Top 40 Closers

Top 40 closer rankings for fantasy baseball 2021.

The 2021 Pitcher List positional rankings continue to roll out fast and furious today as we now move onto closers, a role that seemingly becomes more and more volatile as the years go by. Given the crazy, shortened 2020 season, it’s tough to determine how much stock we should put into last year’s performances, the good and the bad. But as much as we would all like to, we can’t just forget about 2020 completely. I’d argue, more so than any other position perhaps, last year’s numbers should be heavily considered when determining relief pitcher value for the upcoming season. That’s not to say 2019 or a pitcher’s career haven’t weighed into these rankings, but I feel it’s unjust to discount 2020 results, with certain exceptions of course (Covid/IL stints, etc.).

As has been the case in the past, there once again is a near 50% turnover rate at the position from last year even with the shortened season. I’m still very much an advocate of waiting to draft saves, but this may be the year where we could make an exception. After all pitcher’s innings were limited last year, it’s likely we see starting pitcher’s innings limited this season, with some teams strongly considering 6 man rotations. It would seem to me that relievers likely won’t face such innings restrictions this season, except for special cases, like Jordan Hicks returning from TJ or Hunter Harvey. The thought here being that starting pitchers won’t have the same value they typically do in a normal season.

This doesn’t necessarily lead to relievers having more value, but if we are pushing starters down the draft board, relievers would get a boost by default. There’s also the fact that the closer position seems top-heavy this year, with there being only 16 or so closers really worth a top 200 pick. For those in leagues where saves are super competitive, it will be awfully hard to compete in the category if you miss out on one of those guys. Not impossible, but awfully hard. That being the case, I’m a proponent of grabbing one closer early (picks 100-150) and then waiting a little while for my speculative saves options.

Devin Williams, Trevor Rosenthal, Alex Reyes, Emilio Pagan, and Reyes Moronta are just a handful of potential relievers who could potentially get saves at some point this season that didn’t make this list. Williams is the one non-closer who should be drafted like a closer, probably somewhere in the tier 5/6 range. There are still plenty of saves up for grabs, with teams looking at committee situations so be sure to monitor spring training trends to see how pitchers are being used, what changes they’ve made, and how they look overall.

Now, let’s get to our closer rankings…

 

NOTE: All ADP’s mentioned are based on NFBC data from 01/01/2021 through 02/15/2021

 

Tier 1

 

No. 1: Edwin Diaz (New York Mets)

Unlike in years past where there’s been a consensus atop the closer board, I’d expect to see a handful of relievers being drafted as RP1’s in fantasy drafts. Do I feel confident in Edwin Diaz as the top closer in the game right now? Absolutely, but not really. There are tons of question marks for everyone up and down this list, so why not shoot for the immense upside Diaz brings if he remains the closer for an entire season on a much improved Mets team.

2020 was an overall improvement for Diaz, who was able to lower his ERA to 1.75 over 26 outings while having great supporting xStats.  A big part of that can be attributed to Diaz getting his slider back on track last season (2.1 pVAL/C) to where it was during his historic 2018 season (2.2 pVAL/C). In order to finish the year as the top closer in baseball, Diaz will need to lower his walk rate back to around a 10% rate, but the swing and miss stuff is still among the best in the game. His 45.5% K, 21.5% SwStr, 48% Whiff, and 61.6% Z-Contact rates were all good enough to rank in the top 4 of all relievers in 2020.

 

No. 2: Liam Hendriks (Chicago White Sox)

The best reliever on the open market this offseason, Liam Hendriks backed up his breakout 2019 campaign and finished 2020 as the top closer in baseball. The White Sox inked Hendriks to a 4 year, $55 million deal last month, and the fit, at least on paper, looks like a great one for both the player and team. Hendriks was able to build off his breakout 2019 season last year and set career highs in SwStr rate (19%), K-BB rate (37%), and xFIP (2.07). The move to Chicago shouldn’t affect his fantasy value much and keeps Hendriks in the discussion to be the first reliever off the board.

