I’m going to be straight forward and tell you I have no idea how to rank the third tier properly right now. I can see a case to be made for almost any order between these 11 right now, all things considered. I’ll talk about some of the other tier-3 closers later, but for now let’s focus on Emmanuel Clase who made the biggest jump up the list this week. He’s looking as nasty as ever and certainly has the talent to stick in the closer’s role all season long. His cutter is averaging 100.4 MPH each pitch, and he’s doing a fantastic job locating it on the outer edge to righties as well as against lefties. Clase had trouble getting whiffs back in 2019 with the Rangers, but that is certainly not the case early on in 2021. His 42.4% Whiff rate is well above average and his 22.2% SwStr currently ranks sixth among qualified relievers. Obviously it’s early and an extremely small sample size, but the early returns are looking up for Clase as Cleveland’s next closer.
- There seemed to be a big rush this past week to go add Corey Knebel after Knebel followed up a Kenley Jansen blown save by getting a save of his own during Jansen’s off day off. It’s great to see Knebel looking good again and he certainly has closer potential, but it’s way too early to consider Jansen on the hot seat. Especially following Kenley’s vintage outing this Sunday, where he struck out two and sat 94 MPH, even touching 95 MPH. We haven’t seen those types of numbers from Jansen since 2016. Now I’m not sure if it’s going to stick, but I’d consider looking to buy low in case it does.
- Brad Hand made his debut this past weekend as well, and while he didn’t get a chance to close out a game, he looked good in his first inning of 2021. His velocity was up in the outing, at least compared to last years average, but on par with 2019 so that’s certainly a positive. Like Jansen, he’s in this tier because his role should be fairly safe but nothings ever truly safe with closers.
- After hyping him up last week, Will Smith proceeded to go out and blow one save (almost a second) while adding two loses. Why was Smith so bad last week? The simple answer is that he couldn’t get ahead of any hitters. Going back to the game Sunday night, he falls behind the lead off hitter Alec Bohm 3-1 before Bohm doubles off him. Juan Soto’s walk off against Smith last Tuesday came on a 3-0 pitch and the next day he walks Soto to begin the last inning. I still believe in the talent, but it wasn’t a pretty week for Smith.
- Craig Kimbrel on the other hand continues to look like the best reliever in baseball, but then again, he’s still only faced the Pirates three times and a Brewers team that was averaging 2.85 runs a night over their first seven games. Opponents aside, Kimbrel has done a great job at attacking hitters and getting ahead in counts, maximizing his curveball effectiveness. The next three weeks will be a good test for Kimbrel, as the Cubs get the Brewers, Braves, Mets, Reds and Dodgers.
- As I said above, this third tier is a big question mark, with a lot of intrigue as well as plenty of downside. I think the reason Alex Reyes slipped a bit this week because of that said downside, and the fact that he really could wind up being a placeholder for Jordan Hicks.
- It’s been a rough start to the year for Amir Garrett, who while not blowing a save or losing a game yet, has allowed five earned runs over three innings the year. He’s also walked four while only striking out three. My biggest concern with Garrett entering the season was his career struggles against right handed hitters (.848 OPS against), and whether that makes him better suited to just face the left handed heavy section of an opposing teams lineup, no matter the inning. There’s been no talk off him losing his grip on the closer role yet, and as long as he’s pitching the ninth inning, his strikeout upside keeps him a near must roster player.
- Also off to a rough start is Alex Colome, and it would not be surprising at all if he were to be the next closer removed from the role if he struggles this week. Most people have Taylor Rogers as the next in line, but keep an eye on Hansel Robles here if Colome is ousted. I get the feeling Baldelli is looking to use Rogers in a role similar to the one I mentioned Garrett should be in, so he could easily give Robles the ninth and let Tyler Duffey and Rogers figure out the seventh and eighth. For those in leagues where saves are super competitive, I’d recommend a speculative Robles add over adding someone like Knebel.
- Anthony Bass became the first closer to lose his job due to performance this season, with Yimi Garcia now inline to see the bulk of the Marlins save opportunities…for now. Garcia had nice ratios last season but it’s unclear how sustainable that will be given the amount of hard contact he is susceptible to. If you are desperate for saves, he’s worth a look but don’t get your hopes up expecting a sub-two ERA and a 30%+ K rate.
- With Trevor Rosenthal likely out for the year, the A’s have mentioned a few names as his potential replacement, with Lou Trivino being the most recent one. If the A’s ever find themselves with a save chance, I think Trivino gets the first crack… unless there are two lefties due up in the inning. This feels destined to be a committee between Trivino and Jake Diekman, which severely limits both of their values. For now, I don’t hate the idea of rostering both and seeing how things shake out, but there are about 30 other relievers ahead of them I’d rather roll with.
- Greg Holland has been super shaky to begin the year, but is he even the Royals closer? His usage has been quite peculiar and I get the sense Mike Matheny is just winging it in the back end of that bullpen right now, however maybe the injury to Jesse Hahn will calm things down. Or perhaps Kyle Zimmer will just be added to the mix and they’ll all continue to be used at random.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)