Do your kids ever get rubrics from their teachers in school, even in this era of COVID-19 learning situations? A rubric is a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests ( ru·bric or /ˈro͞obrik).

I am an English teacher by trade, and I love rubrics.  In this series called “Closing Remarks,” I deploy rubric terms to give grades on Major League Baseball bullpens.  Hopefully, the tiers are self-explanatory, but if not, here is a quick guide:

  • 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.

Following here are my picks for the best closers. I also list who might be “next in line” should a closer become injured or lose his job due to poor performance. Managers will likely have a short leash in a 60 game season, so plan to draft those “next in line” guys in deeper leagues.

If you haven’t done so already, you might want to move closers up your draft board this year. You will want one from the top tiers before rolling the dice on others further down this list.

 

Mastery

 

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

He should be the number one rated relief pitcher in fantasy baseball. No surprise here. K rate of 16.41 last year? Sign me up, please. Former closer Cory Knebel is back from Tommy John surgery in 2019 and looks sharp thus far in camp. He could regain the closer role if manager Craig Counsell chooses to use Hader as a multi-inning weapon. Either way, Hader is still at the top of the heap.

 

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

I actually took Yates in a draft before Chapman’s COVID-19 diagnosis. While the ERA will likely have nowhere to go but up, Yates is an elite closer and will be, even if he gets traded during the season.

 

That being said, who would get save chances in the San Diego bullpen should Yates be hurt or get traded? My best guesses would be Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz, with an edge to Pagan based on the success he had last year in the role with the Tampa Bay Rays. Both Pagan and Pomeranz are worth owning in saves + holds leagues, but also will help with strikeouts and ratio controls.

 

Distinguished

 

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Osuna just misses the top tier due to not being ready for the season. Osuna has yet to throw in live outings during Summer Camp, instead long tossing from 200+ feet. BUT,  he pitches for a should-be playoff team, he will get ample saves and strike out a ton of guys. Should he revert to 2018 form where he was hurt, Ryan Pressly would likely get the call in the ninth inning. Pressly is an elite reliever and could do this job given the opportunity. Pressly would seem like the obvious handcuff but is dealing with health issues of his own (blister). Bryan Abreu time?

 

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

Featuring an elite slider, Hendriks made the most of his opportunity in Oakland in 2019 with 25 saves. The swinging strike rate for him was almost 30% with his slider at 29%.

 

 

That’s huge. But closers in Oakland tend to fizzle (Blake Treinen, anyone?), and his K/9 is a little lower than the cream of the crop guys listed above. Still, I would draft him with confidence this year, but a shade lower than the top guys. Yusmeiro Petit might be next in line, but manager Bob Melvin likes to use him in a multiple inning role. I’d expect Hendriks to hold on to the job.

 

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Look I know lots of fantasy players are anticipating Hand’s demise. The Cleveland Indians (soon-to-be Spiders?) traded their top prospect in Francisco Mejia to get Hand in late 2018. Since then, Hand has racked up 42 saves. His ERA, while a little higher than some, has remained under 3.00 in that time, and he continues to collect strikeouts. Last year he had 84 strikeouts in 57 innings. Draft him with confidence.

The handcuff here was supposed to be Emmanuel Clase, but he has been suspended for 2020 for PEDs. The guy to grab here is James Karinchak, who will get opportunities if Hand is traded or injured. Karinchak could be a good source of holds too. Karinchak struck out an absurd 82 hitters in a shade under 36 innings. Do not sleep on him.

 

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto is an up-and-coming team with loads of young talent. Giles rebounded to dominance in 2019 with great ratios (1.87 ERA, a microscopic 1.00 WHIP) and 23 saves. Keep in mind Toronto only won 67 games last year, so that is an impressive total. Even though he had a poor 2018, he seems over that now, and you should draft him without reservations.

Anthony Bass is his likely backup. I would not draft him at this point as he does not have draftable closer numbers and has no track record; he did have five saves and six holds last year, though.

 

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

I believe last year was an aberration and that he will return to a dominant role this year. I know 2019 was a year his fantasy owners would like to forget: 5.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and seven blown saves. But on the bright side, he did manage 26 saves and the highest K/9 rate of his career at 15.4. The high velocity remained despite his struggles. At only 26, I believe he can rebound this year and will do so.