 

No. 3: Aroldis Chapman (New York Yankees)

Despite diminishing velocity, Aroldis Chapman proved in 2020 that he is still one of the best relievers in the game, albeit in just 11.2 innings. He missed half of August with Covid-19, limiting him just 3 saves on the year. He was, for the most part, dominant in those innings, finishing the year with a 40% K-BB rate, 20.1% SwStr rate, and 1.79 SIERA. Expect Chapman to once again be one of the safest closers in the game for the 2021 season while also providing significant upside with an improving slider.

 

Tier 2

 

No. 4: Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers)

Coming off a down year (by his standards), Josh Hader continues to see plenty of trade speculation around him, but with two more arbitration years left after this season, the Brewers shouldn’t be in any rush to deal him. Hader saw career-highs in BB% rate (12.8%), Z-Contact (78.8%) and xFIP (4.01) to go along with a career-low 16.1% SwStr rate in 2020. His 3.79 ERA is even more concerning considering his BABIP was just .161 (career average is .222) to go with a rising walk rate. His stuff didn’t seem to deteriorate all that much, so perhaps it was just a mechanical thing, or maybe hitters have caught on to his deceptive delivery. Since July of 2019, Hader has a 3.86 ERA  and 1.02 WHIP over 56 IP (postseason included) while allowing 12 HR, certainly not terrible numbers, but it’s tough to justify making him a top 60 pick right now.

 

No. 5: Raisel Iglesias (Los Angeles Angels)

Coming off a “career year”, the Reds decided to trade closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels, which left an already shallow Reds bullpen…shallower. Perhaps they were looking to get something for Iglesias before he hits free agency following the season, but it still seems like a strange move from the “contending” Reds. Iglesias was as unhittable as ever in 2020, with a career-high 18.6% SwStr rate and career-low 72.6% Z-Contact rate. In Los Angeles, I’d expect Iglesias’s role to be steady as the Angels closer and not to be called on to randomly work the 7th or 8th inning like he was in Cincinnati at times.

 

No. 6: Ryan Pressly (Houston Astros)

Thrown into the closer role following Roberto Osuna‘s season-ending injury, Pressly struggled to find consistency, which may be the result of him dealing with various ailments (elbow, thumb, knee) leading up to and possibly through the season. Despite the up and down year, the swing and miss ability remained intact, as Pressly finishing the season with a 17.4% SwStr rate. In fact, we could probably chalk most of Pressly’s struggles up to bad luck, as his .365 BABIP is .71 points higher than his career average.

He relied more heavily on his slider this past year, throwing it 42% of the time (career-high), while utilizing his curveball just 21% of the time (lowest rate since 2014). Perhaps this was due to his elbow injury or maybe just because of the ineffectiveness of the pitch last year (-2.1 pVAL), but it’s worth monitoring in spring training. Assuming Pressly is healthy and in the closer role come April, expect a return to his 2019 form.

 

No. 7: James Karinchak (Cleveland Indians)

James Karinchak lived up to the offseason hype last year, and if it weren’t for Devin Williams, would have certainly been the top rookie reliever in baseball.  Karinchak flashed the elite swing and miss stuff that made him such an exciting relief prospect, finishing in the top 3 of all qualified relievers in Whiff (45.5%), K rate (48.6%), and Z-Contact (69.6%) rates. His 1.52 FIP was good for 4th as well. The only thing holding him back is his high walk rate (14.7%) and no guarantee of being the team’s closer. Although doubtful, the cost-cutting Indians could try to save money on Karinchak down the road, instead opting for someone like say Phil Maton or Nick Wittgren to earn the majority of the teams save chances.

 

No. 8: Kirby Yates (Toronto Blue Jays)

2020 was certainly a disappointing season for Kirby Yates, especially considering he was headed for free agency and his first (and likely only) chance at a nice payday. Yates will be the Blue Jays closer this season, perhaps setting himself up for a pay day next year if all goes according to plan. The 12.46 ERA and 2.54 WHIP in 2020 are eyesores of course, but this was the result of 4.1 IP while dealing with bone chips in his elbow. It wasn’t all bad for Yates in his shortened season however as his 41.3% Whiff, 18.8% SwStr, and 67.7% Z-Contact rates still show how dominating his stuff can be. I think he is likely to be one of the steals of free agency and the Blue Jays did a great job signing him for just $5.5 million guaranteed.

