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Grading closer situations and who is next in line for saves for each MLB team

We take a look at each team’s bullpen and hand out grades for how safe each closer is in 2022.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Using your best reliever in a high-leverage moment, no matter the inning, is a strategy that has worked out for a growing number of MLB clubs. It’s also led to fantasy baseball managers pulling out their hair as they watch their closer enter in the eighth inning to put out a fire and not stick around to notch that precious save.

Some teams don’t subscribe to this strategy. Some have no choice due to their lack of ninth-inning options. And some — looking at you, Tampa Bay — just want to watch the world burn. Regardless, here is how the back end of every bullpen looks entering the 2022 MLB season.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Cole Sulser
Setup men: Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, Paul Fry,
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: D

You probably didn’t notice while Baltimore was turning in another dreadful season, but Sulser was quite good last year. He posted a 2.70 ERA and a 2.98 FIP, saving eight of 11 chances. His changeup was extremely effective; opponents had a .179 slugging percentage against it last year. So why a D grade? Sulser might be the best reliever Baltimore has, but he’s plenty vulnerable. Without a high-velocity fastball, he’s more dependent on creating weak contact than striking you out. That can go awry quickly, especially if his changeup isn’t sharp. His troubles with walks are another pitfall. The Orioles like him, but with 19 save chances over his three seasons, they don’t seem to be married to him as their closer.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Matt Barnes
Setup men: Garrett Whitlock, Jake Diekman, Ryan Brasier
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: F

That grade could quickly improve, but as of this moment, the Red Sox don’t have a clear-cut closer. Barnes was certainly that guy for the first half of last season as he recorded a 2.61 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 38 innings en route to his first All-Star appearance. The second half was a complete 180-degree turn, featuring a 6.48 ERA and a more than 350-point increase in his opponents’ OPS. He lost his ninth-inning gig in August and wasn’t even a part of Boston’s ALCS roster. In stepped Whitlock, who was fabulous as a rookie, especially in the playoffs. However, he carries more value for Boston as a dynamic multi-inning arm or possible starter. Wait and see here.

New York Yankees

Closer: Aroldis Chapman
Setup men: Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green
Notable injuries: Zack Britton (Tommy John surgery, may miss the entire 2022 season)

Security grade: A

There was some hullabaloo in the fantasy community recently after Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he planned to use Chapman more often in the eighth inning this year. But let’s be clear: This has nothing to do with Chapman’s role; he is still the closer in the Bronx, without question. Boone just wants to use him more often so that he doesn’t have long stretches of inaction when save chances are sparse. It shouldn’t impact his fantasy value. He remains a fantastic closer, especially as he refines his offspeed pitches to keep hitters from sitting on his diminishing — but still velocious — fastball.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Andrew Kittredge
Setup men: J.P. Feyereisen, Matt Wisler, Brooks Raley, JT Chargois,
Notable injuries: Pete Fairbanks (lat strain, out indefinitely); Nick Anderson (elbow surgery, out through June)

Security grade: F

It’s the Rays. Fourteen Tampa Bay pitchers earned a save last season for the team that had the best record in the American League. Diego Castillo secured a team-high 14 saves last year, and he’s now in Seattle. There is absolutely zero clarity here and it will probably remain that way throughout the summer.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jordan Romano
Setup men: Yimi Garcia, Trevor Richards, Julian Merryweather
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: B

Merryweather opened last season as the closer and held that gig for all of two weeks before an injury sidelined him for five months. Romano replaced him and was outstanding. He went 23-for-28 in save chances with a 2.14 ERA and 85 K’s in 63 innings. He didn’t allow many hard-hit balls and limited opposing batters to a .575 OPS. He’ll get every opportunity to prove 2021 wasn’t a fluke and will do so on one of the more formidable teams in the AL.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Liam Hendriks
Setup men: Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer
Notable injuries: Joe Kelly (biceps strain, will miss Opening Day)

Security grade: A

All of those setup men have been/could be excellent closers on most other clubs. But right now, there’s no competition for Hendriks. He’s been great for a few years, but he was otherworldly in 2021. He led the Junior Circuit with 38 saves and had an insane 113-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His strikeout-minus-walk rate (39.7%) trailed only one pitcher who threw at least 70 innings last year: Jacob deGrom.

UPDATE: The White Sox traded Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers.

