There are only 12 closers in major league baseball. And by this, I mean there are only 12 pitchers who, right now, feel like a 100 percent lock to be the Opening Day closer for their team. Barring injury of course. I won’t make you work for the list. Here it is in an early semblance of order:
- Edwin Diaz
- Kenley Jansen
- Blake Treinen
- Craig Kimbrel
- Roberto Osuna
- Felipe Vazquez
- Jose Leclerc
- Sean Doolittle
- Brad Hand
- Raisel Iglesias
- Kirby Yates
- Wade Davis
There are some players missing who you think belong, right? Let’s talk about them first. Aroldis Chapman has lost his job for performance reasons in two straight seasons. He’s incredible. He should be drafted early. You should not be shocked by a sub-20 save total. That bullpen…
Corey Knebel isn’t the best reliever in his bullpen. He lost his job last season for performance reasons. He’s very good.
Andrew Miller, Brandon Morrow, Arodys Vizcaino, and Ken Giles are all injured, recovering from injury, or pitched like they were injured. I barred injury in the intro paragraph, but let’s unbar it for these guys.
Cody Allen has been dancing the “am I going to be terrible now” dance for half a decade. Last season was the first time he didn’t turn it around with a long scoreless streak.
So. We’re up to 12 “locks” and I mentioned 12 more teams with potential favorites. The remaining six clubs feature timeshares, open competitions, or look like obvious candidates to sign Kimbrel, Bud Norris, Sergio Romo, and/or Ryan Madson.
Let’s return to the 12 guys with good feelies.
Diaz, Jansen, Treinen
Incredible. Jansen is supposedly back to full health after offseason heart surgery. He was a lot better after adjusting his medication last season. Presumably, meds won’t be an issue in 2019. Maybe don’t use him at Coors Field (that last note is for the Dodgers).
Kimbrel would be in this tier if he was, you know, on a team.
Kimbrel, Osuna, Vazquez, Leclerc, Doolittle, Hand
There are some problems here. They’re small for the most part. Kimbrel, for example, merely requires a contract.
Osuna might not be the best reliever in the Astros bullpen (have you seen Ryan Pressly’s post-trade numbers?). It’s not hard to imagine some batteries thrown in his direction for… reasons. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you throw batteries at him. Merely, there could be unforeseen repercussions for his actions. People seem to be less cool with his domestic history than with Chapman’s.
Vazquez could be traded. Or those intermittent yips he showed in 2018 could return. Or the forearm soreness (which could be related to those yips) might turn into forearm detachment. Meanwhile Keone Kela lurks.
Leclerc halved his walk rate last season. What if he unhalves his walk rate?
I love Doolittle. I don’t like that he has a season high of 51.1 innings over the last four campaigns. Recurring shoulder injuries are largely to blame.
I don’t have anything bad to say about Hand. I like Hand. I have a fantasy team named Brad’s Hand.
Iglesias, Yates, Davis
The Reds have decided to zig by buying their way into a competitive roster. The bullpen remains a major weakness, one that could be strengthened with a certain Kimbrel character. There are no rumors this is in the works, I’m just speculating. Iglesias isn’t quite as talented as the above listed firemen. Most contenders would use him in a multi-inning setup role.
Yates had a serious home run problem entering 2018. Then he didn’t have a home run problem through the trade deadline. And then he did have a home run problem again. Maybe. Who can say with these small samples. Two things are clear. He’s a trade candidate if/when the Padres fall out of contention. Yates probably wouldn’t close for an acquiring team. A more subtle issue is that San Diego has a quietly stacked bullpen. They could develop a better in-house option.
I actually like Davis as a rebound candidate, and the Rockies have NOBODY to take his job. Despite an ugly 4.13 ERA, he still posted a useful 1.06 WHIP with plenty of saves. Beware his 4.73 ERA at Coors Field. That’s why he ranks last among the so-called trustworthy closers. (Psst, players aren’t trustworthy).
I just want to reinforce one thing before walking off the stage today. The above list is roughly ranked for a specific subset of closers – the ones who are very unlikely to lose their jobs. There’s another layer of guys who are merely unlikely to lose their role – like Chapman and Knebel. Chapman would be my fourth ranked closer, between Treinen and Kimbrel. Knebel would be somewhere in the Vazquez-to-Hand band. Speaking of VtH, you could shuffle those guys in any order and I wouldn’t argue with you. Not on February 1st.