 

Tier 3

 

No. 9: Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Similar to Nick Anderson, the last time we saw Kenley Jansen, things weren’t exactly going his way in the World Series. Despite the rocky postseason, Jansen was relatively consistent in 2020 and proved he is still one of the toughest pitchers to handle. His K rate may not be where it once was, but he’s been able to command his cutter so hitters have trouble both in (74% Z-Contact) and out of the zone (38% O-Swing). He also remains one of the best at limiting hard contact with his 82.7% Exit Velocity and 14% Hard Hit rate against ranking in the top 1%. Unlike most on this list, Jansen also has some job security and will be the Dodgers closer come March guaranteed.

 

No. 10: Brad Hand (Washington Nationals)

Brad Hand has seen his stuff diminish and lacks the swing and miss ability others on this list have, but joining the Nationals should keep Hand fantasy relevant. Despite the negatives, Hand is coming off a career year, finishing 2020 with a .235 xWOBA and 29.1% K-BB. The big concern is Hand’s velocity, which has dipped 1+ mph in each of the last two seasons (93.8-92.7-91.4). This shouldn’t be much of a shock considering he’s being the leagues most used reliever since 2016.  The potential durability concerns, and declining swing and miss stuff (10.5% SwStr, 24.8% Whiff rates in 2020) have me mostly out on Hand at his current ADP (114 since he signed), but at the right price, he could make for a nice #2 or 3 RP option.

 

No. 11: Nick Anderson (Tampa Bay Rays)

Obviously, Nick Anderson (despite what happened in the playoffs) would be in the top tier, and perhaps rank 1st on this list if it were a given the Rays would make him their full-time closer. Obviously, this is the Rays so that will unfortunately not happen. Given the rest of the uncertainty surrounding who will close around the league and just the natural volatility of the role, I still like taking my chances with Anderson this season. After leading the Rays in saves last season I see Anderson, in a worst-case scenario, being good for an elite K rate, great ratios, and around 20 saves. Not bad for pick 165.

 

No. 12: Craig Kimbrel (Chicago Cubs)

So 2020 was a rollercoaster of a ride for Craig Kimbrel, but perhaps he was able to figure things out in September? For the season he had a fantastic 40.6 K rate and 72.9% Z-Contact, proving his stuff is still tough to hit…as long as it is in the zone that is. His 24.6% O-Swing and 17.4% BB rate tell a different story. The fact of the matter is, Kimbrel won’t be getting hitters to chase his curveball out of the zone as much anymore, so he simply needs to change his approach. He seemed to do that in the second half of 2020, so let’s hope that continues into 2021. The biggest thing he has going for him is job security, which more than half of this list can’t say.

 

No. 13: Jake Diekman (Oakland Athletics)

With Liam Hendriks signing in Chicago, expect Jake Diekman to be the A’s opening day closer, marking a different opening day closer for the team the past 3 years. Diekman is certainly deserving of the role, posting a career-high 40.8% Whiff and career-low 70.5% Z-Contact rate last year while allowing just one earned run over 21.1 IP. Unlike other lefty closers on this list, Diekman has had pretty even career splits, and one could even argue he handles right-handed hitters better. Manager Bob Melvin has also had no issues in the past using a lefty as his closer, as Sean Doolittle and Eddie Guardado have led his clubs in saves before. The walk rate (14.3%) is dangerously high, but that’s the only real concern for Diekman, who has been generally effective in his career even despite a 12.6% walk rate.

EDIT: Trevor Rosenthal signed with the Athletics after this was published. For ranking purposes, Diekman and Rosenthal can be swapped from their respective lists, with Rosenthal moving into Tier 2 for closers.

 

Tier 4

 

No. 14: Jose Leclerc (Texas Rangers)

 The Rangers shouldn’t have needed to move Rafael Montero to the Mariners for it to be evident that Jose Leclerc will be the teams closer for 2021. Jonathan Hernandez is fantastic as well but as manager Chris Woodward recently mentioned, they want him in a 2-3 inning bullpen role. So that leaves Leclerc as the logical closer to begin the season, and as in years past, I’m still buying into the Leclerc hype. He only logged 2 IP last year before a Grade 2 strain of the teres major in his throwing shoulder sidelined him, but still impressed in 2019 despite an unappealing 4.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. I’d love to see him get his walk rate closer to 10%, but at just 27 years old, as long as he is healthy, Leclerc should makes for a great risk/reward pick in drafts this year.