Cleveland Guardians

Closer: Emmanuel Clase
Setup men: Anthony Gose, Bryan Shaw, Nick Sandlin
Notable injuries: James Karinchak (shoulder strain, will miss Opening Day)

Security grade: A

Clase broke out last year in his age-23 season, picking up 24 saves in 29 chances. He also struck out 74 batters and permitted just two home runs in 69 innings. He doesn’t get as many K’s as you would expect for a fastball-heavy pitcher who averages 100.2 mph, but that’s OK because he is elite at inducing weak contact. His hard-hit rate (29.6%) ranked in the top five percentile in MLB. And no pitcher with at least 150 batted ball events had a lower barrel rate than Clase’s 1.6% last season. His job security is fortified by the fact that the Guardians don’t have much behind him in the ‘pen while Karinchak is out. Gose is a converted outfielder who has thrown in just six big league games. Shaw, 34, is back with Cleveland after being signed earlier this month. Sandlin is a sinker-slider hurler who made 34 middle-relief appearances as a rookie in 2021.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Gregory Soto
Setup men: Michael Fulmer, Andrew Chafin
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: C

Soto was serviceable last year as Detroit’s closer, locking up all but one of his save opportunities. But, oy vey, the walk rate! He’s been north of five walks per nine innings in every year of his career. Sustained wildness is a good way to get into consistent trouble in the ninth and, eventually, out of the closer’s role. Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and a converted starter, was great down the stretch of last season — one earned run allowed over his last 16 appearances. He and Chafin, a free-agent pickup from Oakland, are real threats to Soto. This could become a full-blown committee.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Scott Barlow
Setup men: Josh Staumont, Amir Garrett
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: B

Barlow’s nasty slider helped him emerge as the Royals’ clear ninth-inning man last season. Although he fools batters rather than overpowers them, he has a knack for getting hitters to fish out of the zone. His K rate has been near or above 30% over the past two seasons to go along with a survivable walk rate. Staumont and Garrett have more of the prototypical closer repertoire, but they give up hard contact at alarming rates.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Taylor Rogers
Setup men: Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: B

The Twins fell on their face for a number of reasons last year. One big reason: Their bullpen was terrible, especially in the early goings. The ‘pen turned things around over the final couple of months, but it was far too late by then. Rogers, however, was solid before he was shut down in July due to a sprained finger. His 3.35 ERA was inflated by one bad outing that month; his 2.13 FIP provides a much truer picture. He increased his strikeout rate to a career-high 35.5% while keeping his walk rate stable and very low at 4.8%. Alcala is a high-upside arm, but Rogers is pretty safe.

AL West

Houston Astros

Closer: Ryan Pressly
Setup men: Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: A

Pressly is excellent. Since 2019, he has a 2.45 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, 182 strikeouts in 139 innings and a sub-1.00 WHIP. He went 26-for-28 in saves last year and earned his second All-Star selection during this three-year span. Stanek and the newly acquired Neris will hold down the middle relief, but Pressly and his high-spin pitchers will continue to rule in the ninth.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Raisel Iglesias
Setup men: Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Archie Bradley
Notable injuries: XXX

Security grade: A

Here’s another closer who has seen the corps in front of him improve but should feel no heat at the back of the bullpen. Last year was a career year for Iglesias in many ways; his expected ERA, K rate and walk rate were all personal bests. Then was rewarded with a four-year, $58 million contract during the offseason. A true three-pitch closer, Iglesias’ fastball is going, but his slider and changeup are even better. Tepera, Loup and Bradley are notable additions, but there’s no contest here.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Lou Trivino
Setup men: Domingo Acevado
Notable injuries: Deolis Guerra (forearm tightness, day to day)

Security grade: C

Guerra’s injury sounds a little ominous. We’ll see what the imaging shows, but right now, he’s considered questionable for opening day. Beyond him, Trivino and Acevado are seen as the only two other late-inning relievers locked in to make this roster. Acevado, a rookie still at 28, has thrown just 11 innings in the big leagues. This dearth of options should lead to Trivino getting a longer rope in the ninth. He’s probably going to need it, too. He did go 22-for-26 in save opportunities and got lots of ground balls with his sinker, his most frequent pitch. He does walk too many batters and the strikeout rate (21.6 percent) is extremely sub-par for a closer. He can be effective, but he has very little room for error. Overall, this looks like one of the worst bullpens in baseball.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: Drew Steckenrider
Setup men: Paul Sewald, Diego Castillo, Ken Giles, Sergio Romo, Andres Munoz
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: F

Just call this Rays West. Steckenrider might open the season with the ninth-inning role; he had a sub-2.00 ERA after the late-July trade of former Mariners closer Kendall Graveman. But Sewald was just as good for the bulk of the year. Castillo has experience closing — and experience with bullpen carrousels — from his time in Tampa Bay. The M’s signed Giles, a former closer with the Phillies, Astros and Blue Jays, to a two-year deal prior to the 2021 season for the sole purpose of him possibly closing in ‘22. He’s just about back from Tommy John surgery. The same is true for Munoz, a youngster who throws 100. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Seattle has Romo, who is still slinging those frisbee sliders up there at the age of 39. I don’t know who will get the most save chances here. You don’t either.

