

The St. Louis Cardinals put Trevor Rosenthal in the closer role two seasons ago and all they got was 93 saves in 84 chances.  Rosenthal isn’t as unhittable as some of the more dominant closers in the game, but he makes up for it with an unflappable mound presence and by keeping batters in the ballpark.  He has faced 995 batters in his carer and has allowed just 11 home runs.  He also can be wild at times and does allow baserunners, but when the money is on the line, he gets the job done.  Rosenthal made his first All-Star Game in 2015 and finished 17th in the MVP voting.  Until his peripherals get the best of him, Rosenthal remains an elite closer and a key to the Cardinals continued success.

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2. Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals

17/18 Saves, 0.94 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Most of this list was compiled based on past success in the closer role.  Players who have performed consistently in that role for years were given more consideration than people who have done it over just a short period of time.  All of that goes out the window with Wade Davis.  That’s how good he’s been.  Any way you dissect Davis’ statistics in the Royals bullpen the past two seasons, you come up with numbers that are rarely seen in the game.  Davis has pitched to a 0.97 ERA and 0.81 WHIP over the past two seasons pitching in high leverage situations late in the game for the Royals.  He doesn’t allow home runs (530 batters faced, 3 home runs allowed) and has averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.  He has given up just 15 earned runs over 139.1 innings pitched over that time as well.  There are no signs that Davis won’t continue to thrive in his promotion to the closer role and could find himself at the top of this list come 2017.

1. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

33/36 Saves, 1.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Aroldis Chapman might not have the gaudy save or WHIP numbers as some of his competitors, but it’s hard to pick anybody else above Chapman with the game on the line.  One of the hardest throwers in the game’s history, Chapman’s strikeout numbers are just impossible to believe.  He’s averaged 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings over his six year career and he’s made the All-Star Game four years in a row.  Chapman is so good that upon his arrival to New York, the Yankees bumped Andrew Miller, the 2015 Mariano Rivera Award winner, out of the closer role for him.  He should potentially have more save opportunities in the Bronx and there’s no reason to think his strikeout rate will change.  He’ll still just be 28 years old at the start of the season and should remain the game’s top closer for the foreseeable future.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.







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