 

No. 15: Giovanny Gallegos (St. Louis Cardinals)

Giovanny Gallegos, like others before him on this list, would be ranked higher if he were named the Cardinals closer to start the year. That said, he should still factor into some save situations, and still brings tons of strikeout upside (20.1% SwStr, 43.8% O-Swing) and low ratios. I can see the Cardinals being careful with Jordan Hicks, at least early on, as he has not pitched for a year and a half now. The future closer in this organization is still likely Hicks, but I’d consider Gallegos the better option and favorite to lead the Cardinals in saves for the 2021 season.

 

No. 16: Amir Garrett (Cincinnati Reds)

Following the trade of Raisel Iglesias to the Angels, Amir Garrett was quick to claim the closer role as his, which is exactly the type of attitude you like to see out of your closer. To his credit, he has definitely earned a crack at the role but we will see how manager Dave Bell handles the situation with Garrett likely the only lefty available in the team’s bullpen. Considering Garrett’s career splits (.705 OPS and 34.6% K rate vs LHH against a .831 OPS and 21.8% K rate vs RHH), this could very well be heading to a closer by committee approach. Garrett remained a swing and miss machine last season, with an impressive 43.7% Whiff rate, and should be a valuable reliever for fantasy purposes no matter the usage. With Lucas Sims slowed by an elbow injury and Sean Doolittle not the threat he once was, Garrett should be considered the heavy favorite to close out games to start the year.

 

No. 17: Hector Neris (Philadelphia Phillies)

Hector Neris was as frustrating as ever in 2020, as the hope here was that we could chalk up 2018 as an anomaly. Instead, the Jekyll and Hyde Neris from 2018 returned, prompting the Phillies to go out and trade for Brandon Workman at the trade deadline. As things stand now, Neris should open the season as the team’s closer and the good news is that his swing and miss stuff remains as great as ever (17.6% SwStr, 39.1% Whiff rate). He also dealt with some bad luck (.381 BABIP last year vs. .293 career average), although he didn’t allow a HR last season despite allowing 10 a year on average so that certainly was in his favor. Archie Bradley may give him some competition in spring training, but Neris should be the favorite to open the season as the closer.

 

No. 18: Drew Pomeranz (San Diego Padres)

After signing a 4 year, $34 million deal to set up Kirby Yates in 2020, Drew Pomeranz looked like the early favorite to take over as the Padres closer in 2021 before the team signed Mark Melancon. Pomeranz was having a dominant season up until a shoulder injury landed him on the IL toward the end of August. The shoulder shouldn’t be an issue heading into the season, so I’d expect his walk rate to dip back to around or under 10%, which should result in an outstanding year for Pomeranz. Whether or not he gets a chance to act as the Padres full time closer, that’s another matter. Mark Melancon and possibly Emilio Pagan could factor into some save chances if the Padres opt to go the committee route.

 

Tier 5

 

No. 19: Richard Rodriguez (Pittsburgh Pirates)

One of my favorite “lesser-known” relievers, I love that Richard Rodriguez is (likely) getting a shot to close out games for an MLB team now. Unfortunately, that team is the Pirates. However, a sneaky competent bullpen should give him a chance at 30 saves in 2021. Rodriguez was great in 2020, with a 2.40 SIERA, 73.1 Z-Contact, and 31.2% K-BB rate, all ranking in the top 15 for relievers. It’s highly unlikely the Pirates actually spend money on their bullpen this offseason, but it still isn’t a sure thing that Rodriguez is the team’s closer come April.

 

No. 20: Matt Barnes (Boston Red Sox)

As a Red Sox fan, I had a really hard time deciding on where to place Matt Barnes on this list. He is definitely better than what we saw in 2020, but at the same time, I’m expecting (hoping) that the team adds a more proven closer on a short term deal this winter (spoiler alert: this didn’t happen). His 2019 38.6% K rate was good for 6th best among qualified relievers (2.93 xFIP was 13th) so we aren’t distant from Barnes being a great reliever. Obviously, 2020 wasn’t good to Barnes or anyone on the team for the most part, but 2020 wasn’t good to a lot of people so who am I to judge? There’s a better than 50% chance Barnes is the Red Sox closer in 2021, and I’d bank on him being closer to his 2018-19 self this season.

