Who’s the next Rivera? These young closers making a big impact

Fist pumps are the norm when Craig Kimbrel takes the mound for the Atlanta Braves. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Over the years, especially since the ’90s, MLB closers have come and gone. There hasn’t been many dominant ones like in years prior.

I mean, of course, you had the main guys like Mariano Rivera, who is the greatest of all time. Trevor Hoffman had the all-time record for saves before Mariano broke it. Dennis Eckersly was the A’s and Cardinals lock-down guy. Mark Wohlers was dominant … for three seasons. John Wetteland was the guy in Montreal, then was the guy before Mariano in New York and continued his career with the Rangers. Lee Smith made his debut in 1980, but continued his dominance in the ’90s with four 40+ save seasons. John Franco was a fan-favorite in NY with the Mets, but he wasn’t much of the dominant type of closer.

After those guys, there weren’t that many closers who jumped out at you. You had guys like Kazuhiro Sasaki, who was a good closer for three seasons. Then you had guys like, Todd Jones, Troy Percival, David Weathers and Billy Wagner to name some.

Guys like Joe Nathan, who was good but sustained injuries later in his career, have fallen off a bit. You had guys like Jonathan Broxton, who was dominant for a few seasons in LA with the Dodgers and Francisco Rodriguez who set the record for most saves in a season with 62 back in 2008. Both have since fallen off plenty and have moved around from reliever to closer to reliever again.

In today’s MLB, it seems there is an influx of new talent at the closer position. A new talent that, unlike years prior, has solidified a spot as a team’s shut-down guy.

There is this young talent that dazzles you with 102 mph fastballs, devastating sliders and intimidating looks.

Craig Kimbrel seems to be one guy that immediately jumps out at you. He took the Atlanta Braves closer job and ran with it. He came up in 2010, but only appeared in 21 games, allowing only one earned run in that span, going 4-0 with 40 strikeouts in only 20 innings. From this point on, the Braves knew they had their closer of the future.

In his first full season in the majors, Kimbrel recorded 46 saves on his way to a Rookie of the Year award. He is as dominant as they come, at only 24 years young. Look for Kimbrel to be the lock-down guy for the Braves for years to come.

Another guy making a name for himself and jumping off the radar gun is Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban defector made his debut in 2010, where he made a small sample of things to come, pitching only 13.1 innings. In 2011, he showed a bit of a bigger sample, pitching in 54 games, going 4-1 with 71 strikeouts as a set-up guy for the Cincinnati Reds. It wasn’t until 2012 that Chapman got his chance as the closer of the Reds.

When free-agent acquisition Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery, the Reds were looking for the answer. The Reds took a chance and finally gave Chapman a shot on May 17; he subsequently blew the save. When they gave him another shot on May 20, he never looked back.

Chapman is practically unhittable. He has struck out an astonishing 106 batters in only 57 innings pitched. To go along with his ridiculous strikeout total, he has a miniscule 1.26 ERA in that span. I think the Reds struck gold with this Cuban missile.

Closers who have stepped up andbecome dominant players at their position are guys like Jim Johnson, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Motte, Kenley Jansen and Chris Perez. They have helped make their respective ballclubs even tougher to beat. When they come into the game in the eighth or ninth inning, there’s a good chance the opposing team will lose. So far this season, they have racked up 34, 33, 31, 26 and 23 saves respectfully. Some of the top numbers in the league.

Other closer’s gaining attention are the Oakland Athletics’ Ryan Cook, Los Angeles Angels’ Ernesto Frieri, Addison Reed of the Chicago White Sox, and Seattle Mariners’ Tom Wilhelmsen from the American League.

In the National League, there are guys like Tyler Clippard of the Washington Nationals, Santiago Casilla of the San Francisco Giants, Steve Cishek of the Miami Marlins and, of course, well-known Jonathan Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Other closers of notoriety: Rafael Soriano of the New York Yankees has excelled in his role after the Yankees lost Rivera to a torn ACL. The San Francisco Giants’ Brian Wilson is another guy who has been a shut-down closer. He has missed the 2012 season due to injury, but before that, Wilson was the premiere closer in the National League. He is now 30 but is still of the dominant variety when healthy. With his intimidating beard, Wilson has had the Giants in contention every year with his shut-down like qualities. Since he was given the closer job, Wilson has had save seasons of 41, 38, 48 and 36.

Fernando Rodney has flourished with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was a reliever/closer for the Tigers for a few seasons, but was picked up as a middle relief guy by the Rays. When Kyle Farnsworth went down with an injury, Rodney stepped up and has owned the closer role for the Rays. This season, Rodney has 36 saves in 37 chances so far. He is 35 — yes I know, he’s not young. But he has been making an impact at the closer position and deserves recognition.

The closer role is one of the most important roles on a team. When the game is close, you want a guy that can shut it down and let you walk away with the win. You want a guy you can send out on the mound and not worry. Guys like Mariano Rivera are once in a lifetime, but these new up-and-comers are quickly making their own names and presence felt.

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