The Mets do have a bevy of options behind him should Diaz falter: Dellin Betances, coming off injury, seems healthy and will grab a setup role alongside Seth Lugo. Lugo is often drafted for his holds and ratio controls.

 

Proficient

 

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Neris gets a big boost with the manager change in Philadelphia. New skipper Joe Girardi likes having a set closer dating back to his time with the New York Yankees. Former manager Gabe Kapler liked to play percentages and roles were unclear in 2019. Neris had 28 saves, an ERA under 3.00, and struck out 89 batters in 67 innings. It would not surprise me at all if he moved up into the next tier in 2020.

Who knows who to handcuff here? Vince Velasquez? Nick Pivetta? If you like to speculate, be my guest. I will not be.

 

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

I love Rogers and you should, too. Chances are if you grabbed him early last year he paid huge dividends for you. Rogers earned 30 saves and didn’t even have the job until July (remember Blake Parker? Egads!). He chipped in with a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 69 innings. As an added plus, he gets lefties and righties out with equal aplomb. While not greatly experienced, he has been on the cusp of closerdom for three years. The job should be his on a contending Minnesota ballclub.

Should he falter, the gritty Sergio Romo could get a shot, as could Trevor May or Tyler Duffey. The high-level options scare some away from Rogers. Some owners also fear that manager Rocco Baldelli may deploy Rogers differently this year. This is a situation to watch, but Rogers will have value even if he is used in high-leverage situations mid-game. Looks at these data below, paying attention to the increased use of his slider between 2018 and 2019 (from 12.8% in 2018 to over 35% in 2019) to go with his sinker and his curveball.

 

 

 

Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays traded their closer, Emilio Pagan, to potentially open up the spot for Anderson. You must always be wary and alert when drafting a Tampa Bay closer. It’s an incessant game of musical chairs there based on matchups and hot hands. The Rays had eight different guys earn saves for them in 2019. They had eight guys with eight or more holds.

But the game may be over now. Anderson had 110 strikeouts in 65 innings. That’s ridiculous. The Rays also have options like Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo, but they are deployed as openers often. Again, who knows with mastermind Kevin Cash at the controls? That being said, I expect Anderson to take the job and run with it.

 

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

He is truly a wild card. Manager David Bell may use him in high-leverage situations, and could turn to other arms like Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, or maybe even Lucas Sims (that spin rate!). Iglesias did have 34 saves in 2019. I could easily see him move up or down this list.

 

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jansen may be running out of juice. His ERA ballooned to 3.71 last year, and he blew eight saves. He had 80 K in 63 innings, but his K rate is dropping and this will scare off many owners. He did have 33 saves last year. But the Dodgers will contend this year, and they are unlikely to tolerate shoddy performances from Jansen.

For no other reason than pure gut, I have been grabbing shares of Blake Treinen. I refuse to believe he was as bad as he looked last year. He gets the first crack if the deterioration of Jansen continues in 2020.

 

 

Marginal

 

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Yes, the Nationals are defending World Series champs, but do you trust this bullpen? They had issues with their relief corps all season. Doolittle was their primary closer last year, with 29 saves but an ERA over 4.00, and Daniel Hudson had the ball in his hand at the end of the Series. Doolittle gets the nod, for now, with Hudson waiting in the wings. This could be in flux all year, but whoever has the job should get ample save opportunities.

 

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Colome always outperforms his peripherals. He will get saves (he had 30 last year on a bad tea,) for the improving White Sox, but has a tepid K/9 rate of 9.00. Aaron Bummer has been getting drafted in many leagues; as a setup man in 2019 he had 27 holds and great ratios with a 2.13 ERA and .99 WHIP. Colome will probably keep the job all year unless he struggles. Aaron Bummer could get an opportunity as well.

 

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

Many analysts will rank him higher based on his pedigree. He came to the Cubs in late July, was not ready to go, got injured, and pitched terribly. He had 13 saves and an ERA of 6.53. I know he was the dominant closer of the last decade. He’s only 32 but there are plenty of miles on that right arm. If you want to speculate, do so here, but do not take him as your primary saves candidate. Rowan Wick would likely get opportunities if Kimbrel does not rebound quickly for new manager David Ross.

 

Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Leclerc was lights out in 2018, but did not get the results in 2019, losing the job for part of the year. He did rebound though and should be the guy deep in the heart of Texas in 2020. They could try Rafael Montero if Leclerc is lousy again. I would only take him as a second closer.

