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2019 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Archie Bradley
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Next In Line: Yoan Lopez, Yoshihisa Hirano, Andrew Chafin
(8/8) After suggesting early in July that Greg Holland's status as the team's closer might be on thin ice, manager Torey Lovullo formally removed Holland from the role July 28 in what he said he hoped would be a temporary demotion. Holland struggled in subsequent appearances and was ultimately designated for assignment Aug. 7.

Bradley and Hirano each saved three games for the Diamondbacks last season, and the team had indicated in December -- before Holland was brought in -- that Bradley was the leading candidate to close out games in 2019. Though the surface numbers haven't been as great as in past years, Bradley is finally getting his chance regardless with Holland now out of the picture. Bradley continues to throw his fastball at over 95 mph on average, but he's relied on that pitch less this season and has instead leaned more heavily on his curveball and changeup. Walks have been an issue (11.8%), but Bradley has made up for it by shaving his home-run rate in half (to 0.54 HR/9), which is no easy task in this era. The ERA estimators are kind to Bradley (3.18 FIP, 3.85 xFIP).

Lopez has been the team's best reliever by traditional measures through four months, with a 2.64 ERA through 44.1 innings. He ranks first on the team in holds with 18. Things don't check out so good under the hood for Lopez -- in fact, his FIP is nearly two runs higher than his ERA at 4.46. Lopez throws hard, averaging 96 mph on his fastball, and his 10.9% swinging-strike rate portends a better strikeout rate.

Hirano proved effective in his first season stateside, relying heavily on his split-finger pitch (46.3%) to induce groundballs, and he is throwing that pitch even more this season. He's 34 and doesn't have the stuff of a traditional closer, with a fastball that averages just 91 mph. Lovullo seems to prefer to keep Hirano's role flexible, with the ability to call upon the right-hander whenever he really needs a groundball to get out of a jam.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Mark Melancon
Team: Atlanta Braves
Next In Line: Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb; A.J. Minter (minors)
(8/10) Arodys Vizcaino and Minter were expected to begin the season splitting save opportunities, but by late May neither was on the 25-man roster. Vizcaino was placed on the 10-day IL with a shoulder issue April 14 and underwent season-ending surgery a few days later before being traded to the Mariners on May 20. Minter blew a save in disastrous fashion April 27, giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. He was then pulled from a save situation the next day, optioned to the minors and Minter has been unable to reclaim a steady big-league role since.

Jackson relieved Minter in the aforementioned April 28 outing and proceeded to collect nine saves in his first 12 chances. His fortunes reversed; in his last 23 appearances, Jackson has posted a 5.06 ERA, 1.78 WHIP and 5.1 BB/9. Jackson's struggled led the Braves to trade for Greene, Melancon and Martin to stabilize the back end.

Last spring, Greene was pointed to by many as a likely candidate to lose his job as Detroit's closer, 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 again excellent for the Tigers, posting a 1.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 22 saves in 25 chances before being traded. The right-hander got off to a rotten start with Atlanta (one blown save, one loss through three appearances) and finally did lose his job to Melancon on Aug. 9. The skills have not exactly been befitting of a closer in the past, but the peripherals were more closer-worthy this year (27.5 K%, 7.8 BB%, 31.8% hard-contact rate). It's possible Greene gets the job back eventually.

Perhaps more than any other organization, the Braves are ripe with young rotation options at the major-league and Triple-A levels. While Newcomb was stellar at times during his first full big-league campaign in 2018, his erratic control occasionally resulted in blowup outings. Those walk issues cropped up again in his first three starts of 2019, prompting the Braves to transition him to a bullpen role. After a brief stopover at Triple-A, Newcomb rejoined the Braves and quickly emerged as one of manager Brian Snitker's most-trusted late-inning arms. In 36.1 relief innings this season, Newcomb has a 2.72 ERA and 38:7 K:BB, though he's been bumped down the bullpen hierarchy slightly by Atlanta's deadline acquisitions.

Swarzak, who was acquired in the deal that sent Vizcaino to the Mariners, battled shoulder and oblique issues throughout most of 2018. He was limited to 26.1 innings out of the Mets' bullpen and his performance was a far cry from 2017, when he posted a 2.33 ERA over 77.1 innings. The right-hander finished with an ERA north of 6.00, and the estimators suggest he deserved only slightly better (5.48 FIP). Swarzak continued to miss bats at a decent clip, but his walk rate jumped from 7.3% to 12.1%. He features a 94-mph fastball and an 85-mph slider, and splits the usage evenly, throwing 53% fastballs and 47% sliders. Swarzak has been far more effective with Atlanta than he was with Seattle to start the season.

Minter was primed to take over as the everyday closer, but ended up being demoted after posting a 9.82 ERA and 2.36 WHIP in 15 appearances. He has an abysmal 16.8 BB% and 43.8% hard-hit rate during his time with the big-league team this season. Minter will have to straighten things out at Triple-A before potentially rejoining the Braves in September, and he may be deployed in a low-leverage role initially upon his return.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Rowan Wick
Team: Chicago Cubs
Next In Line: Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop, Kyle Ryan, Brad Wieck, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Derek Holland; Craig Kimbrel (10-day IL, elblow), Brandon Morrow (60-day IL, elbow)
(9/5) At the All-Star break last year, 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. The Cubs signed Kimbrel after the 2019 first-year player draft got underway in June and he took over the closer job later that same month. Kimbrel landed on the injured list with a knee injury in early August, and while he made a quick turnaround then, he was placed back on the IL in early September with elbow inflammation.

Morrow underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow Nov. 6. The expectation was that Morrow would miss the first month or so of the 2019 campaign, but he experienced a setback in April and was forced to shut down his throwing program. Yet another setback in late August officially ended Morrow's season.

While manager Joe Maddon has two experienced backups to Kimbrel in Strop and Cishek, it's been the 26-year-old Wick who has gotten the last two save chances when Kimbrel has been unavailable (Aug. 17 and 22). Dumped by the Padres in the offseason, Wick spent the first half in the minor leagues outside a handful of low-leverage appearances in the majors across multiple stints with the Cubs. He's settled in for good since his June 29 recall and now has a 2.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 21:6 K:BB in 18 second-half innings. The right-hander is averaging close to 96 mph his fastball and his strikeout rate is up nearly nine percentage points from a year ago.

Strop has endured an up-and-down season with 10 saves but also six blown saves and a 5.73 ERA. He was the primary ninth-inning option in Morrow's absence last year, but his hamstring injury opened the door for Jesse Chavez -- now with Texas -- and Cishek to see save chances late in the season. Strop has seen his fastball velocity drop from 95.1 mph to 93.6 mph in 2019, though his strikeout rate has actually risen a bit. His HR/9 has jumped to 1.36, more than double his mark from the prior two seasons.

Cishek's fastball now sits right around 90 mph, but he posted the third-highest strikeout rate of his career last season (27.1%). He's seen that drop to 22.8% in 2019. His sidewinding delivery is a headache for same-handed hitters, as evidenced by their .208/.267/.312 line against Cishek this season. He gives a bit back against left-handed batters, but his slider is good enough to mostly limit the damage without the platoon edge. Cishek saw a run of six saves between mid-May and mid-June, but he blew his lone save chance since Kimbrel joined the club.

Kintzler currently leads the team with 17 holds, and he's been the team's best reliever for most of the year with a 2.53 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. His 15.5 K-BB% through 57 appearances is nearly double his mark from 2018, and Kintzler's 57.2% groundball rate has helped him keep a manageable HR/9 (0.84).
Cincinnati Reds
Current Closer: Raisel Iglesias
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Next In Line: Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, Kevin Gausman, Joel Kuhnel
(8/14) After all the trade talk surrounding Iglesias in recent years, it now seems he may be in Cincinnati for the long haul, having signed a three-year extension with the Reds in November. After struggling some to begin 2019, Iglesias appeared back to his old self in mid-April, striking out all nine batters he faced in the April 18-21 series and going 2-for-2 in save chances. His velocity was up above 95 mph in all three appearances. His fortunes reversed; Iglesias gave up runs in three straight appearances, including homers in back-to-back outings May 3 and 5. However, the Reds never seriously considered a change at that time.