Texas Rangers

Closer: Joe Barlow
Setup men: Spencer Patton, Josh Sborz, Greg Holland
Notable injuries: Jose Leclerc (Tommy John surgery; will miss the first half of the season)

Security grade: C

Soon after Ian Kennedy was shipped to Philly at the Trade Deadline, Barlow became Texas’ closer and was ... fine? He went 11-for-12 in saves, but seven walks in 16 innings? Only 10 K’s? A .130 BABIP? His strikeout rate plummeted from his time in the Minors. Maybe that’s just a blip. It’ll have to be if Barlow is going to keep this job through the summer. Patton and Sborz are nothing special either. Could the 36-year-old Holland emerge here after signing recently as a non-roster invitee? Well, he has to make the team first. But, yeah, it’s possible. As recently as 2020, he looked like a quality late-inning hurler still. He fell off in 2021, but with very little set in stone here, the Rangers might as well check to see if Holland can turn back the clock once more.

NL East

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Kenley Jansen
Setup men: Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, Collin McHugh, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson
Notable injuries: Kirby Yates (Tommy John surgery, out for most of 2022)

Security grade: A

This has got to be the best bullpen in baseball, at least on paper. Smith, Matzek and Minter all had huge star turns in the postseason last season, compiling a 1.63 ERA with 50 K’s in 38.2 innings. Jackson had a sub-2.00 ERA through more than 60 innings during the regular season, too. Then within a week’s span in March, the Braves added a versatile reliever in McHugh, and the dude with the most saves in baseball over the past decade in Jansen. Even at age 34, he was still one of the best relievers in the game. Look at all that red!

Now, his age is a bit of a red flag, as is his abnormally high walk rate from last year (12.9%). He’s not incapable of struggling for a prolonged stretch of time; we saw it between July and August last season and at the end of 2020, when the Dodgers actually demoted him out of the closer role. Considering the stable of arms behind him, Jansen isn’t quite as safe as he was in L.A. Maybe he’s closer to an A- than an A. That’s still pretty dang good though.

Miami Marlins

Security grade: F

Floro’s vague injury throws a wrench into this situation, which was probably going to be a committee anyway. He is the best option at the back end of the ‘pen; he finished 2021 by going 11-for-12 in saves with a 2.08 ERA over the final six weeks. For the year, he ranked inside the top 10 percentile in lowest average exit velocity and opponents’ wOBA. Bender, who was very effective last year as a rookie, seems to be the most likely to fill in, especially since Bass was shelled in the role last season (14.21 ERA in the ninth inning). In any case, this is a nebulous bullpen until we know more about Floro’s ailing arm.

New York Mets

Closer: Edwin Diaz
Setup men: Trevor May, Adam Ottavino
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: A

Every blown save Diaz has seems to become headline news in New York. It feels like the fans have never really forgiven him after his rough 2019 introductory year, but over the past two seasons, how about these numbers: 88.1 innings, 2.95 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 139 strikeouts, 37 walks, .585 opponents’ OPS, sub-30% hard-hit rate. His expected stats are even more impressive. Will Diaz have some bad outings? Sure. But he should still be in his prime as he just turned 28. Picking up Ottavino gives the Mets another quality late-inning fallback, but Diaz is undoubtedly one of the best closers in the sport.

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Corey Knebel
Setup men: Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia
Notable injuries: Jose Alvarado (neck soreness, may not be ready for Opening Day)

Security grade: B

It looks like Knebel has rediscovered his 2017 All-Star form. He was an elite reliever that year, posting a 1.78 ERA with 39 saves and striking out nearly 15 batters per nine innings. He took a step back in 2018 and then came Tommy John surgery the following spring. But last season with the Dodgers, he had a 2.46 ERA across 25.2 innings as a setup man. Batters hit just .176 against him. He will probably not have such lofty strikeout numbers again — 10.5 batters per nine last year — but he is locked in as the closer for a team that has been fraught with bullpen problems for a long time. If Knebel falters, Alvarado, Hand and Familia all have extensive experience as closers. They can also pour gas on the fire at times. The latter two are on the downside of their careers, and Alvarado has serious control problems.

