Major League Baseball: Top Five Closers in 2012

Andrew Vigliotti@@Andrew_VigCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2012

Major League Baseball: Top Five Closers in 2012

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    The closer position has evolved into one of the most important positions on a team. If any organization expects to contend into October, it needs to have an established ninth inning man to shut the door.

    As a fan, it's a sight to see your favorite team's closer trot to the mound with the chance to win the game. The goosebumps it creates to know that your favorite team is three outs away from a victory.  

    By expectations in the 21st century, everyone expects a closer to have a fastball near triple digits, and a breaking ball and off-speed pitch that freezes a hitter and sends him back to the dugout. 

    Here are the top five closers in Major League Baseball this season.

No. 5: Aroldis Chapman: Reds

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    The Cincinnati Reds expected Ryan Madson to be their closer as they signed him to a free-agent contract during the winter.  An elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery derailed those plans, but Chapman has filled the role.

    Chapman, 24, took over the closers role in mid May. He busted out of the gates early as he recorded six saves in his first six opportunities.  

    The native of Holguin, Cuba, has recorded nine saves in 13 opportunities.  Chapman currently has a 4-4 record with a 1.98 ERA, 64 K in only 18 games this season. He averages just under 16 strikeouts per nine innings.  

    A fastball that has topped 105 MPH and a slider in the high 80s can be unfair to hitters. 

    Chapman has room to grow, but is already one of the top closers in all of baseball.

No. 4: Fernandy Rodney: Rays

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    Rodney is one of the more entertaining closers in all of baseball. He is not one of the first names brought up with the debate of a top five closer, but has the statistics to prove it.

    The 35-year-old has a 1.01 ERA in 37 games with the Tampa Bay Rays this season. He has shut the door with 22 saves in 23 chances.

    Rodney primarily touts a fastball around 95 mph, and changeup at 82 mph. He does have a slider, but sprinkles it rarely just to show he has a third pitch.  

    Rodney is on pace for over 40 saves this season, which would pass his career total of 37. The native of the Dominican Republic brings it every night with his cap sideways and shuts the door.

No. 3: Joel Hanrahan: Pirates

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    Hanrahan, 30, is quietly having another solid season for the contending Pirates. He is a guy the organization and fans can count on to shut the door every night.

    The Des Moines, Iowa native has 20 saves in 22 opportunities and a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings. He is on pace to surpass his career high of 40 saves set last year. 

    Hanrahan only throws a fastball and a slider. The speed of his heater averages at 96 mph. The slider breaks in at 88 mph.  

    The first three seasons of his big league career were rough as he compiled a 12-9 record with a 5.30 ERA with the Nationals. The Pirates acquired him in 2009. He has blossomed into one of the top closers in baseball.  

No. 2: Jim Johnson: Orioles

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    The Orioles are considered a surprise team with their solid play. Johnson has a lot to do with their success in 2012. 

    Johnson, 29, is tied for the MLB lead in saves (23) with Chris Perez of the Cleveland Indians and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves

    The Johnson City, New York native was named the primary closer for the Orioles in September of 2011. He recorded saves in all seven of his opportunities in the final month of the season.

    Johnson features three pitches in his arsenal: a fastball, curveball and changeup. The fastball touches the mid 90s, the curveball in the high 70s and the changeup in the high 80s. 

    The consistency from the Orioles closer has placed him near the top of the rankings.

No. 1: Craig Kimbrel: Braves

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    The game is all but over if Kimbrel trots to the pitcher's mount with a lead in the ninth inning.  

    Kimbrel, 24, is in a three-way tie for the most saves in all of baseball (23). He has appeared in the least amount of games of all the three leaders (30).

    The Huntsville, Alabama native is a hard thrower. The fastball is so hard to read out of his hands. At just under 97 mph average speed, hitters have a hard time making consistent contact. The backdoor breaking ball is a devastating pitch. The breaking ball delivery is similar to his fastball, so hitters have a hard time guessing what's next.

    Kimbrel's 15 strikeouts per nine innings is among the best in baseball. He is on pace to match his career high save total of 46 set last season.