Manager David Bell turned to Iglesias in the eighth inning June 17 and 18, opening the door for Lorenzen to earn a pair of saves. Bell reiterated afterward that Iglesias is the closer, saying that he simply needed Iglesias to get some key outs in what he felt was the highest-leverage spot of the game. Lorenzen went on to collect his fifth save June 28 -- giving him, at the time, each of the team's last three saves -- but Iglesias got the call two days later and nailed down his 14th, allowing his fantasy owners to breathe a sigh of relief as it became clear Iglesias was still the primary guy. Since that point Lorenzen has only one save, which came while Iglesias was away on the paternity list.

By most traditional measures, Iglesias had his best season yet in 2018, setting a career high with 30 saves while posting his lowest marks in ERA and WHIP. The underlying numbers tell a different story. He lost a tick of velocity, and the result was a downturn in K-rate and his HR/9 nearly tripling, going from 0.59 HR/9 to 1.50, and his HR/9 is up to 1.61 this season. Hard-hit numbers were up across baseball in 2018, but it's hard to ignore a 10-percentage-point leap for Iglesias. His opponents' line-drive rate was a then-career-high 26.4% , which portended a BAA nearly 40 points higher than his actual mark. He expressed displeasure with his usage early on in 2019 -- pitching in a lot of tie games -- and Iglesias told Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he had been trying to adapt to a lack of control on his slider. Iglesias' 2019 surface numbers (3.93 ERA and 1.27 WHIP) appear more in line with last season's peripherals, as his hard-hit and line-drive rates have drifted even higher (36.5% and 29%, respectively).

Garrett was much better out of the bullpen last season, and there is more projection remaining here than with most 26-year-olds -- he was a basketball player in college and has focused on baseball full-time for only a few years. The lefty has a significantly-improved 2.74 ERA and has recorded 18 holds through 52 appearances this season.

Stephenson's time as a starter is done. He was the team's top prospect several years running for a reason, and it's not like the stuff is completely gone. The right-hander already has some upward momentum and could continue to rise up the bullpen ranks fairly quickly.
Colorado Rockies
Current Closer: Jairo Diaz
Team: Colorado Rockies
Next In Line: Carlos Estevez, Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis; Scott Oberg (10-day IL, blood clot)
(8/20) Davis was outpitched by a wide margin by Adam Ottavino in his first season in Colorado, but Davis' contact -- which includes the highest average annual value for a reliever in history -- kept him locked into the ninth. That contract wasn't able to protect Davis this time around; Oberg took over the closer's role after Davis posted an ERA close to 7.00 over the first four months of the campaign. Unfortunately, Oberg's time in the ninth was short lived, as he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his arm and placed on the injured list Aug. 18. He will miss the rest of the season.

Manager Bud Black turned right back to Davis with Oberg out, but Davis blew a save in the Aug. 18 series finale against Miami, and it seems like Black has finally seen enough. Early-season results were much improved for Davis as he had seven saves in as many chances with a 2.45 ERA through his first 14.2 innings. However, the results eventually caught up to his poor underlying stats. Davis has a 13.3% walk rate and just an 8.7 K-BB%, down from 19.9% in 2018.

Estevez is a 6-foot-4 right-hander who can pump his fastball over 97 mph on average. He can also spin a quality breaking ball. So far in 2019, Estevez has a 26.8 K% and 14.6% swinging-strike rate with a 3.97 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 53.2 innings. His overall body of work suggests he's deserving of most of the save chances over the remainder of the campaign, though Diaz has been on a great run of late, and Black made it clear that both Estevez and Diaz will get looks in the ninth down the stretch.

Diaz has a 4.76 ERA for the season. However, in his last 10 appearances dating back to July 25, the right-hander has a minuscule 1.59 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, with 15 strikeouts against two walks over that span. Diaz also throws 97 mph with his fastball, and his swinging-strike rate is a near copy of Estevez's season-long mark (14.4%). The 28-year-old has a 19.3 K-BB% for the year, compared to 18.4 for Estevez.

The lefty McGee missed the start of the season with a knee injury, but he's looked far better through 35 appearances than he did last year (6.49 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in 2018), and of course he has past closing experience.
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