Last week, the excellent beat reporters at MLB.com projected the likely closer for each team in Major League Baseball. Not all of those guys will end the season as the closer, and these days, you can’t even be sure all of them will start the season as the closer. And with bullpen usage shifting dramatically by the season, what even is a closer anymore?
That said, closers are a little bit like quarterbacks -- if you have more than one, you have none. The game may have changed, but ask any manager and he'll tell you: they love having That One Guy to close games out.
So, today at The Thirty, we work off that list to try to rank the 30 closers from each team. These are the best each team has to offer. But are they best in baseball?
1) Brewers -- Josh Hader, LHP: He’s still a Brewer, and thus, the Brewers still feel like the Brewers. His only struggles come when the team overuses him, a lesson one hopes they’ve learned from 2019. But when he’s on and 100 percent, he’s as unstoppable a pitcher as there is in all of baseball.
2) Padres -- Kirby Yates, RHP: Remember when everyone wanted the Padres to trade Yates to a team at the deadline to help build for the future? Well, the future is now, and Yates is still here, locking down the bullpen for several years now. He’s a free agent after this season, so we’ll see what happens with him, but Yates has arguably been the best reliever in the sport for three years now.
3) Astros -- Roberto Osuna, RHP: He was peak Osuna all year last year, leading the American League in both saves and games finished. And with Dusty Baker now in charge, he has a manager who won’t be afraid to use him as often as possible.
4) A’s -- Liam Hendriks, RHP: Hendriks was lights-out good in 2019, but while that was his best season, he’s been a good reliever for five years now, ever since he was in Toronto. The bullpen was a worry much of the year for the A’s, but Hendriks certainly wasn’t.
5) Yankees -- Aroldis Chapman, LHP: He’s not atop the Statcast leaderboards in velocity anymore, and it’s a rarity to see him reach 100 mph these days. He still throws insanely hard, and his slider has gotten only better. Isn’t it crazy that the Reds once tried to make him a starter?
6) Blue Jays -- Ken Giles, RHP: The Blue Jays didn’t end up trading him this offseason, but know that his bounceback 2019, if carried over into 2020, keeps him a most valuable commodity.
7) Dodgers -- Kenley Jansen, RHP: He had the worst year of his career in 2019, and his team lost faith in him late, but all that still put him among the elite closers in the game. But 2020 will be the answer as to whether he can stay there.
8) Rays -- Nick Anderson, RHP: Now that the Rays have made their surprise trade of Emilio Pagán, Anderson likely steps in as the closer, as much as the Rays ever have a set-in-stone “closer.” Handily (and probably not coincidentally), Anderson is just as good if not better than Pagan; he made his MLB debut last year at the age of 28, and once he was traded to the Rays in July, he struck out nearly two batters an inning.
9) Twins -- Taylor Rogers, LHP: One of the most underappreciated pitchers in baseball (2.62 ERA with 10.8 K’s per nine the last two years), Rogers has gotten better every single year he has been in the Majors.
10) White Sox -- Alex Colomé, RHP: The White Sox are a team that’s rapidly adding pieces they believe will push them into contention this year, but Colomé will merely be asked to do the same thing he did last year: nail down the closer’s job.
11) Nationals -- Sean Doolittle, LHP: He is no longer the only reliever the Nationals trust, which can only help him and his usage. It still feels strange that he wasn’t the guy on the mound for the last out of the World Series.
12) Reds -- Raisel Iglesias, RHP: Iglesias wasn’t nearly as incredible in 2019 as he had been for most of his career, even if he did set a career high in saves. But the stuff remains electric. He could be wearing down, though.
13) Tigers -- Joe Jiménez, RHP: The Tigers’ lone All-Star in 2019 finally earned the closer’s job after Detroit traded Shane Greene, and he cemented a hold on the position. Until they trade him too.
