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2021 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Stefan Crichton
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
(5/13) Relying heavily on his sinker and curveball, Crichton does not possess normal traits of a closer who makes hitters miss. He recorded a below average 21.1% strikeout rate in 2020 and that mark is currently 19.2% through May 12. Despite the lack of strikeouts and a poor 1.68 WHIP, Crichton has gained a bit of stability as Arizona's closer, converting four of the team's five saves. However, the lack of quality alternatives in the Diamondbacks' bullpen may be what's keeping him in the role.

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 5.01 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 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. He returned to the Diamondbacks on April 29 and has made five appearances since with mixed results.

Soria has the most experience in this bullpen with 223 career saves, but has only made fives appearances in 2021 after suffering a calf strain earlier this year. The right-hander has seven consecutive seasons with at least one save and and it would be surprising if he didn't see ninth inning work at some point this season. However, Soria has been ineffective thus far, which may limit his high-leverage opportunities for the time being.

Ginkel made his way to the majors in 2019 and was impressive with a 1.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and a 29.2% strikeout rate to illustrate his clear potential for a late-inning role. He took a few steps backward during the shortened season last year, but has the tools to become a solid closer in the league if he can maintain his command (11.9% walk rate after recording a 16.5% mark in 2020) and keep the ball in the park (2.92 HR/9).

Smith and Clarke round out the remaining options for saves. Smith has been pitching a multi-inning role for the Diamondbacks and his 28.4% strikeout percentage through May 12. Clarke has been much more effective since the calendar flipped to May after previously giving up at least one earned run in five consecutive games during mid-April.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Will Smith
Team: Atlanta Braves
(5/13) Given his strong spring and proven track record in the role - previously recording 34 saves for the Giants in 2019 - Smith opened 2021 as the Braves' primary ninth-inning option. Relying heavily on his slider and four-seam fastball, the southpaw's 31.6% strikeout percentage through 15 appearances aligns with his 2019 success. However, Smith recently had his first big blow-up of the season, allowing four earned runs in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays.

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. The right-hander was recently on the IL due to shoulder inflammation, but returned to the team on May 12 and should immediately step into an important high-leverage role for the Braves. Manager Brian Snitker previously hinted at the possibility of splitting save opportunities between Martin and Smith based on matchups.

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's off to a decent start in 2021 in a setup role.

Matzek got off to a fantastic start this season with a 14:4 K:BB over his first eight appearances without permitting an earned run. The southpaw then hit a rough patch, permitting six earned runs with four walks over a stretch of four appearances before correcting course upon the calendar change to May. Matzek has maintained a strong 38.8% strikeout rate this season, which could eventually move him up the pecking order for saves.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Cesar Valdez
Team: Baltimore Orioles
(5/14) Manager Brandon Hyde set expectations that the Orioles would be on a closer-by-committee basis again. However, Valdez closed out 2020 recording three saves in September and has already logged eight of Baltimore's nine saves of 2021. The 36-year-old doesn't fit the typical closer profile, as his primary pitch is a changeup that he throws 80% of the time at an average of 78 mph. His fastball tops out in the mid-80s, but he rarely throws it (8.1% of the time) and his changeup has been effective. Valdez is Baltimore's most trusted high-leverage arm with a 2.40 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 18:3 K:BB through 15 innings.

Scott made huge strides in 2020 and was dominant with a 1.31 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 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 is Hyde's most promising lefty option, but he'll need to cut down his walk rate (21.7%) to maintain his high-leverage role.

Fry entered the year with five saves on his big league resume and picked up his first save of 2021 back on April 7. The right-hander is off to a strong start this season, giving Hyde another option if Valdez is unavailable.

Armstrong was great in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but is struggling this year with a 10.13 ERA through 13 appearances. He's more likely to appear in the middle innings or lower leverage situations unless he turns his season around.

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 is scheduled to begin pitching in simulated games shortly, but is unlikely to take the job from Valdez when he's healthy enough to return to Baltimore's bullpen.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Matt Barnes
Team: Boston Red Sox
(5/14) Manager Alex Cora has taken back over the reigns in 2021 and kicked off 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 last season, converting nine of his 13 save opportunities while struggling with consistency and command issues. However, the 30-year-old has been incredible in 17 appearances this season. The right-hander has given up four runs through 18 innings and owns an impressive 30:3 K:BB while converting all eight of his save opportunities. He's built some job security in the process since Ottavino, his biggest competition for ninth-inning duties, has been inconsistent.

Ottavino had a bumpy 2020 campaign and didn't have a great start to April. In his age-35 season, Ottavino's velocity is up slightly at 94.4 mph, but his walk percentage (16.2%) is up and his strikeouts (25%) are down a few percentage points. The veteran has pitched much better since mid-April with a 3.27 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over his last 12 appearances. Those are much better results to possibly re-enter the save mix at some point in 2021.

Hernandez made strides in 2020 with a 2.16 ERA and 32.5% strikeout rate, numbers that illustrate his 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 is a promising weapon for Alex Cora's bullpen as his sole weakness tends to be his command, a common issue among young relievers.

Whitlock, a Rule 5 draft pick, had a great spring and won a spot in Boston's bullpen in a multi-inning role. He's been one of the team's most impressive relievers with a 1.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 21:3 K:BB over 20.1 innings (10 appearances). Whitlock will likely remain in a multi-inning relief role rather than see opportunities in the ninth-inning.

Sawamura spent the entirety of his professional career playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, but made his way to the majors in 2021. The 33-year-old right-hander recorded 73 saves between the 2015 and 2016 campaigns in Japan, but he's been utilized in middle relief for the Red Sox with promising results. Sawamura has allowed just six runs over 16.1 innings (3.31 ERA), but he's allowed four home runs (2.2 HR/9) and is trying to elevate his fastball more as a way to limit the long ball. If he can make that adjustment, he could earn his way into a higher-leverage role.

Taylor struggled last season and is unlikely to be a reliable option for saves in 2021. However, he showed enough promise during his rookie season in 2019 that Cora may turn to him as more of a setup reliever as the season progresses.

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 resumed throwing as of April 25 and could be cleared to make his season debut sometime in June. Brasier earned seven saves for the Red Sox in 2019 and could re-enter the late-inning mix assuming he proves healthy and effective whenever he does return.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Team: Chicago Cubs
(5/14) After a rough first half of 2020 and rocky spring (12.15 ERA), Kimbrel has returned to form through 14 appearances, allowing just five hits and seven walks through 14 innings while fanning 21. He's 6-for-7 in save chances and the lack of quality options behind him afford Kimbrel stability in the role for the time being. He may become a trade candidate later this summer.

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 has sidelined him since spring.

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. Tepera has some closing experience during his years in Toronto. Winkler has a 0.83 ERA through 13 appearances this season, but is currently on the 10-day IL with right triceps tendinitis.
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Closers in Waiting Ranks
  1. James Karinchak (CLE)
  2. Devin Williams (MIL)
  3. Rafael Montero (SEA)
  4. Blake Treinen (LAD)
  5. Tejay Antone (CIN)
  6. Tyler Rogers (SF)
  7. Emilio Pagan (SD)
  8. Amir Garrett (CIN)
  9. Jose Alvarado (PHI)
  10. Giovanny Gallegos (STL)
  11. Daniel Hudson (WAS)
  12. Adam Ottavino (BOS)
  13. Drew Pomeranz (SD)
  14. Chris Martin (ATL)
  15. Jordan Hicks (STL)
  16. Trevor May (NYM)
  17. Joakim Soria (ARI)
  18. Mychal Givens (COL)
  19. Chad Green (NYY)
  20. Kyle Crick (PIT)