Welcome back to “Closing Remarks,” where we try and help you ascertain the pecking orders in 30 bullpens every week of the season. Welcome to insanity.

Picking up right where we left off in 2020, bullpens are insane again.  Literally and figuratively. And I am already exhausted, staying up late on Saturday night to get the late game notes.

In an attempt to keep you informed each week, we will update our closer chart each week as things shift and turn.  Keep in mind that this chart will change weekly, and teams will move up and down based on each week’s results. The sheet is attached here: Closer Workbook

In Spring Training, we followed bullpens and ascertained that there were maybe six settled closers in no order: Liam Hendriks, Aroldis Chapman, Raisel Iglesias, Edwin Diaz and Josh Hader.  Ryan Pressly. And then questions. Many analysts had moved James Karinchak into the top ten, but we do not know his role, and we may not know the role. Brad Hand?  After the top six, we are riddled with questions, and anxiety.

So our motto is this: be prepared for anything.  As we have seen after only three games, be ready.  The only constant in our world is change, and that holds true for MLB bullpens every, stinking year. Be ready to pivot, and be prepared to strike ahead of your competition, which means you may need to bid early on guys who do not have a clear shot at the top role yet in the bullpen.

Remember our rubric from last year.  We will use that again in 2021. To refresh your memory:

  • Mastery: the best. Nothing else to be learned here. Move forward with confidence.
  • Distinguished: just a notch below mastery, excellent work, but still some room for improvement.
  • Proficient: is average. Think of this as a solid “C” on your term paper.
  • Marginal: poorly constructed, issues with organization, and unclear what is happening.
  • Unacceptable: failure due to lack of planning or execution.

Mastery

Baltimore Orioles:  Will this last?  Baltimore is 2-0 and Cesar Valdez, he of the 85 MPH fastball, has two saves. It would still appear that Tanner Scott is the closer-in-waiting, but Valdez got both opportunities this weekend. I do not bank on this continuing, but stranger things have happened.

Tampa Bay:  They just keep getting the job done. While I am heartbroken over the loss of Nick Anderson, they haven’t missed a beat with Diego Castillo having earned two saves last week. Chaz Roe provides depth with a filthy slider and a bevy of others, most notably Pete Fairbanks, will help out.  If Castillo is available in your league, he is worth a strong FAAB bid or waiver pickup if you are looking for saves. Looking at Castillo’s Statcast data, it looks like Tampa Bay is in good hands:

Chicago White Sox: Yes, Liam Hendriks gave up a ninth inning homer Friday night to Shohei Ohtani while earning his first save for the White Sox.  Do not worry or be perplexed; he remains one of the best and the Sox are committed to him. This bullpen has a huge potential depth as well, and names like Garrett Crochet, Evan Marshall and Matt Foster are worth having for holds. Michael Kopech is a starter-in-waiting who earned a win Friday night as well.  Watch this team and their depth.

Houston Astros: Ryan Pressly is the closer.  They are 3-0 with no close games yet, although due to scoring four runs in the ninth on Saturday while nursing a one run lead, Brooks Raley earned a save. That won’t happen often this season. Stick with Pressly.

New York Mets:  Have not played yet due to Covid-19 protocols. Edwin Diaz is the guy.  Trevor May is a great guy for holds.

Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader and Devin Williams are two of the top relievers in all of baseball. Hader took home the win on Opening Day, striking out three in one inning of work. Williams and his famous “Airbender”  lie in wait to get holds and vulture some saves.  If you want go deep for holds, look at Brent Suter.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen has been written off by many, but he is still in the driver’s seat for the best team in baseball, earning his first save of the year Saturday night over 1.2 innings.  Other popular targets here for holds are Blake Treinen (who earned a vulture win Saturday) and Victor Gonzalez.  Brusdar Graterol is on the 60 day IL and thus not a factor at the moment. As for Gonzalez, zero barrels in 2020?  28.7 K%?  Sign me up.

