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2021 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Stefan Crichton
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
(4/18) 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. The right-hander was considered a potential closer in spring training, but only has one save opportunity through eight appearances. Crichton has allowed three runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out six over 6.2 innings.

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. The right-hander closed out Arizona's first win of the season on April 4, then got the next save opportunity only to allow a game-tying home run to blow the save. On April 7, Devenski was placed on the restricted list for personal reasons and has yet to return to the team. Arizona has not had a save situation since that date, so the closer role remains unsettled.

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. In five appearances on the young season, Ginkel has a 2.08 ERA and 5:1 K:BB over 4.1 innings. He's the most logical option for the ninth inning in Devenski's absence.

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 this season, but given his velocity Lovullo may give him a chance to close if he can produce consistency. He's off to a great start in 2021, fanning seven over four innings without allowing an earned run.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Will Smith
Team: Atlanta Braves
Next In Line:  Chris Martin IL-10, Sean Newcomb COVID-19, A.J. Minter , Tyler Matzek
(4/16) Manager Brian Snitker had 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 last season. Given his strong spring and proven track record in the role, veteran Will Smith opens the year as the Braves' primary ninth-inning option.

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's 37.5% strikeout rate through seven 2021 appearances aligns with his 2019 success.

Martin was phenomenal in 2020, with a 1.00 ERA and 0.61 WHIP, and a 30.3% strikeout rate to illustrate his clear potential for a late-inning role. Snitker previously hinted that a right-hander and the lefty Smith will split save opportunities based on matchups. Unfortunately, Martin experienced numbness in the fingers of his pitching hand due to right shoulder inflammation and was subsequently placed was placed on the Injured List after two appearances. He has yet to resume throwing as of April 14 and does not have a timetable to return.

Newcomb earned his second career save on April 7, closing out the second game of a double-header after Smith got the save in the first game. The former starter has come out of the bullpen in all four of his appearances thus far and results have been promising. The southpaw has a 2.08 ERA with an outstanding 57.9% strikeout rate through 4.1 innings. Newcomb's walk rate remains high at 15.8%, but if he improves his control he may force Snitker's hand to make a closer change.

Minter has prior experience in the role, recording 15 saves for Atlanta in 2018. He struggled the following year with only five saves and an ERA north of seven, but rebounded in 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. He was off to a great start in 2021 with a 1.80 ERA and 6:1 K:BB in five innings, but has struggled over the last week, allowing four earned runs on two hits and four walks over his last two appearances. Snitker will continue to use Minter in a setup role as he looks to rebound.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Cesar Valdez
Team: Baltimore Orioles
(4/16) Manager Brandon Hyde set expectations that the Orioles will be on a closer-by-committee basis again. However, Valdez closed out 2020 recording three saves in September and has already logged two of Baltimore's first three saves of 2021.

Valdez has had a unique MLB career -- debuting in 2010, he didn't return to the league until 2017. Then he took another three-year hiatus only to return yet again in 2020. Valdez was dominant in limited appearances last season, recording a 1.26 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 2.14 FIP. The 36-year-old was able to maintain a 21.1% strikeout rate despite relying on a changeup 83.2% of the time. His fastball isn't typical for a closer, peaking in the mid-80s with average movement. Despite this, he's currently Baltimore's most trusted high-leverage arm.

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 last season 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.

Harvey was the early spring favorite for the closer role despite a limited big league resume that spans 15 career innings. His lack of experience at the big league level can be attributed to health issues, but when active, his possess plenty of upside with a fastball that averages 97 mph. Harvey is currently on the 60-day IL due to an oblique strain he suffered this spring. He has the arsenal to be a high-leverage reliever, but he's unlikely to return until June.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Matt Barnes
Team: Boston Red Sox
(4/16) Manager Alex Cora has taken back over the reigns in 2021 and will start his second stint in Boston with Matt Barnes as his closer after a false positive COVID-19 test late in spring training put the reliever's availability in question to start the year.

Barnes was shaky in 2020, converting nine of his 13 save opportunities. The right-hander recorded a 4.30 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and a 4.84 FIP last year, struggling with consistency and command issues. However, the 30-year-old has been incredible through six appearances in 2021. Barnes has yet to give up a hit or run through seven innings and owns a 14:2 K:BB while converting both of his save opportunities. He's built some job security in the process since Ottavino, his biggest competition for ninth-inning duties, owns a 9.82 ERA and 2.73 WHIP in five appearances.

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. In his age-35 season, Ottavino's velocity is up slightly at 94.2 mph, but he's allowed runs in three of his five appearances thus far and will need better results to re-enter the save mix at some point in 2021.

Brasier has yet to make his 2021 debut since suffering a left calf strain during the final week of spring training in late March. The 33-year-old has yet to resume baseball activities as of April 12 and appears unlikely to return in the coming weeks. However, Brasier earned seven saves for the Red Sox in 2019 and could re-enter the late-inning mix assuming he proves healthy whenever he does return.

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.

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.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Team: Chicago Cubs
(4/16) 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. After a rough first half of 2020 and rocky spring during which the veteran posted a 12.15 ERA, he's returned to form through five appearances, allowing just one walk through six hitless and scoreless innings while fanning 10. He's a perfect 3-for-3 in save chances and has already surpassed his save total from 2020.

Wick saw plenty of high-leverage chances last year, recording a 3.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 27% strikeout rate. The right-hander had a hard-hit rate of 39.6% and saw his walk rate dip to 9.1%. 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 once he returns from an oblique strain that he dealt with through camp.

Workman has experience in the ninth inning, logging 25 saves over the past two seasons between the Red Sox and Phillies. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate collapsed in 2020, coming in at 22.8% after sitting at 36.4% in 2019. Given that he posted a 22.5 K% in 2017 and 2018, the recent version of him may be what we should expect going forward. When combined with his career 10.7 BB%, that's not exactly closer material, but his past experience in the role along with the lack of options in the Cubs bullpen may lead to a few save opportunities as the season progresses.

Brothers, Chafin, Tepera and Winkler round out this generally uninspiring group. Brothers and Chafin are lefties with decent strikeout rates that will likely be featured against lefty-heavy parts of the batting order.
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Closers in Waiting Ranks
  1. Devin Williams (MIL)
  2. Taylor Rogers (MIN)
  3. Emilio Pagan (SD)
  4. Lucas Sims (CIN)
  5. Jordan Romano (TOR)
  6. Jose Alvarado (PHI)
  7. Jordan Hicks (STL)
  8. Tejay Antone (CIN)
  9. James Karinchak (CLE)
  10. Corey Knebel (LAD)
  11. Giovanny Gallegos (STL)
  12. Chris Martin (ATL)
  13. Drew Pomeranz (SD)
  14. Adam Ottavino (BOS)
  15. Josh Staumont (KC)
  16. Nick Anderson (TB)
  17. Trevor May (NYM)
  18. Blake Treinen (LAD)
  19. Chad Green (NYY)
  20. Kyle Crick (PIT)