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2019 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Mychal Givens
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Next In Line: Shawn Armstrong, Hunter Harvey, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry
(8/9) New manager Brandon Hyde has taken a more modern approach to his bullpen usage in 2019. Four pitchers earned saves for Baltimore through five games, none of them being the presumptive favorite Givens: Castro, Bleier, Fry and Mike Wright. Givens eventually took hold of the primary ninth-inning job but was given a break from the role after allowing eight earned runs in four appearances (May 20, 23, 24 and 26), blowing two saves and taking three losses in that span. The Orioles have continued with the ninth-inning carousel lately, with Givens, Armstrong and Fry splitting eight saves between them since June 20.

Givens recently appeared to find his groove with a 2.20 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 20:6 K:BB in his last 14 outings, but it's only resulted in sporadic nine-inning usage. Overall the 29-year-old has the best strikeout rate (33.0%) of his career and a .201 BAA.

Armstrong was considered a sleeper in the Mariners' bullpen coming into the year, but he battled an oblique issue in spring training, struggled upon his return and was ultimately designated for assignment by Seattle on April 28. Walks have remained an issue since Armstrong joined Baltimore on a waiver claim (11.8%), and his average fastball velocity is down a tick from last year, but the strikeouts are back up which led to a strong start with his new team. Armstrong has come back down to earth and has a 4.10 ERA and 1.23 WHIP for the Orioles, but he's pitched well enough to remain in the mix for Hyde.

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 (17.0 K%). Unfortunately, the 24-year-old continues to be plagued by control issues with a 12.8 BB%.

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 10.8 K% in parts of four big-league seasons. He doesn't even crack 90 mph on the radar gun, but Bleier gets groundballs in bunches (61.6%) and is stingy with the free passes (3.9 BB%). He has 6.17 ERA over 35 innings during 2019 after posting a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the last previous seasons.

Fry has proven to be a solid middle reliever for Baltimore over the past two seasons with a 3.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 73:36 K:BB, but nothing really jumps off the page for him as a ninth-inning option besides the team's lack of pitching depth. He's earned two saves since early July but his 20.1% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk rate makes him an unappealing option married with his inconsistent usage.

The wild card here is 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: Brandon Workman
Team: Boston Red Sox
Next In Line: Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Darwinzon Hernandez; Heath Hembree (10-day IL, elbow)
(8/6) The Red Sox's closer situation was up in the air throughout the winter and for much of the first half of the season, but Workman has emerged as the primary option.

Eovaldi was expected to be entrusted with the closer role upon his return from the injured list in July, but he struggled initially and injuries forced the Red Sox to move Eovaldi back into the rotation.

Workman has been surprisingly good -- shockingly good even, for a 30-year-old reliever with 0.7 fWAR for his entire career entering the season. Walks are a big issue (15.5 BB%), but he's been able to overcome them to this point. He's holding opponents to a microscopic .116 BAA through 53 appearances and has a 34.5% strikeout rate. Workman has four saves since July 15 and is the only Red Sox pitcher with more than one save in that stretch.

Barnes brings the ever-enticing combination of strikeouts (36.2 K% last season, 40.8% this season) and groundballs (48.5%). The right-hander averages 96 mph with his fastball and spins a good curveball. The underlying numbers say he's been pretty much the same guy he was last year (2.84 FIP, 2.71 in 2018), despite an increase in his ERA from 3.65 last season to 4.67 in 2019. Barnes is 4-for-10 in save chances this season and has 18 holds, typically working as a bridge to the ninth inning.

Walden had an excellent run with the Red Sox last year, but it was such a small sample and his larger body of work at Triple-A left a lot to be desired. Needless to say his success so far in 2019 has been a surprise, but the underlying numbers support what he's doing to a large extent. Walden has been throwing his fastball less often and has really upping his slider usage, resulting in a jump in chase rate.

Hembree had a 2.51 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 35:12 K:BB through the first two-plus months of the season, but he battled an elbow issue in June and returned to the injured list at the start of August.

Hernandez was promoted from Triple-A in mid-July and has quickly established himself with a 2.35 ERA and 42.5% strikeout rate in his first 13 outings. The 22-year-old is unlikely to see save chances given his inexperience and 17.8% walk rate, but he's a good candidate for high-leverage opportunities.
Cleveland Indians
Current Closer: Brad Hand
Team: Cleveland Indians
Next In Line: Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Cimber, Nick Goody, Oliver Perez
(8/14) Hand served as both a setup man and closer after being acquired by Cleveland at last season's trade deadline, but has been the unquestioned closer in 2019. The left-hander doesn't have overpowering velocity, but his slider is one of the most effective breaking pitches in the game. Opposing hitters combined for a .158/.238/.278 line against Hand's slider in 2018 (which was actually an improvement on their line against the pitch in 2017), with nearly half of the batted balls against the slider being groundballs.