 

San Diego Padres: With a plethora of options, many pundits wondered who would be anointed closer here.  Well, the team used veteran Mark Melancon in their first two situations opening weekend, and he converted both.  Speculation had been rampant after manager Jayce Tingler refused to name a closer.  But he used Keone Kela, Emilio Pagan, Drew Pomeranz and Mark Melancon, in order, to close the game. Tingler prefers to have one closer, and Melancon has over 200 career saves and the most experience.  But at 35 he will also need nights off, and that opens the door for three other good candidates. This could be a tough bullpen to use in weekly leagues when you are unsure of Melancon’s availability.

Distinguished

New York Yankees:  Aroldis Chapman will be the guy; he was suspended the first two games of the season, leading to Chad Green converting the save opportunity on Saturday night.  Green is a good handcuff but Chapman will be closing this week.

Kansas City Royals: Are you ready for this?  The team resigned Greg Holland which means that Wade Davis earned a save on Friday. I was as surprised as you. It’s still Holland.  But there are options here with Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow and maybe even Kyle Zimmer.

Los Angeles Angels: Raisel Iglesias will keep this job.  Ty Buttrey retired abruptly and was put on the restricted list this weekend, eliminating a potential fallback option right now.  Iglesias got the save against the White Sox on Thursday, but then blew the save Friday night. He’s a top guy with lots of opportunity and zero competition.  Ride with him.

Washington Nationals: Have not played yet due to Covid-19 protocols. Brad Hand is their closer.  Don’t sleep on Tanner Rainey, who at this time is slowly being integrated into the pen,  but will play a large role in this bullpen. He could close if Hand falters.

St. Louis Cardinals: This is a team with a bevy of options.  Alex Reyes may start the season in the closer’s chair, but Jordan Hicks may take off with this once the team’s brass is sure he is all the way back to health.  Giovanny Gallegos is an alternative who has done well with past opportunities. Watch carefully. Committee approach right now, it seems.

Colorado Rockies: Daniel Bard kept the job this spring, and earned his first save on Opening Day. Mychal Givens was shelled over the weekend, but he appears to be another option with Scott Oberg currently out due to a scary surgery to remove blood clots from his right arm, his fourth such procedure. Roll with Bard if you trust him; he’s a risky pick due to age and lack of track record.

Proficient

Boston Red Sox: Hard to say how this will work out, but Matt Barnes will get the first crack, and Adam Ottavino waits stage left. Barnes is a high wire act with historically poor ratios; improvement in those areas could help make his saves less painful.

Toronto Blue Jays: Remember two weeks ago we told you that Julian Merryweather was a sleeper in this bullpen, especially after the loss of Kirby Yates to TJS. The job should belong to Jordan Romano.  Or Rafael Dolis.  I do think the job is Romano’s to lose.

Cleveland Indians:  This is an interesting pen to observe. I have been told we don’t take victory laps, so I won’t tell you that I was right when I said James Karinchak may not close. Ha.  Nick Wittgren and Emmanuel Clase are going to get opportunities, as manager Terry Francona refused to anoint a closer and has mentioned using Karinchak in a stopper role. Wittgren pitched the seventh on Saturday and was lit up like a Christmas tree. Karinchak pitched the eighth inning Thursday. Clase has yet to appear in a game, but I do feel he will get chances as the season gets going.  It is important to note that he missed all of 2020 due to a PED suspension. His arsenal is eye-popping:

 

Philadelphia Phillies: The Fighting Phils have won their first two games but have not had a save situation yet.  Hector Neris is the closer, for now, and pitched a spotless ninth inning on Thursday.  Manager Joe Girardi used Archie Bradley to face two hitters in the seventh, and then used Jose Alvarado to pitch the eighth.  This bullpen intrigues as they have several potential options should Neris not work out.

Atlanta Braves:  If the first game was any indication, Will Smith is closing and Chris Martin is the eighth inning guy. Both pitched effectively on Opening Day before Atlanta lost in extra innings.

Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel will get the chances here. Kimbrel struck out three in his one inning of work Saturday. Hoping for a resurgence for him this year. I know it is early, but Kimbrel may be carrying over those September 2020 results to April.  If so, he is flying under the radar.  See below:

Marginal

Detroit Tigers: Gregory Soto closed Friday and got the save. Then Bryan Garcia got one Saturday.  It’s our opinion that Soto is the best reliever in their bullpen.  But we all know that the best reliever isn’t always the closer. I would still ride with Soto.

Minnesota Twins: Watching this week, the Twins used Taylor Rogers in the seventh inning Thursday, allowing Alex Colome to close the ninth.  Colome proceeded to blow the save by giving up two hits and three unearned runs. This could be a time share based on matchups, but I would go 60/40 Colome to Rogers. No reason to think there won’t be more opportunities for Colome.  This should be a good bullpen this year. Colome did rebound to get his first save on Saturday night. They will move up these ranks with better performances.

Oakland Athletics: Trevor Rosenthal is on the IL with shoulder fatigue, which never sounds good when one pitches for a living. It’s unknown how long he will be out. Jake Diekman could get the first shot at it, but we don’t know yet as Oakland is 0-3 and have not had any save opportunities yet this year. Lou Trivino and JB Wendelken could factor here too.  Stay tuned.

Texas Rangers:  This will be a tough one due to injury. No Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez or Joely Rodriguez. My bet here is on Ian Kennedy.  They haven’t had any save opportunities yet but manager Chris Woodward used Matt Bush (another potential closer) to mop up Saturday.  Josh Sborz could be a name to file too. The key for Kennedy would be to get back to 2019 results with his four-seamer, throwing it with more velocity and better location.

 

Cincinnati Reds: Skipper David Bell announced in the last week of Spring Training he was going closer by committee led by Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims. Lying in the weeds is Sean Doolittle, who pitched in both games so far, although not in save situations. I know several analysts who will remain nameless here who double-tapped Garrett and Sims to corner the market on all Cincinnati saves.  Could pay off, especially if both get opportunities.

Pittsburgh Pirates: As we expected, Richard Rodriguez got the first save opportunity on Opening Day.  But continue to watch out for David Bednar, who got a hold and two strikeouts in that game as well. Manager Derek Shelton has said he may mix and match the bullpen roles this year.  We will see if he holds true to that idea.

San Francisco: What we thought might be a competition was wrested away by Jake McGee. Tyler Rogers imploded on Opening Day and Reyes Moronta seems to still be working out the kinks. At 34, McGee may not have the job for long if Moronta gets right; or, he may hold on to it if no other options develop.  It’s worth pointing out that manager Gabe Kapler historically plays with roles in his bullpens. McGee did pitch very well in a bridge role for the Dodgers last year, with a 2.66 ERA, .87 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.

Arizona Diamondbacks:  This team has not experienced a save situation yet. Joakim Soria feels like the logical choice here once an opportunity should arise, with Stefan Crichton backing him up.  I didn’t touch this situation in any drafts and I would have  advised you to do the same.  One goal in life should be to try and avoid self-inflicted pain, such as this bullpen. We will watch and see what happens each week.

Unacceptable

Miami Marlins:  Anthony Bass was shelled on Friday night, giving up a go-ahead home run to light-hitting Joey Wendle, thus blowing the save and also taking the loss.  Yimi Garcia waits in the wings.  It sounds like Bass has some wiggle room right now, but how much will there be for a team that wants to contend in 2021?

Seattle Mariners:  Rafael Montero blew his first save Thursday night, giving up a home run to Alex Dickerson.  Montero is a shaky choice for your closer, but it’s unclear who may give him pause here. Kendall Graveman struck out five in two innings of work last week, and could be one to watch. Montero did bounce back and earn his first save on Saturday night. Look at Graveman’s Statcast data from 2020; it is eye-opening: