By Todd Farino, www.thecloserreport.com
This list is based on closers who have either closed at some point this season or who are actively closing. The ranking does take into account career numbers primarily, but also considers where they are at this point in their careers.
1. Mariano Rivera, NYY (Closer 1997-2011)
The greatest closer of all time. Arguably? No. Fact? Yes. Rivera's flawless mechanics and consistent success have produced stats any closer would dream of having. In 16-plus seasons, Rivera has compiled 575 saves, second only to Trevor Hoffman's 601. He has only blown 70, giving him a conversion rate of 89.2 percent. He has 1,070 strikeouts in 1,174 innings, but even more impressive is that he's only given up 271 walks. He does it all with one pitch: a cutter. It cuts down and in on lefties and is nearly impossible to hit for righties. At best, most hitters hope for a bloop against Rivera. He is the greatest closer, there is no debate.
2. Jose Valverde, DET (Closer 2003-2011)
Jose Valverde is in his 10th major-league season and has 208 career saves at a conversion rate of 87.6 percent. He has successfully migrated to three different teams as a closer and has had success at each stop, including 47 saves with Arizona in 2007, 44 saves with the Astros in 2008, and 26 saves in an injury-riddled 2010 season with Detroit. Valverde has tremendous consistency on the mound and an energy that keeps him successful. While his BB/9 is higher than you would like, batters hit a measly .202 against the veteran closer. His tailing fastball and looping change-up are as much his signature and is his save celebration.
3. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS (Closer (2006-2011)
As of late, Papelbon hasn't been the best closer. Still, Papelbon's fierce competitiveness and bulldog punch-out mentality have made him one of the most successful closers since 2006. Since taking over for Keith Foulke, Papelbon has racked up 200 saves in the fewest appearances in history to go with 458 Ks. Since Papelbon was hurt with a tired shoulder in 2007, he has been placed on a 70-inning limit and has never surpassed 69 innings in a season. In his career, he has had three seasons with an ERA under 2.00, including 2006 when he posted a 0.92 ERA. His career conversion rate is amongst the best, standing at 88.1 percent. His ability to spot his 96 mph fastball high in the strike zone is Paps' signature. He also throws a great splitter and a nice slider.
4. Brian Wilson, SF (Closer 2007-2011)
Brian Wilson is likely the most recognizable face in MLB. Which is amazing considering he has only been closing for three-plus years. Last year, I referred to Wilson as the No.1 most underrated closer in fantasy baseball. He is no longer that, and he is seen as one of the elite closers. His dogmatic style on the mound and vicious approach to the ninth inning have given him the intimidation necessary for the job and the mindset a closer requires to get those last three outs. He has a fierce 95 mph fastball that sneaks up on hitters, and he complements it with a nasty cutter. In over five years of major-league service, Wilson has recorded 151 saves, with three consecutive seasons of 38 or more. In 2011, he already has 17 saves, well on his way to his third 40-plus season. His conversion rate is outstanding at 87.3 percent, but even more impressive is his K/9 of 9.68 over his career. Wilson has proven to be a consistent and dominating closer, which places him with elite company.
5. Heath Bell, SD (Closer (2008-2011)
Heath Bell has only been a major-league closer for three season now, but in that time he has been one of the most dominating closers in the National League. Between 2009-10, Bell saved a combined 89 games, blowing only nine. Since 2009, he has 106 saves and a conversion rate of 91.4 percent. And including this season, his ERA has been 2.13, and batters are only hitting a sorrowful clip of .205. Bell is the complete closer, with a high K/9 rate over his career and the dominant personality for the job. He uses an assortment of pitches to get batters out, including his 94 mph fastball, curveball, slider and a rarely-used change-up. Bell also had big shoes to fill when he took over for the all-time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman. Bell will continue to serve as a closer for years to come. At 34 years of age and with his physical makeup, Bell could conceivably close until he is 40 years old.
6. Francisco Cordero, CIN (Closer 2002-2011)
The ageless one has had an impressive career. At 36 years old, Cordero has pitched over 700 games in his 13-year career. He has 301 career saves and a conversion rate of 82 percent. The one problem that has plagued him is his bouts of inconsistency. However, he has displayed his resiliency throughout his career, able to come back after downfalls. In 2006, after losing his job as the Rangers closer, he had six saves and nine blown saves. After being traded to the Brewers, he finished with 22 saves and 11 blown saves. He has had six seasons with over 30 saves and three with over 40. His K/9 stands at exactly 9.00, and he continues to impress us as the Reds closer.
7. Francisco Rodriguez, NYM (Closer 2004-2011)
At one point in time, Francisco Rodriguez commanded the greatest slider of any closer. We all saw plenty of it during his record-breaking campaign of 2008 when he recorded 62 saves, breaking Bobby Thigpen's long-held record. Nicknamed K-Rod, he racked up 759 Ks in 606 innings for a career K/9 rate of 11.27. He has 285 career saves and a career conversion rate of 86.1 percent. He has recorded 25 or more saves for six consecutive seasons and needs only eight more saves in 2011 for a seventh.
8. Joe Nathan, MIN (Closer 2004-2011)
Nathan's career as a closer may be over, but he did close this year and he certainly qualifies for this list. For years, Nathan was synonymous with Mariano Rivera among closers in the American League. Since taking over the closing duties for the Twins in 2004, Nathan had six consecutive season with 36 or more saves and three of the seasons he had over 43. He was one of the most consistent closers of his time, with a conversion rate of 90 percent over the span of 250 saves. He has thrown over 700 major league innings and recorded 733 Ks to add to his resume. Even more impressive was that, in five of the six years, he held batters to a batting average below .190. After having Tommy John surgery, Nathan's fastball has lost some zip, but it's still good enough to complement his slider and curveball. At 36, Nathan still has plenty of gas in the tank and could close elsewhere in 2012. Whether or not he closes again, Nathan deserves to be considered as one of the best active closers in Major League Baseball.
9. J.J. Putz, SEA (Closer 2004-2011)
Some people forget just how good J.J. Putz was for the Mariners before injuries took their toll on him. Putz had a signature 98 mph fastball and devastating slider that he used to near-perfection. After the injuries and the move to New York, he lost velocity, but still commanded the strike zone to the tune of a 9.28 K/9 and a 3.00 BB/9 for his career. That is truly an understatement for the numbers he has been able to produce. Since joining the Diamondbacks this year, he has revitalized his career and has looked like the J.J. Putz of old.
10. Huston Street, COL (Closer 2005-2011)
Street has been closing out games since his rookie season back in 2005. When healthy, he is one of the more dominating closers. The big question is health, which has played a major factor in two of his six seasons. That said, he has still compiled 165 career saves and an 82-percent conversion rate. His perfectly spotted fastball and stinging change-up has led to 412 strikeouts in 406 innings. Street quietly has dominated hitters in both leagues. His career 1.05 WHIP is among the lowest.
10. Joakim Soria, KC (Closer 2007-2011)
Joakim Soria, who is also known as "The Mexicutioner," isn't having the greatest 2011. Currently, he isn't the closer, but I think that is temporary. I also think that something is wrong with Soria and he is likely hurt. Either way, he deserves to be on this list. Since taking over as the Royals' closer midway through 2007, Soria has recorded 139 saves with a 2.33 ERA. His career conversion rate is 88.5 percent, but if you remove his tough 2011 campaign, it's 91 percent. He has been one of the most stable closers in baseball since 2007, and I can't imagine what his numbers would be if he was the closer for a better team like the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or Cardinals. He has had such great success as the closer for a small market team, and that speaks volumes. At 27, Soria has a lot of closing still to do, and I know it won't be all with the Royals. He could be a Cardinal or a Phillie by the trade deadline this season. All I know is that NL hitters hopes he stays in the AL and AL hitters, which have managed a .203 batting average against him, hope he gets traded to the NL. That is respect.
Others considered: Jonathan Broxton, Kevin Gregg, and Neftali Feliz.