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2021 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Joakim Soria
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
(12/23) Manager Torey Lovullo began the 2020 season utilizing Archie Bradley, who struggled with consistency, recording a 4.22 ERA and six saves. However, Bradley was dealt to the Reds in late August, opening up the job once again.

Crichton made his major-league debut with the Orioles in 2017, but ultimately struggled and needed Tommy John before being traded to the Diamondbacks, but he stepped into the closer role nicely, converting on all five of his final save attempts to end the year. Crichton was in the top 1% of the league in Barrel%, allowing 1.4% of his batted balls to be barreled up. Relying heavily on his sinker and curveball, Crichton does not possess normal traits of a closer who makes hitters miss, recording a below average 21.1% strikeout rate. Crichton will be expected to start in this high-leverage role given his 2.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and will likely see save opportunities unless Arizona signs a traditional closer during the offseason.

Lopez struggled during 2020, as he saw plenty of high-leverage chances blundered, recording a 5.95 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 18.9% strikeout rate. The right-hander had a hard-hit rate of 45.2% and walk rate of 10.2%. Lopez is unlikely to be a reliable option for saves in 2021 but given his velocity Lovullo may give him a chance to close if he can produce consistency.

Devenski joined as a free agent in January and comes with plenty of pedigree, but he hasn't had much recent success. He produced a 2.38 ERA in his first two years in the league but owns a 4.88 mark since the start of 2018. He struggled through just four poor outings last season while battling arm injuries. He's seemingly a long shot to claim the closer role, but he's reached higher heights for a longer stretch than anyone else in this group, so the upside is there should he be able to recapture his early-career form.

Ginkel made his way to the majors in 2019 and was nothing short of impressive with a 1.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP and a 29.2% strikeout rate illustrate his clear potential for a late-inning role. During his sophomore campaign, he took a few steps backward recording a 6.75 ERA and 2.13 WHIP; however, it is worth noting that his sophomore slump numbers may be inflated due to a shortened season. The right-hander holds his own in league being in the 83rd percentile in whiff rate, 84th percentile in fastball velocity and 73rd percentile in fastball spin. If Ginkel can find his command again (16.5% walk rate in 2020), he has all of the tools to become a solid closer in the league.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Will Smith
Team: Atlanta Braves
(1/26) Manager Brian Snitker will have to shake things up in 2021, as the Braves saw the departure of veteran closer Mark Melancon in free agency. Melancon recorded 11 saves while posting a 2.78 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, and the presumptive favorite to replace him in the ninth inning is Will Smith.

Smith has been dominant since his sophomore season in the league, but ultimately took a step back from his career year in 2019 when he was fully embraced as a closer, recording 34 saves and a 1.03 WHIP. In 2020, the left-hander did not record a save as he acted as a setup man for Melancon and although his 4.50 ERA wasn't pretty, his 0.94 WHIP tells a different story. Relying heavily on his slider and four-seam fastball, Smith recorded a 29% strikeout rate and was in the 92nd percentile for whiff rate leaguewide. Smith will be expected to start in this high-leverage role given his consistency and proven track record.

Martin was phenomenal in 2020, with a 1.00 ERA and 0.61 WHIP, and a 30.3% strikeout rate illustrates his clear potential for a late-inning role. Martin recorded 18 innings of work allowing only one home run throughout his 2020 campaign. Snitker has hinted that a right-hander and the lefty Smith will split save opportunities based on matchups. If Martin can continue to excel again with pinpoint accuracy (4.5% walk rate in 2020), he can expect to produce another dominant 2021 and compete for closer reps.

Minter finished an impressive 2020 with a 0.83 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. The left-hander produced a 28.2% strikeout rate and was one of the league's best in inducing soft contact, with hitters averaging an 84.5 mph average exit velocity, placing Minter amongst the top 4% of the pitchers in the league. Minter recorded an outstanding 2.82 FIP and has one of the best cutters in baseball. It can be expected that Snitker will look to use Minter in a setup role, giving him another lefty weapon out of the bullpen.

Jackson struggled during 2020, as he saw his ERA rise from 3.86 to 6.84 by the end of September. The trend continued into the postseason for the right-hander as he went on to record a 10.13 ERA. Jackson is unlikely to be a reliable option for saves in 2021 given his historically high WHIP (1.975 in 2020) and low whiff rate (25th percentile in league) but could still reemerge as he only allowed two home runs and fell in the top 5% when it came to barrels allowed.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Hunter Harvey
Team: Baltimore Orioles
(1/26) Manager Brandon Hyde has set 2021 expectations that the Orioles will be on a closer-by-committee basis again. However, Cesar Valdez closed out the year recording three saves in September.

Valdez has had a unique MLB career -- debuting in 2010, he didn't return to the league until 2017 before another three-year hiatus only to return yet again in 2020. Valdez was dominant in limited appearances, recording a 1.26 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 2.14 FIP. Valdez was able to maintain 21.1% strikeout rate despite relying on a changeup 83.2% of the time. His fastball peaks in the mid-80s with average movement. It can be expected that he will begin the year splitting reps with Hunter Harvey and Tanner Scott.

Harvey struggled during 2020, as evidenced by a 4.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a low 16.2% strikeout rate. The right-hander had an alarming hard-hit rate of 50% and allowed two home runs in 8.2 innings of work. Harvey is still young and things may change given that his fastball averages at 97 mph; he just needs to find more command with his off-speed pitches.

Scott made huge strides in 2020 and was dominant with a 1.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a 26.2% strikeout rate illustrating his clear potential for a late-inning role. The left-hander has an incredible four-seam fastball and slider that both have high spin rates, leading to soft contact when hitters face him. The southpaw holds his own being in the 91st percentile in whiff rate, 91st percentile in fastball velocity and 98th percentile in fastball spin. Scott appears to be Hyde's most promising lefty option moving forward for this Orioles team.

Armstrong finished 2020 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. The right-hander did not record a save in 2020 but recorded four saves upon being traded to the Orioles in 2019. The 30-year-old recorded a 24.6% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate, very standard statistics for a quality setup man. Armstrong appeared in various high-leverage situations and Hyde loves using the righty as a setup man.

Sulser should at least be considered part of the picture after leading the team with five saves last season, but his overall 2020 numbers definitely aren't closer material. In 22.2 innings, he finished with a 5.56 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and a 19:17 K:BB. For a player heading into his age-31 season with a grand total of 30 MLB innings under his belt, he certainly doesn't look like a prime candidate, but Hyde trusted him at one point last year and could in theory do so again this season.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Matt Barnes
Team: Boston Red Sox
(1/25) Manager Alex Cora will take back over the reigns in 2021 and, as it stands, will start his tenure with Matt Barnes as his opening day closer.

Barnes was very shaky in 2020, converting on nine of his 13 save opportunities. The right-hander recorded a 4.30 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and a 4.84 FIP during his 2020 campaign, mainly struggling with consistency and command issues. The 30-year-old recorded a 13.7% walk rate as he relied on his four-seam fastball as his strikeout pitch which in turn resulted in being a pitch that he walked most of his batters on as well. Barnes possesses all of the valuable traits of a desirable closer and his command will be a key factor as to whether Boston can expect him to fill the shoes of Brandon Workman who was traded prior to the deadline.

Ottavino had a bumpy 2020 campaign, highlighted by a 5.89 ERA. However, his skills remains largely intact and he was burned by a 66.2% left on base rate and .375 BABIP in the short sample. Entering his age-35 season, Ottavino's velocity has slowly but steadily been declining. That could project worse results in 2021 and beyond, though a trade that sent him to Boston in the offseason could result in him seeing save chances at some point in 2021.

Taylor struggled during 2020, as he only saw 7.1 innings of work during his sophomore season. The left-hander had a hard-hit rate of 47.8% and walk rate of 13.9%. Taylor is unlikely to be a reliable option for saves in 2021 but showed promise during his rookie season, so Cora may turn to him as more of a setup reliever as the season progresses.

Hernandez made a huge stride in 2020 and was dominant with a 2.16 ERA and 1.56 WHIP and a 32.5% strikeout rate illustrate his clear potential for a late-inning role. The left-hander has an incredible four-seam fastball and slider that both have high spin rates, leading to soft contact when hitters face him. The 24-year-old looks to be a promising weapon for Alex Cora's bullpen as his sole weakness tends to be his command, a common issue among young relievers.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Team: Chicago Cubs
(1/26) With the departure of Theo Epstein in Chicago, it will be interesting to see if the new acting President of the Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer, will add to a bullpen in desperate need of depth. Manager David Ross will look to Craig Kimbrel to resemble his old form from his Braves/Red Sox days.

Kimbrel has struggled since joining the Cubs in 2019, but he ended 2020 on a high note, allowing zero earned runs in September over 7.1 innings of work and ending the season with two saves and three holds. Kimbrel finished 2020 with a 5.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and a 3.97 FIP. Most alarming is Kimbrel's 51.9% hard hit rate but the majority of that percentage can be assessed to his first half of the season. The right-hander was relieved of his closing duties following a career season from Jeremy Jeffress. Kimbrel will once again be given the opportunity to begin the season in the closer role and will look to carry his strong second half into a full season.

Wick had his second consecutive good season, as he saw plenty of high-leverage chances where he rose to the occasion, recording a 3.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 27.0 percent strikeout rate. The right-hander had a hard-hit rate of 39.6 percent and saw his walk rate dip to 9.1 percent. Wick succeeded in recording all four of his save opportunities in 2020 and also logged five holds. It is likely that Wick would be the next man up in 2021 if Kimbrel's struggles reappear.

Winkler appears to be the best option among the rest of a generally uninspiring group. He recorded a pair of saves in 2018 with Atlanta before pitching himself off the roster with a 4.98 ERA in 2019. His 2.95 ERA in 18.1 frames for the Cubs last season looks strong on the surface but comes with poor peripherals. It took a .186 BABIP to get him to that mark, while his merely average 23.7 percent strikeout rate came with a high 14.5 percent walk rate.
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Closers in Waiting Ranks
  1. Devin Williams (MIL)
  2. Nick Anderson (TB)
  3. Tyler Duffey (MIN)
  4. Lucas Sims (CIN)
  5. Jonathan Hernandez (TEX)
  6. Drew Pomeranz (SD)
  7. Adam Ottavino (BOS)
  8. Blake Treinen (LAD)
  9. Giovanny Gallegos (STL)
  10. Josh Staumont (KC)
  11. Brusdar Graterol (LAD)
  12. Pete Fairbanks (TB)
  13. Trevor May (NYM)
  14. Zack Britton (NYY)
  15. Andrew Miller (STL)
  16. Aaron Sanchez (SF)
  17. Jake Diekman (OAK)
  18. Scott Oberg (COL)
  19. Alex Reyes (STL)
  20. Keynan Middleton (SEA)