What a season we just experienced. The thing that always amazes me is that each season becomes its own entity with flavor all its own. I can definitely say that covering bullpens all year was definitely quite a chore, but also a labor of love. I learned much about the ever-changing nature of bullpens and how things can change in an instant.

By my count there are 17 teams that will end the season with a closer that is different from their Opening Day closer.

I’m tired. But let’s take a look back at a few things we didn’t see coming, and a look forward to some guys we may want to earmark for 2022.

Things We Didn’t See Coming

  • Mark Melancon leading MLB with 39 saves. That being said, he had only one in September as the Padres faded badly down the stretch.
  • In the same stretch of September, Giovanny Gallegos had 11 saves for the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals. This will be an interesting bullpen to watch next year, with Gallegos, Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes all likely vying for the top spot in the bullpen. Gallegos more than proved he could handle the pressure and the job.
  • I did not expect the emergence of Jake McGee in San Francisco. But his 31 saves solidified the bullpen and led to the Giants having a remarkable, unforeseen season.
  • We also did not expect the great results that the three-headed monster of Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider gave us in the second half of the year. Their emergence put Seattle on the brink of the playoffs, largely on their backs. All three had double-digit saves this year. This will be an interesting bullpen to watch in 2022, because not only do they have these three guys, they also have Ken Giles and Andres Munoz coming off injury.  This could be one of the best bullpens in baseball next year if it all comes together.
  • An unlikely pairing at best, but did anyone see the Chicago White Sox trading for Craig Kimbrel and adding him to Liam Hendriks on the South Side? Remains to be seen if this combination will be the lethal combo the top brass is hoping for in the playoffs.
Closers To Watch
All Data According To Data Monster
Player Name In_Whiff Command Stuff ERA
Josh Hader 7.8 -0.06 1.57
Liam Hendriks 5.9 0.42 2.58
Aroldis Chapman 5.2 -2.06 3.05
Craig Kimbrel 4.4 3.02 2.19
Jordan Romano 2.7 -1.53 3.12
Emmanuel Clase 5.3 0.62 2.06
David Bednar 2.4 0.30 2.90
Tanner Rainey 3.5 0.96 3.50
Camilo Doval 1.2 1.57 3.41

Closers to Watch/Move Up Your List

Emmanuel Clase: In fantasy circles we always talk about how context matters. Many people thought James Karinchak was the guy to roster in Cleveland, but it proved to be Clase. Look at his DataMonster stuff; his xERA is elite at 2.03 and more than two runs better than league average.  Clase was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Corey Kluber trade, and it was clear that Cleveland had big plans for him; the context matters. Karinchak closed for a bit, but then faded and was used as a stopper before getting sent to AAA in midsummer. This job appears to beling to Clase, and why not? His more traditional stats: four wins, 24 saves, and a 1.31 ERA.  His last 30 games? A win, 13 saves, a microscopic .29 ERA (not a misprint), two walks and one earned run. Move him up your boards next year despite the ambivalence many will feel with Karinchak lurking. Clase deserves first crack at the job and should be a top ten closing option with potential for top five status.

Jordan Romano: Romano took the role and ran with it after the Spring Training injury to Kirby Yates. The STuffERA was a run better than average at 3.14, but where Romano needs growth is in his rfCommand, where his -1.64 score gives pause. Let’s look at his stats for the year: seven wins, 23 saves, a 2.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Unless the Blue Jays make a move for an elite closer, look for Romano to keep the job in Toronto next year. Although they do feel like a team that could make a splash for a big-name closer, like Igelsias or Jansen.  One to watch this winter.

Tanner Rainey: The Washington situation will be interesting to watch. What will they do and how will they attack the bullpen? Maybe they won’t do anything at all, or maybe they will sign a big free agent. If they don’t look for Rainey to reemerge as a candidate here.Rainey has long been a top prospect in D.C. and Kyle Finnegan will be the top competitor if they do not add anyone in the offseason.

Camilo Doval: Doval exploded on the scene in September for a surging Giants team. The funny thing is many analysts knew he was lurking with his 102 MPH heater but no one knew what his role would be. With an injury to Jake McGee, and the thought that Tyler Rogers is better used in a setup role, Doval took advantage of his opportunity and ran with it in September, with two wins and three saves in his last seven outings. Of course we always have to see how things shake out in spring, but if he continues to be a major weapon in the playoffs for San Francisco, expect him to be in contention for the job in 2022.

David Bednar: We suggested Bednar could be the guy after the Pirates traded Richard Rodriguez to Atlanta.  And he did get the opportunity and did well with it.  The stuffERA was 2.81, more than a run better than the league average of 4.07. I do not expect the Pirates to be active on the free agent market for a closer, and Bednar should have a clear shot at it with, at this time, only Chris Stratton standing in his way. And Stratton appears better served in a setup role, if we are following the data. Bednar could be a value as your number two closer next season. Bednar ended the season with three wins and three saves, and 77 strikeouts in 60.2 innings.

 

Notable Free Agents

Raisel Iglesias: Before the season began, it seemed obvious that on the surface, Iglesias could be a top five closer based solely on his stuff and his role stability in Anaheim.  While he did get off to a shaky start, the final line looks great: 7-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 34 saves, good for fifth highest in MLB. Just in time for payday.  Iglesias should be able to get a large contract from someone.  The Angels will need to ask themselves how close they feel they are to contention before making a major investment. Many teams could use a close of Iglesias’ prodigious talent, but which teams feel like they could make that investment?  A few come to mind who could: the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, maybe the Washington Nationals.

Trevor Rosenthal: He will probably need to settle for a one year prove it contract. Doesn’t it feel like he’s 35 too?  But he’s only 31 and could have something left in the tank. Would not surprise me at all to see him stay in Oakland next year and give it another whirl on a short-term contract to see if he can still do this job despite a myriad of injuries over the last three seasons. He only pitched 10 innings in 2021, but they were good ones before succumbing to thoracic outlet surgery and then hip labrum surgery. Let the buyer beware here.

Kirby Yates: Yates is an interesting case. Signed to close (we think) in Toronto, he went down to an elbow injury and was lost for the year.  Jordan Romano emerged as the closer there, and it does not seem there would be interest in Yates as closer there.  Keep in mind that the last time we saw him pitch, in 2020, he was largely ineffective with a 12.46 ERA in only six games. So now he is almost two season s removed from having been good, and he will be 35 when the 2022 season starts.  His days as a closer may be over. Could a team give him a chance to close? I don’t see it unless it is a bottom-feeder team looking for a cheap alternative that they could possibly flip at the trade deadline for assets should be prove to be healthy and effective again.

Kenley Jansen: While Jansen has been a fixture in Los Angeles since 2010, it would not surprise me in the least if the Dodgers let him walk away to a big contract and they try to get younger at the position. He just turned 34 and while he still posts good numbers, I don’t expect the Dodgers to get into a huge bidding war on him. Especially when we consider they have Blake Treinen and Corey Knebel in house as experienced arms who have done the job in the past. 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves, adding 86 strikeouts in 69 innings.