14) Indians -- Brad Hand, LHP: We’ve all seen how good he is at his peak, but he was shelved for most of the second half with arm fatigue. If healthy, he can be as effective as anyone. But that’s a big “if."
15) Cubs -- Craig Kimbrel, RHP: Speaking of big ifs, Kimbrel has gone from “best closer in the sport” to “definitely a huge bullpen asset” to “total disaster at the worst possible time” in a frighteningly short timespan. The Cubs are counting on a normal offseason regimen, unlike last year’s, getting him back to normal. They better hope so.
16) Royals -- Ian Kennedy, RHP: The Royals ended up finding a handy use for Kennedy in the last two years of his contract, and he may even have more use if the Royals flip him to a bullpen-hungry team at the deadline.
17) Red Sox -- Brandon Workman, RHP: He was the guy last year, saving a lot of games that didn’t really matter, but if the Red Sox hang on and contend for most of the season, a closer absolutely looks like something they’d keep an eye out for at the deadline.
18) Angels -- Hansel Robles, RHP: Robles was perfectly fine in 2019, but the bullpen has many of the same woes as the rotation does. For a team that’s trying to contend, they might need more versions of Robles than they currently have.
19) D-backs -- Archie Bradley, RHP: The unconventional D-backs are unlikely to have anyone be their regular closer, but they’d love 2020 Bradley to return to being 2017 Bradley, no matter what role he holds.
20) Phillies -- Hector Neris, RHP: The most experienced closer on the roster, he has never truly put the lockdown on the job the way the Phillies clearly want him to. But he has periods of dominance, followed by periods of considerably less than that.
21) Braves -- Mark Melancon, RHP: He was great with the Pirates, a mess for the Giants and became one of the many arms the Braves threw at their bullpen problem down the stretch. He ended up holding onto the closer’s job, but new signee Will Smith is the better pitcher and may well end up with the job.
22) Marlins -- Brandon Kintzler, RHP: Kintzler built his value back up with a nice stretch with the Cubs at the end of the year, and the Marlins are up for some veteran presence this year: Think of him as the bullpen equivalent of Jesús Aguilar.
23) Pirates -- Keone Kela, RHP: Kela was actually a nice pitcher last year, but injuries and a suspension -- remember that fight! -- cost him a good chunk of the season.
24) Cardinals -- Andrew Miller, LHP: Miller was fine in 2019, but he wasn’t dominant the way the Cardinals expected him (and paid him) to be. Carlos Martinez was the closer at the end of the year, and he might be again, if he doesn’t rejoin the rotation. When Jordan Hicks comes back from Tommy John surgery at midseason, he could take this job right back.
25) Mets -- Edwin Díaz, RHP: No one could shoot up this list faster than Díaz if he can rediscover his 2018 form. But then again, no one fell down this list faster than he did last year. Reason for hope? His 39 percent strikeout rate still ranked fifth among qualified relievers.
26) Giants -- Tony Watson, LHP: Watson has made 132 appearances in relief the last two years but doesn’t have a single save. He’s kind of the last man standing these days, though.
27) Rangers -- José Leclerc, RHP: He fell off the table right after signing a contract extension, but he recovered a bit down the stretch. But his job is far from certain.
28) Orioles -- Mychal Givens/Hunter Harvey, RHP: Harvey looked terrific in his seven appearances last year, but there’s no need to force him into the role just yet, with this team, with the stakes this low.
29) Mariners -- Matt Magill, RHP: The Mariners went from being a team with one guy (Edwin Diaz) saving everything in sight to being a team that has a smattering of occasional closers … and not very many opportunities to mete out anyway.
30) Rockies -- Wade Davis, RHP: How far can a closer fall, and how fast? In 2015, Davis was the most unstoppable relief weapon in baseball. He was an All-Star in 2016, and 2017. He was passable in 2018 … and maybe the worst pitcher imaginable in 2019. (He had an 8.65 ERA … in 50 games!) The Rockies say they want him to be their closer still in 2020. We will see about that.