This year, Hand has a low 23.6% groundball rate and a 31.8% line-drive rate against as his hard-hit rate (40.9%) has spiked more than 10 percentage points above his career average. Hand was one of the best closers in the league in the first half, going 23-for-24 in save chances with a 2.17 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and career-high 37.1 K%. It's been a different story since the All-Star break, as he's blown three saves and has a 4.50 ERA in 12 outings.

Wittgren was acquired by the Indians from the Marlins this past offseason and has been reliable since Opening Day, posting a 2.72 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 42 appearances. He's nearly halved his walk rate to 5.6%, but Wittgren seems due for some regression due to his 49.2% hard-hit rate. While Wittgren doesn't have the stuff of a traditional late-inning arm (92.2 mph average fastball), he has filled in for saves on three occasions this year when Hand has been unavailable. Cimber does not have a save this season but does have 15 holds compared to Wittgren's 10.

Cimber, who was traded to Cleveland in the same deal as Hand, had pretty dramatic lefty/righty splits last season (.263 wOBA vs. RHP, .420 wOBA vs. LHP). He has improved those numbers in 2019 (.235 wOBA vs. RHP, .396 wOBA vs. LHP). Cimber has never had even an 8.0 K/9 as a professional, and this year his mark is all the way down at 6.0 K/9, but he pounds the strike zone and continues to induce groundballs at a high rate (57.1%).
Chicago White Sox
Current Closer: Alex Colome
Team: Chicago White Sox
Next In Line: Aaron Bummer, Jace Fry, Kelvin Herrera
(8/14) General manager Rick Hahn traded for Colome and signed Herrera this past winter to stabilize the back end. Colome and Herrera competed for closing duties in spring training, with Colome ultimately winning out. Herrera has since lost the setup role and next-man-up tag; he's having his worst MLB season by a mile, with 7.08 ERA and 9.7 K-BB% through 40 appearances.

Bummer has seized hold of the eighth by posting a 1.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 40:14 K:BB in 46 innings. His breakout has been a surprise, even when considering he had a 2.40 FIP beneath a 4.26 ERA last year. This year, the peripherals are less glowing than the results -- the estimators say he's been about a run-and-a-half worse than his actual ERA -- but Bummer is throwing his fastball more than two full ticks harder this season and he's among the league leaders in groundball rate with a 69% mark.

Colome has an 11.7 K-BB% -- his worst full-season mark -- but he's posting the best groundball rate (48.8%) and lowest line drive rate (15.4%) of his career. The 30-year-old right-hander throws about 95 mph with his four-seamer and gets both strikeouts and groundballs with the cutter. Colome has made a great first impression in Chicago with a 2.38 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 23 successful save conversions in 24 chances so far. He seemed likely to be moved at the trade deadline but ultimately remained with the White Sox as he heads into his final arbitration year.

Herrera began the season as a lights-out setup man, but has struggled mightily since mid-April. The veteran right-hander also missed some time due to back stiffness, and that may partially explain another lost mph on the radar gun. In light of the further diminished velocity, Herrera is throwing fewer fastballs and sliders in favor of cutters and changeups.

Fry impressed in his first full season in the majors with a 2.67 FIP, posting a healthy 32.7 K% using a rare (for a reliever) four-pitch mix -- fastball, slider, curveball, changeup. The southpaw has struggled in 2019 with a 5.08 ERA and 1.69 WHIP this season, seeing his K-rate drop to 25% and his BB rate spike to 16.9%.

Any dream of Nate Jones as a future closer is probably over after another lost season. It's easy to see the talent when he's on the field, but Jones battled an arm injury throughout most of last summer and is set to miss the rest of the 2019 season after undergoing forearm surgery.
Detroit Tigers
Current Closer: Joe Jimenez
Team: Detroit Tigers
Next In Line: Buck Farmer
(8/8) The turnover rate for closers is well over 50 percent nowadays. Last spring, Shane Greene was pointed to by many as a likely candidate to lose his job, but that never happened. He ended up with 32 saves, tied for seventh most in all of baseball. Entering 2019, Greene was once again viewed as one of the more likely candidates to lose his job, but he was once again excellent, going 22-for-25 in save chances with a minuscule 1.18 ERA before being traded to Atlanta at the deadline.

Jimenez has long been thought of as the closer-in-waiting in Detroit. He slipped up late in the 2018 campaign after a heavy workload in the first half, but the overall numbers were still excellent. The right-hander struck batters out at a 29.2% clip with a combination of mid-90s fastballs, mid-80s sliders and high-80s changeups. This season, Jimenez has increased the strikeout rate to 32.3% -- the 27th highest mark among qualified relievers -- but has also seen sizable jumps in his HR/9 (1.88) and walk rate (9.1%). His FIP sits at 4.61 through 48 appearances, which is only marginally better than his 5.02 ERA, but working in his favor is the lack of viable options behind him on the depth chart.

Farmer's velocity was up significantly overall last year and is up slightly again this season (95 mph average fastball), helping him increase his strikeout rate from 18.5% to 25.4% in 2019. He's also trimmed his walk rate to 7.8% (from 13.3%) and has seen a big jump in his groundball rate from 40.4% to 50.0% this season.
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