Even though a closer has usually only one inning of work per game, they have just as much pressure on them as a starting pitcher, if not more! The closing pitcher is responsible to close out the game and secure the win for the team. If the closer blows the save, the loss will be blamed on them by fans and commentators. So these guys take a lot of heat. Here is my list of the top ten closing pitchers in the MLB today.
1. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees. The 42-year-old veteran suffered a career threatening injury when he tore his ACL as he was catching fly balls during batting practice in a game against Kansas City on May 3 2012. But while Rivera is still active, he takes number 1 on my list. The MLB saves leader with 608, should be everyone’s choice for top spot. Mariano has a career 2.21 ERA with 1119 strikeouts. Rivera has arguably the most feared cutter pitch in the MLB. Rivera has played for the Yankees his entire career since 1995. Since 1997, Rivera has only had less than 30 saves once. That was in 2002 when he had 28 saves in only 46 innings pitched. Hopefully Rivera will recover and play a couple more years and retire because the time is right not because of injury.
2. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves. Craig was tied for NL lead in saves in 2011 with 46. Kimbrel is a sophomore in just his second year. At 23 years old, he is already one of the most feared closers in the MLB. Craig won the NL Rookie of the year award in 2011 and is proving it is not a mistake. He has a career ERA at 1.89 with 57 saves and 188 k’s. Kimbrel has a salary under $600k while most closers with that amount of saves per year are making millions. This 5’11” 205 lbs. closer is ready for a stellar career with Atlanta.
3. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies. The newly acquired closer is ready to take his leadership and saves from Boston to Philadelphia. The 31 Papelbon has 228 career saves and has a 2.35 ERA. Jonathan has 522 strikeouts in his 7 year career and a miniscule 1.02 WHIP. Although Papelbon averages 29 saves a year in the MLB and had good years in high school ball, he was drafted in the 4th round by the Red Sox in 2003. Papelbon been to 4 All Star Games and is the first and only pitcher to achieve 30+ saves in their first 5 years of MLB service. He has never had a season with less than 31 saves. The fans of the Phillies should be excited for Papelbon as he will take the Phillies to even more playoff appearances.
4. Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers. This cocky closer is very dedicated to the game of baseball. He is loud and into the game, and it shows when he takes to the mound. Jose has 248 career saves to go along with 614 strikeouts. Valverde has been in the MLB for 9 years with Arizona, Houston and is now the closer for Detroit. Jose also has a respectful 3.07 ERA. Valverde has appeared in 3 All Star Games in 2007, 2010 and 2011. Jose has the 6th most saves out of active closers and still has at least 5 more years left in his career.
5. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants. Hide your children, this 30-year-old can scare anyone with his thick black beard and weird humour. Wilson has 171 career saves and 340 strikeouts in 315 games played. Brian is set to have Tommy John surgery in 2012 and will be out for the entire season. Wilson has 3 All Star Games, 1 World Series win and led the league in saves in 2010. The Giants relied heavily on Wilson to be a consistent closer and with him on the DL the Giants will need to find another strong closer to replace the 3 time All Star.
6. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers. The 11 year veteran is playing for his third team, Texas. Nathan is 37 years of age and is 5th all-time in saves among active closers with 268. Joe has a great 2.87 ERA but only has 775 strikeouts. Nathan is more of a ground-ball-out kind of pitcher. Nathan has pitched in 3 All-Star Games and has been to the post-season 4 times with San Francisco one time and Minnesota 3 times. Joe Nathan holds the Minnesota Twins record for single-season save record (47) and Twins all-time saves leader (255). Nathan was drafted high up in the 6th round, but has proven to the Giants, Twins and now Rangers, that having Joe Nathan play ball for their club, is a smart choice.
7. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers. This Canadian 29-year-old is exactly what the Brewers needed after their star closer Trevor Hoffman retired. Axford nicknamed “Ax”, is only in his 4 season of the MLB. Axford has 77 career saves with a 2.53 ERA and 191 strikeouts. On July 27 2011, Axford accomplished his 26th consecutive save, breaking the Brewers former record of 25 held by Doug Jones. Then on May 4th 2012, (this season) Axford saved his 49th consecutive becoming the record holder of the most saves by an active pitcher, and this record is the 4th longest ever in MLB history. Ax was a co-winner of the Tip O’Neill Award for the best Canadian Baseball Player. Axford blew a save on May 11 2012 breaking his streak at 49. Axford is looking for another 40+ save season and can do it if he has the run support by Milwaukee who lost Prince Fielder. Axford has a 1.24 WHIP in his career that Axford will be able to dominate.
8. Heath Bell, Miami Marlins. Ring-a-ding-ding. The big 250 lbs. closer is ready to take the mound. Heath Bell only became a full-time closer in 2009 with San Diego. Ever since then, Bell has 135 saves. Bell signed with the Mets in 1998 as an undrafted free agent although he was drafted earlier in 1997 by Tampa Bay. Heath was then traded to San Diego before signing with Miami in 2011. Bell has 137 career saves with 502 strikeouts and a 3.20 ERA. Heath has been struggling in 2012 with an ERA over 10.00 as of May 13. But I think Bell can turn things around by September. Heath has appeared in 3 All Star Games in 09, 10 and 11. In the 2011 All Star Game when Bell was called on to pitch, he proceeded to dash out and slide into the mound providing a blast for the fans and players. Bell shows off the lighter side of baseball as well as putting his very best into every pitch.
9. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks. Putz is 35 years old and in his 9th season in the bigs, but this 6’5″ 250 pounder is not done yet. J.J. had 45 saves in 2011 with the D’backs and has 157 saves in his career. Putz also has 53 holds showing that he was not a closer for his entire career or else he would have more than 157 saves. J.J. also has a 3.19 ERA with 494 strikeouts. J.J. was with Seattle for 6 years before going to the Mets for 1, the White Sox for 1 and is now in Arizona for his second year. Putz has 2.1 innings of post-season action and 1 All-Star appearance under his belt. J.J. Putz has a 1.15 WHIP in his career. Putz has struggled a bit in 2012 with a 9.00 ERA as of May 13. J.J. shared a dorm room with New England Patriots (NFL) quarterback Tom Brady while at the University of Michigan. Maybe that is why Putz has a good throw. Being around a quarter back and a pitcher has been positive influence for both guys.
10. Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals. Broxton was not transferred into a closer until 2009 when he was with the LA Dodgers. Broxton had 19 saves before 2009 and has 72 since then. As of May 13 2012. Broxton has 91 total saves along with 510 strikeouts, a 3.14 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Jonathan is big, at 6’4″ 300 lbs. but that doesn’t stop him. Broxton has appeared in 1 All-Star Game in 2010 but was injured for a good part of 2011 which cut into his stats. Broxton is 27 years old and turns 28 on June 16. Broxton has an overwhelming fastball and a great slider to fool many batters. Jonathan has 62 career holds and is hoping to lead the slumping Kansas City Royals.
Honourable Mentions: Brandon League, Seattle Mariners
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies
Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs