2012 Top Ten MLB Saves Leaders

Monday October 8th, 2012

Sam Evans: With the 2012 regular season completed, bullpens will become even more important during the postseason. Closers in particular will be under more pressure than usual during these next few weeks. Before these pitchers make a name for themselves in the postseason, let’s admire what the top closers in baseball did during the 2012 regular season.  Some closers helped many fantasy teams, and their real-life teams, by their outstanding performances in the ninth inning. Here is a look at the top ten closers in baseball this past year in terms of saves:

10- Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates, 36 Saves in 2012: Joel Hanrahan used his dominant fastball/slider combo to have another great year in Pittsburgh. However, his peripherals (4.45 FIP) and his highest BB/9 since 2007 (5.43) suggest he got lucky. Hanrahan went 36 for 40 on save opportunities, which is impressive but not exactly dominant. Jason Grilli was actually the Pirates best reliever in 2012. If Pittsburgh is planning on contending in 2013, they may want to consider using Grilli as their closer.

9- Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers, 37 Saves in 2012: Joe Nathan had a surprisingly effective season for Texas, looking like himself before his Tommy John injury in 2012. He managed a 2.78 FIP, 6.00 K/BB, and he was successful in thirty-seven of forty save opportunities. Nathan is set to make $7M in 2013, so I would guess that the Rangers are going to have him closing games again next season.

8- Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies, 38 Saves in 2012: Pitching with a team away from Boston for the first time in his career, Papelbon turned in his typical type of season, this time dominating NL East hitters. Papelbon finished the year 38 out of 42 in save opportunities. Papelbon is signed to a monster contract through 2015, so he will need to keep producing like he did in 2012 in the future.

8-Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds, 38 Saves in 2012: In just his second full season in the majors, Aroldis Chapman has by far the best season of his career. Despite rumors circling during Spring Training that Chapman would be used as a starter, the Reds smartly kept him at the back of their bullpen. He recorded thirty-eight saves in forty-three attempts. With an average fastball of 98 MPH, Chapman was unstoppable when he got into his groove. Barring injury, Chapman will close again for the Reds in 2013.

6- Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians, 39 Saves in 2012: Chris Perez is definitely the most boring, but effective closer in the majors. With a fastball of about 93 MPH, and a slider around 84, Perez manages to be effective despite not having the arsenal of a closer like Chapman. In 2012, Perez posted a career-low walk rate (2.50 BB/9) and it led him to thirty-nine saves in forty-three chances. Perez is not yet eligible for free agency, so look for him to close out games for Cleveland again next year.

5- Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals, 42 Saves in 2012: Jason Motte is perhaps the most unexpected name on this list. Having never recorded ten saves in one of his five major league seasons, Motte broke out to save forty-two games in forty-nine attempts. Obviously, the nine blown saves are ugly but Motte’s nasty arsenal kept Cardinals’ fans faithful in him as their closer. Motte will likely return to St. Louis to close for the 2013 season.

4- Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees, 42 Saves in 2012: With injury comes opportunity. When it was discovered Mariano Rivera would miss the entire season, Rafael Soriano finally got his chance to prove he was worth the giant contract New York gave him in 2011. Soriano left an amazing 88% of runners on base in 2012. Soriano is set to make $14 million in 2013 (unless he opts out of his deal in the offseason), but he will likely return to his role in the eighth inning next season if Rivera can come back.

3- Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 42 Saves in 2012: Craig Kimbrel had perhaps his nastiest year as a Brave in 2012, as he not only improved his strikeout rate to a whopping 16.66 K/9, but managed to bring down his walks to a career low 2.01 BB/9. Kimbrel recorded forty-two saves in forty-five opportunities. With his outstanding performance with Atlanta in 2012, it’s hard to make a case for anyone other than Kimbrel as the best closer in baseball.

2- Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays, 48 Saves in 2012: After a shaky 2011 season in Los Angeles, Rodney regained his 2005 form and had probably his best season in the majors. In 2012, Rodney began focusing more on his mechanics and it paid off. His fastball gained almost 1 MPH and he was successful in 48 of 50 save chances. Rodney has a $2.5 million club option for the 2013 season, which I would expect the Rays to gladly accept.

1- Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles, 51 Saves in 2012: In 2012, Johnson turned in his second-consecutive dominant, yet lucky, season in Baltimore. Largely thanks to the Orioles playing in so many close games, Johnson recorded fifty-one saves in fifty-four attempts. There is no question that the Orioles’ success was thanks largely in part to Jim Johnson.

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com ***

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter. (@RJA206)***


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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

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