 

No. 21: Greg Holland (Kansas City Royals)

While unspectacular, Greg Holland provided the Royals with a steady late inning high leverage option last season, finishing with the second highest WPA/LI in 2020 (.96). Yes, he had 23 scoreless outings last year which was tied for 3rd most of all relievers also, but for the most part everything else graded out as pretty average for the 35-year-old. He upped his slider usage to 51.3% to help combat his decreasing fastball effectiveness and it paid off. At his current price (270 ADP), I’d be in on Holland late in drafts. Just be prepared for the Royals to flip him for prospects come July.

 

No. 22: Taylor Rogers (Minnesota Twins)

After a breakout 2019, Taylor Rogers dealt with some bad luck last season (60.3% LOB, .400 BABIP) that led to a 4.05 ERA and 1.50 WHIP and losing the grip on the closer role. He actually had a lower FIP last season than in 2019 (by .01 points) and his 22% K-BB rate was a pretty respectable mark. There are still some warning signs here though, as his 90.8% Z-Contact is much higher than desired, unless you can limit hard contact (not the case here with a 41.8% Hard Hit rate). The lack of swing and miss stuff (23.6% Whiff rate was 28th percentile) is a concern, but with some better luck in 2021, he should be a fairly steady reliever option, however one who now is very likely to be in a committee with Alex Colome.

 

Tier 6

 

No. 23: Rafael Montero (Seattle Mariners)

The Rangers traded closer Rafael Montero to a division rival this offseason for a low-level 17-year-old prospect, despite Montero being under team control for two more seasons. That should tell you all you need to know about Montero’s value. There’s little to no swing and miss upside here (22.5% O-Swing, 9.3% SwStr) but Montero has been great at limiting free passes since making his Ranger debut. His changeup is his best offspeed offering and a good one at that, but it just doesn’t get enough chases out of the zone. As things stand now, Montero will live and die with balls in play, so expected results to vary. He at least, for now, is locked into the closer role in Seattle.

 

No. 24: Daniel Bard (Colorado Rockies)

The biggest surprise in baseball in 2020 perhaps was the return of Daniel Bard to an MLB mound. Seven years after we last saw him, Bard proved he still has something left in the tank, eventually taking over as the Rockies closer and winning Comeback Player of the Year honors. It’s obviously a great story, but despite his effectiveness, Bard graded out mostly average across the board. He has age and Coors Field working against him as well, and it’s also been nine years since he threw more than 24 innings in an MLB season. I’m rooting for him, but still a bit skeptical Bard lasts a full season as a closer.

 

No. 25: Chris Martin (Atlanta Braves)

Chris Martin will turn 35 this season and only has 6 career saves but is still considered the favorite to receive the bulk of the Braves save chances, and for good reason. He may not feature the swing and miss stuff elite closers have, but the 6’8″ righty does not walk people (4.5% BB rate last year, 3.7% in his career). While he doesn’t walk anyone, he tends to be very hittable (87.5% Z-contact rate) and it seems like he could be splitting the closer role with Will Smith to begin the season. He still makes for a worthwhile late-round flier in most drafts but it’s tough to determine his real value with Smith lurking.

 

No. 26: Anthony Bass (Miami Marlins)

There couldn’t have been a better landing spot for Anthony Bass than the Marlins, as he and his 12 saves from 2019-2020 should make him the favorite to close out games there in 2021. Bass is coming off a career year from an xStats perspective as his xERA (2.24), xWOBA (.223), and xSLG (.265) all ranked in the 98th percentile. Bass found a ton of success in his slider, with a 52.2% Whiff rate as he was able to bury the pitch down and away against righties more consistently. When not getting whiffs on his slider, Bass is most likely getting a groundball, with his 62.3% GB rate, good for 6th highest among qualified relievers in 2020. While he has yet to have a K rate over 23% in his career, Bass still makes for a great late-round pick for those bargain hunting for saves.

 

No. 27: Joakim Soria (Arizona Diamondbacks)

With 223 career saves and not much competition, new Diamondback Joakim Soria should be first in line to be the team’s closer this season. Despite his 2.82 ERA, Soria is coming off a bit of a down year, with 14.6% K and 9.6% SwStr rates to go along with a career worse 5.15 xFIP. On the bright side, his .248 xWOBA ranked in the top 92nd percentile. Soria is a late-round closer target, one with limited upside but a steady floor should he beat out Stefan Crichton for the job.