 

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

I have no shares of him. He had 23 saves and a 2.48 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 2019. It’s his job to lose, and I think he will. Ty Buttrey or Keynan Middleton could sneak in there. I worry that he regresses to his old New York Mets ways. If you like him, get a handcuff.

 

Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

Some analysts love Bradley. He had been used as a middle reliever but transitioned nicely to the closer role last year, earning 18 saves with 87 strikeouts. Here’s the issue: the ratios will hurt you. Tread carefully here. There is no clear-cut backup; some analysts like Kevin Ginkel or Andrew Chafin. Both are relative unknowns, and Chafin has been used mostly as a lefty specialist. The job is Bradley’s to lose.

Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox

Workman was a journeyman until last year when he grabbed the role and 16 saves in the process with 116 Ks. Good stuff. But astute observers know he’s 31, had never closed until last year, has a career 5.38 ERA, and issued 45 walks last year. Too risky for me. .

 

Kwang Yun Kim, St.Louis Cardinals

It’s tough to have much confidence (yet*) in anyone in the Cardinals bullpen since the job seems to change hands daily. But Kim seems to have the job, for now. Still look for Ryan Helsey to get mixed in, without forgetting about Alex Reyes, Carlos Martinez (in rotation for now), and Gallegos at some point.

 

 

Unacceptable

 

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

The Royals finally got value out of him by shifting him to the closer role. His stats were not eye-popping but he did get 30 saves. He will be the closer to start 2020 but may get traded, and if he does get moved to a contender, I doubt he closes. That impacts his value which is why he is ranked lower. It’s important to note that manager Mike Matheny loves Trevor Rosenthal, who has looked fantastic in the Spring.

 

Mark Melancon/Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

What is going to happen here? Melancon is just “meh,” gets the job done most of the time in a non-sexy way. He did finish strong last year, with eleven saves down the stretch. Many drafts see Will Smith taken before Melancon. The Braves spread the wealth last year with eleven guys getting saves. I am drafting Smith ahead of Melancon too because he has more talent, although Melancon seems to have the job…for now. Draft the skills and wait for the roles to sort out.

 

Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers

No offense Tigers fans, but it’s going to be ugly this summer. He took over for Shane Greene after he was traded to Atlanta last year, but more by default rather than pedigree. Nine saves and a 4.37 ERA. You need better.

 

Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles

Don’t do this to yourself. The Orioles might struggle to win 20 games this year. Givens is the nominal closer but Hunter Harvey is lurking. Grab him if you want to speculate, especially if Givens gets traded as expected.

Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies

Davis is on thin ice in Colorado. Scott Oberg is a better play for your team. I also like Carlos Estevez as well.

 

The Wade Davis Show

 

Matt Magill, Seattle Mariners

Who is closing in Seattle? Magill? Hirano, once he recovers from his injury? You? Me? Who knows? I like Hirano to get the job.

 

Kyle Crick/Nick Burdi, Pittsburgh Pirates

This is desperation personified.

 

On The Mend

 

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Chapman was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week. It is unknown when he will return; manager Aaron Boone said he would be gone for the “foreseeable future.”

What does this mean? Well, it opens up an opportunity for Zach Britton, most likely, and perhaps, Adam Ottavino. My money would be on Britton since he has experience in that role with the Baltimore Orioles, and the Yankees and Boone might prefer to keep Ottavino in a setup role. This should be watched carefully.

But when Chapman is back to health, we should expect continued dominance and a move to mastery level. His velocity is still elite as shown below; he has added a power sinker (which he throws about 10% of the time) to add to his elite four-seamer and slider.

 

 

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

What is happening in the bullpen in St. Louis? Alex Reyes has yet to report, Carlos Martinez opens in the rotation, Jordan Hicks opted out of the season, John Brebbia had TJ. It was Gallegos’ job to lose, and injury may have made that happen.

 

Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates

He was just placed on the IL last night without reason. He has not participated in any aspect of summer camp. He was to be the closer; now the Bucs will turn to some combination of Kyle Crick, Michael Feliz and Richard Rodriguez. I would put my money on Crick and his devastating slider. Who knows? Maybe he keeps the role all year. Nick Burdi could also be in here, but this bullpen is unacceptable as is and requires drastic improvement.