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2019 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Greg Holland
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Next In Line: Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano
(3/24) Bradley and Hirano each saved three games for the Diamondbacks last season, but the team somewhat surprisingly named Holland the closer four days before Opening Day.

Holland's tenure with St. Louis last season was an unmitigated disaster, but he was quietly decent after joining Washington. Walks remained an issue with the Nats (12.5 BB%), but Holland rediscovered his strikeout punch down the stretch (31.3%) and of course has has the "proven closer" track record with 189 career saves. His velocity was down in spring training and he posted poor numbers, but he'll get the ball in the ninth inning anyway, at least at the start of the year.

Bradley was named the favorite early in the offseason before losing out to Holland. He may be the team's best reliever, but it's not as if he's completely dominant. He lost a tick of velocity last season, and while he was able to maintain similar strikeout and walk rates -- his K-BB rate fell from 20.0% to a still-good 18.6% -- his HR/9 more than doubled as his opponents' hard-hit rate exploded to 40.1%.

Hirano proved effective in his first season stateside, relying heavily on his split-finger pitch (46.3%) to induce groundballs. He's 34 and doesn't have the stuff of a traditional closer, with a fastball that averaged just 91 mph.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: A.J. Minter
Team: Atlanta Braves
Next In Line: Wes Parsons, Chad Sobotka, Dan Winkler; Arodys Vizcaino (10-day IL, shoulder)
(4/16) Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported March 9 that the Braves intended to have Vizcaino and Minter share closer duties based on matchups. Vizcaino was placed on the 10-day IL with a shoulder issue April 14, leaving Minter to handle the bulk of the ninth-inning duties.

Right shoulder inflammation kept Vizcaino from a proper follow-up to his excellent 2017 season, but he performed well when on the field, finishing with an ERA in the 2.00s for the second straight year while converting 17 of 19 save chances (including the postseason). Vizcaino continued to throw gas, averaging over 97 mph with his fastball for the fourth straight season. He keeps hitters off balance by dropping in a curveball roughly 30 percent of the time. His 25.3 K% and 14.3% swinging-strike rate remained strong, if closer to middle-of-the-pack among closers. It should be noted that his opponents' line-drive rate rose to 26.7% after sitting right around 16% the prior two seasons. However, the stuff seems to be mostly the same as it's always been.

Minter dealt with an injury of his own (back strain) and struggled to find his release point after his return in August. Overall, the numbers represented a sizable step back from the lefty's small sample in his 2017 debut, but the peripherals were still quite good and he was throwing harder than he did the year prior. He racked up 15 saves and 12 holds while blowing just two leads during the regular season. Minter left a spring game March 1 and missed the start of the regular season, but was officially activated April 4.

While Winkler was a key piece of the bullpen for most of the campaign, earning 23 holds and even a pair of saves, he imploded in September (15.43 ERA). That led to Winkler being left off the NLDS roster and put him behind others in the bullpen hierarchy entering 2019.

Parsons only logged five innings at the big-league level last season, but through 15 games this season, he has the highest Leverage Index on the team. The numbers have been promising for the most part; Parsons has a 7:2 K:BB over 6.2 innings. He doesn't throw particularly hard (92.9 mph fastball), but Parsons can snap off a breaking ball and change speeds effectively.

Sobotka is a 6-foot-7 right-hander who works fastball-slider. He averages over 96 mph with his four-seamer and his slider proved to be an excellent out pitch, generating a ton of empty swings (37.1 O-Swing%, 19.3 SwStr%). Opponents hit .102 against Sobotka last season.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Mychal Givens
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Next In Line: Miguel Castro, Paul Fry; Richard Bleier (10-day IL, shoulder)
(4/3) Zack Britton's time as the closer in Baltimore came to an end last season with a July 24 trade to the Yankees. Brad Brach and Darren O'Day were moved in subsequent deals. That left Givens to handle the ninth last year, but new manager Brandon Hyde has taken a more modern approach to his bullpen usage so far in 2019, and that has hurt Givens' value significantly early on. Four pitchers have earned saves for Baltimore through five games, none of them being Givens: Castro, Bleier, Fry and Mike Wright.

Last year's opportunity was one many had been waiting for with Givens, who for several years had posted closer-worthy peripherals with zero saves to show for his efforts. The skills were less befitting of a closer once he actually took over the role -- Givens' K-rate over the final two months was just 23.9% -- but he was effective nonetheless, and his physical ability stands head and shoulders over the rest of the Orioles' bullpen. He averages over 95 mph with his fastball, can change speeds at 86 mph and also spins a slider. Givens gave a little back in terms of control, but the landing was a manageable 9.5 BB%.

Castro has some intrigue given the raw tools. The key word there is "raw." Castro regularly touches mid-to-high 90s with his four-seamer, but that hasn't translated to many Ks whatsoever in the majors (15.7 K%). Control has also been a problem, and as a result, his K-BB marks have settled in the low single digits the past two years. He's still only 24 years old, so there's still time for the right-hander to develop into a serviceable back-end arm.

Bleier missed time due to injury in the spring, and his is very much a middle-reliever profile. A 31-year-old journeyman lefty, Bleier owns an 11.0 K% in parts of three big-league seasons. He doesn't even crack 90 mph on the radar gun, but Bleier gets groundballs in bunches (63.3%) and is stingy with the free passes (4.3 BB%).

The wild card here is Hunter Harvey, who once again dealt with injuries last year, tossing 32.1 innings at Double-A after totaling 18.2 innings in 2017 and 12.2 innings in 2016. Baltimore really should end the starting experiment and see what Harvey can do in relief. If that move is made and Harvey finds his way up to the big leagues in 2019, he would immediately become one of the more intriguing arms in the Orioles' bullpen, as he can throw in the mid-90s with movement and spin a quality curveball.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Ryan Brasier
Team: Boston Red Sox
Next In Line: Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, Darwinzon Hernandez
(4/12) The Red Sox's closer situation was up in the air throughout the winter. Barnes was handed the ball in the ninth during the team's second game of the season, tasked with protecting a one-run lead. He converted that opportunity, but Barnes has worked as part of the bridge to the ninth in subsequent appearances, with Brasier earning three straight saves (April 3, 7 and 12) to stake a strong claim to the role.

Brasier was always an intriguing internal candidate. He didn't miss as many bats as Barnes in 2018 -- for the season, Brasier had a 23.4 K% (career 22.6%). He also lacks the groundballs (40.2%), but the right-hander throws hard (96.9 mph average fastball last season) and he's much stingier with the walks than Barnes.

Barnes brings the ever-enticing combination of strikeouts (36.2 K% last season) and groundballs (53.0%). The right-hander averages 96 mph with his fastball and spins a good curveball.

A reunion with Craig Kimbrel later in the year is still possible. However, Kimbrel was shaky in the playoffs, issuing eight walks and giving up seven runs in 10.2 postseason innings, and there are some yellow flags in the regular-season numbers as well.

Thornburg struggled last year in his first season back from thoracic outlet surgery, posting a 5.63 ERA, 1.58 WHIP and 2.25 HR/9. The track record for players returning from that procedure, while limited, is pretty troubling (Tyson Ross and Matt Harvey are the most recent cautionary tales).
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Pedro Strop
Team: Chicago Cubs
Next In Line: Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr.; Brandon Morrow (10-day IL, elbow)
(1/31) At the All-Star break, Morrow had 22 saves, tied for sixth-most in the National League. He did not end up making a single appearance after the break, as biceps inflammation lingered and sabotaged Morrow's attempts to ramp back up.

Morrow underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow Nov. 6, and as of late January he was expected to miss at least the first month of the 2019 campaign.

Strop was the primary ninth-inning option in Morrow's absence, though he too battled an injury (hamstring) down the stretch, opening the door for Jesse Chavez -- now with Texas -- and Cishek to see save chances late in the year. While Strop continued to pump his fastball in at 95 mph on average, he lost a little something from his strikeout rate last season (from 26.0% to 23.8%). That loss was offset to a large extent with a reduction in walks (8.8%). Strop's groundball rate fell dramatically -- 13 percentage points, to 46.1% -- but even so he posted an identical HR/9 to 2017 (0.60). His home-run rate has never exceeded 0.78 HR/9 in any season with at least 20 innings.

Cishek's fastball now sits right around 90 mph, but he posted the third-highest strikeout rate of his career last season (27.1%). His sidewinding delivery is headache for same-handed hitters, as evidenced by their .165/.239/.288 line against Cishek in 2018. He gave a little back against lefty batters last season, but his slider is good enough to limit the damage without the platoon edge. Cishek should once again play a critical role at the back end for manager Joe Maddon.

Edwards has long been thought of as a future closer. He could still fulfill that destiny, but the control hasn't come along (14.4 BB%) and it will need to if he's ever to be trusted in the ninth. Edwards lost a little velo and a little off his K-rate last season, and battled a forearm injury in the playoffs, so those save speculators out there may want to roster another option and simply keep Edwards on a watch list to begin 2019.
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