There Are Only 12 Closers

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:

  1. Edwin Diaz
  2. Kenley Jansen
  3. Blake Treinen
  4. Craig Kimbrel
  5. Roberto Osuna
  6. Felipe Vazquez
  7. Jose Leclerc
  8. Sean Doolittle
  9. Brad Hand
  10. Raisel Iglesias
  11. Kirby Yates
  12. 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.

Archie Bradley is kind of like a Rockies prospect. Just when you think they’ll set him free, they go and sign Greg Holland.

I’m still handicapping Mark Melancon as the most likely to post the highest saves total for the Giants. So maybe be careful about those Will Smith bets. The reason? Trades are coming.

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.

Mychal Givens… yes, Givens is technically a good bet to close. Wily Peralta and Shane Greene too. Sweet Baby Ruth they’re terrible.

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).

Parting Shots

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.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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3 years ago

It’s really grim out there. Either one has to think about keeping a ‘solid’ closer or just say to heck with it and play the wire throughout the season.

3 years ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

Yeah, currently I’m planning on investing ~ market rate for one of these “safe” closers, then taking someone with upside for $1 at the end of the auction. With this market, I feel like you either have to fully commit, or get lucky. So I’m probably screwing myself by planning on half-committing, but I just can’t bring myself to spend $20+ on closers, for one category plus hopefully some ratio help.

3 years ago
Reply to  srpst23

Or you invest in 2 safe ones only to have them both on the dl after a month….

3 years ago
Reply to  aklang

So true, aklang. I was desperate for saves within the first couple of months last year and traded for Jansen, Chapman and Knebel. It was a disaster.

Johnnie T
3 years ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the safe closers go for a good bit more than safe closers used to go for, because of the relative shortage. There are a lot of people who do not want to play the “who is closing in St. Louis” game. Mileage may vary, depending on your league of course.