 

Tier 7

 

No. 28: Will Smith (Atlanta Braves)

Despite coming off a disappointing first year with the Braves, there’s reason to be optimistic about Will Smith in 2021, starting with the fact that he should be healthy to begin the season. Smith was limited to just 16 IP last year as he dealt with Covid-19, and finished with a career-low 7.38 FIP and .329 xWOBA. He was still able to generate plenty of swings and misses, however, finishing with a career-high 17.5% SwStr rate, thanks in large part to his slider (55% Whiff). While it’s far from certain, if Smith were able to beat out Chris Martin for the closer role, he will be one of the best value picks this season.

 

No. 29: Alex Colome (Minnesota Twins)

Alex Colome continues to be an enigma from an analytical perspective, as he actually posted career highs in O-Swing (39.2%) and SwStr rate (15.3%) last season. Yet somehow despite this, had just a 17.8% K rate, his lowest mark since 2014. Despite the low K rate, Colome was phenomenal in 2020, proving that velocity isn’t everything when it comes to dominating the 9th inning. As things stand now, I’d imagine the 32-year-old will likely be in some sort of committee with Taylor Rogers in Minnesota, making him a late-round dart throw.

 

No. 30: Jake McGee (San Francisco Giants)

After disappearing from relevance in Colorado for four years (happens to a lot of pitchers), Jake McGee proved to be another shrewd pickup by the Dodgers front office, as the veteran lefty was one of the most effective relievers in baseball in 2020. McGee did all of his damage with his fastball, as he only threw 10 sliders over his 20.1 IP. Just how effective can a reliever be at the MLB level armed only with a 95 MPH fastball? McGee’s 38% K-BB rate and 1.81 SIERA were both 2nd behind only Devin Williams last season. This approach has worked for other lefties such as Sean Doolittle, Colin Poche, and Josh Hader in the past as well. In San Francisco, expect McGee to be a part of a 7 man closer committee under Gabe Kapler. However, if Kapler were to go the more conventional route, McGee would be my favorite to lead the team in saves.

 

No. 31: Mark Melancon (San Diego Padres)

Outside of a stint with the Red Sox in 2012 and his first year with the Giants in 2017, Mark Melancon has been as steady as they come for his 12-year career, currently 5th in saves among active closers. He was just fine last season as well, with his same shtick as usual… a good GB rate, and a low K rate. With his track record as an effective closer, he may get the first crack at save opportunities in San Diego, but they seem more destined to go with a committee approach at the back end of the bullpen.

 

No. 32: Diego Castillo (Tampa Bay Rays)

One of the better relievers on this list, it’s unfortunate (for fantasy purposes) Diego Castillo is stuck in Tampa Bay. Castillo possesses great stuff, mixing an upper 90’s sinking fastball with a hard slider (51% Whiff rate). Castillo’s 13.5% K-BB rate leaves a lot to be desired, but I’d imagine that K rate will tick back upwards this season given his ability to miss bats. While he likely won’t get consistent save opportunities, Castillo still makes for an upside late-round pick, who winds up with double-digit saves depending on how the Rays bullpen shakes out.

 

No. 33: Lucas Sims (Cincinnati Reds)

Lucas Sims had a mini-breakout last season and is now destined to be a huge part of the Reds bullpen going forward. He had a stellar .224 xWOBA, and a 33% K rate last season, leading to a 2.45 ERA and .94 WHIP. Sims gets a ridiculous amount of spin on his curveball (3334 RPM’s) and the pitch was good for a 46.8% Whiff rate last year as a result. With Garrett being the favorite to open the year as the teams closer, Sims should be next in line, making him one of the better RP handcuffs out there. Sims may be slowed by an elbow injury to start the year, but believes he will be ready for opening day.

 

No. 34: Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals)

Guys who can throw 100 MPH+ sinkers do not grow on trees, so despite not pitching in over two years, let us not forget about Jordan Hicks in St. Louis. Hicks was really developing into one of the better closers in the game before needing that dreaded two-word surgery in the middle of the 2019 season. His 67% GB rate and ability to miss bats with his slider (58% Whiff rate in 2019) had him looking like a souped-up Zack Britton. While I still view him as the Cardinals closer of the future, I feel like it’s in the organization’s best interest to let someone like Giovanny Gallegos close out games this season while the 24-year-old Hicks (who probably won’t work back-to-back days with a possible innings limit) works his way back from a lengthy absence.

 

No. 35: Hunter Harvey (Baltimore Orioles)

Speaking of lengthy absences, Hunter Harvey has totaled just 15 MLB innings over the past two seasons and 178 professional innings since the end of 2014. Yet, given his plus stuff and prospect pedigree, we just can’t seem to quit him and he now finds himself as the favorite to close out games for the O’s (again). In those 15 MLB innings, Harvey has had very mixed with not overly impressive results despite showing an upper 90’s fastball. Despite being the favorite for saves in Baltimore, Harvey’s injury history and middling minor league track record have me shying away from drafting him this season.

 

No. 36: Gregory Soto (Detroit Tigers)

Although he may not be the team’s closer come opening day, the only reliever I can recommend on the Tigers at this point would be Gregory Soto. The left-handed sinkerballer fared well in his first year as a full-time reliever and would be much higher on this list if he were the favorite for saves in Detroit. Soto finished 2020 with a 29.6% K rate, thanks in large part to his slider (61% Whiff, 42% PutAway rates) but will need his walk rate to come down if he wants to see sustained success. Soto was not very good after his first 10 appearances last year either (8.11 ERA), or ever before in his career, so there’s a chance he flames out next year. I still like taking my chances on a 26-year-old lefty with a 97 MPH two-seamer and slider that gets whiffs 60+% of the time. Bryan Garcia closed out some games late in the year for the Tigers in 2020, but I’d imagine we see some sort of committee approach early on in the year.

 

Tier 8

 

No. 37: Tanner Scott (Baltimore Orioles)

Tanner Scott, whose stuff projects similarly to Soto’s and is in a very similar situation, could also be in a closer committee to start the season. Both pitch for bad teams, and both could close. However, I’d deem it more likely that Soto is closing on opening day than Scott, who likely has Hunter Harvey in front of him. 2020 was a mini breakout for Scott, who finished with a 1.31 ERA and 1.06 WHIP as he lowered his walk rate to a respectable 11.6%. Scott’s hard slider still remains his bread and butter strikeout pitch, finishing with 43.1% Whiff and 33.3% PutAway rates.

 

No. 38: Yimi Garcia (Miami Marlins)

Working primarily in a setup role last season, Yimi Garcia finished the year with an impressive 1.66 FIP and 31.6% K rate over 15 innings pitched. Despite the impressive numbers, nothing else really stands out about Garcia. He utilized his hard slider/cutter a lot more last year (29%), but it didn’t exactly become a money pitch (5.6% SwStr, 13.3% Whiff, and 15.6% PutAway rates). While the Anthony Bass signing may knock him out of the closer conversation, Garcia should still wind up in plenty of high leverage situations and won’t blow up your ratios.

 

No. 39: Stefan Crichton (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Potential Diamondbacks closer Stefan Crichton relies heavily on balls in play becoming outs in order to be successful. However, Crichton gets plenty of groundballs (near 50% GB rate), so hopefully, Nick Ahmed continues to be a plus defender at SS. The best thing going for Crichton is that he has next to no competition outside of Joakim Soria at the moment. Crichton makes for a fine last round addition, but nothing more.

 

No. 40: Archie Bradley (Philadelphia Phillies)

Archie Bradley is hard to judge because his stuff seems very vanilla so he doesn’t miss a ton of bats (career 8.7% SwStr rate). At the same time, he’s really only had one bad season (2nd half of 2018 through the first half of 2019) in his 4 years as a reliever. It was also nice to see Bradley bring his walk rate back down well under 10% in 2020, leading to a very respectable 20.5% K-BB rate. Bradley will likely begin the year as Hector Neris’s top set up man, but we all know Neris’s volatility which could lead to Bradley closing out games sooner rather than later in 2021.

Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson, John Cordes & Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)

Rick Graham

Rick resides in the Boston area and has experience as a player and coach at the collegiate level. He has been covering relievers for Pitcher List since 2017.

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