Washington Nationals

Closer: Kyle Finnegan
Setup men: Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle, Steve Cishek
Notable injuries: Will Harris (shoulder, timetable unknown)

Security grade: F

The Nats will use multiple closers throughout the year. That is their plan. They would prefer that Rainey becomes the leader as he has a strong fastball-slider combo. But when he’s not striking batters out, he’s probably walking them. His walk rate has been above 16% in each of the past two full seasons. Finnegan gets the nod on this chart after he finished last season as the team’s closer, collecting 11 saves. But he is much more hittable than Rainey. Doolittle and Cishek provide some veteran presence to this bullpen, but it’s difficult to get excited about anyone in this group.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Rowan Wick
Setup men: Mychal Givens, David Robertson, Chris Martin, Brad Wieck
Notable injuries: Codi Heuer (Tommy John surgery, will miss the 2022 season)

Security grade: D

Another uninspiring committee? Probably! Yaaaaay!

(sigh)

Wick was a plus reliever in 2019 and 2020 before a muscle strain kept him out for most of the 2021 season. He got a few save opportunities upon returning and was OK, but nothing really jumps off the page. Givens has an established history of creating weak contact, but his K and walk rates have headed in the wrong directions over the past two years. Robertson, who will turn 37 in April, has thrown just 18.2 innings in the Majors since the close of 2018. Martin, another offseason add, is best suited for the middle innings.

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: Art Warren
Setup men: Hunter Strickland, Luis Cessa, Justin Wilson, Jeff Hoffman
Notable injuries: Lucas Sims (back, will open season on injured list); Tejay Antone (Tommy John surgery, may miss the entire 2022 season)

Security grade: F

If you look at the Reds’ depth chart on FanGraphs, you will see five relief pitchers with the words “Closer Committee” next to their name. So, that’s fun. This bullpen would be much more predictable if Sims were healthy. He had a near-30% strikeout-minus-walk rate last year and an expected ERA (2.51) that was almost two full runs lower than his actual ERA (4.40). Losing Antone is another huge blow, too, as he was a fantastic multi-inning weapon who had a 1.38 ERA before his elbow issues took hold. But let’s talk a little bit about who is here. Warren put up a bunch of good numbers as a rookie, albeit over only 21 innings. Some highlights: A 2.6% barrel rate and a 31.7% K-minus-BB rate. He was helped by some BABIP luck and a really high strand rate, but there’s upside here. Strickland, who signed in late March, was the Giants’ closer a few years ago, but doesn’t strike out many for someone who throws so hard. He’s also prone to the home run ball. Cessa recorded a 2.05 ERA with 23 K’s and only two walks across 26.1 innings last year following a midseason trade from the Yankees. Warren carries some intrigue, but for now, it feels like everyone is just keeping the seat warm for Sims.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Josh Hader
Setup men: Devin Williams, Brad Boxberger
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: A

Here’s the best closer in baseball, in my opinion. Allowing too many homers was Hader’s biggest issue entering 2021. He fixed that (at least during the regular season, never mind the playoffs, Brewers fans) and gave up only three longballs in 58.2 frames last year. Otherwise it was more of the some from Hader: Tons of strikeouts, some walks, lots of weak contact and lots of saves. It was his best season in many respects and at age 27, there’s plenty more to come. Williams is one of the game’s best setup men as long as he doesn’t punch any more walls.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: David Bednar
Setup men: Chris Stratton, Heath Hembree
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: F

The Pirates don’t really deserve an F grade here, but manager Derek Shelton said recently that he plans to split the closer duties between Bednar and Stratton to begin the year. So, an F it is for now. Bednar should be the leader, ostensibly. He was quietly awesome from mid-June on last year, with a 1.01 ERA in his last 33 appearances. Stratton was a clear step or two behind Bednar in both standard numbers and Statcast data. Hembree should be the next man up after his K rate took a giant leap, up to 34.2%, while he played for the Reds and Mets last year.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Giovanny Gallegos
Setup men: Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks
Notable injuries: Alex Reyes (frayed shoulder labrum, will miss at least two months)

Security grade: C

Again, maybe it’s all gamesmanship, but the Cardinals are talking about utilizing their bullpen free of defined roles. But I’ll give Gallegos a higher grade than Bednar because the former is clearly, far and away, the best man for the ninth inning here. He has better control and strikeout potential than Cabrera. He also has more experience with 14 saves in 2021. The return of Hicks will be interesting. He’s topping out in the high 90s instead of trying to throw 102+ all the time. He has pitched in just 10 games since May 2019 because of injuries and after opting out prior to the 2020 campaign. But he’s only 25 years old and was the franchise’s closer of the future before everything went south.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Mark Melancon
Setup men: Ian Kennedy
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: B

The D-backs’ bullpen is really unsettled beyond these two pitchers, so it’s hard to tell who will be the other setup men. One thing is certain: Melancon is the closer. He agreed to a two-year deal with Arizona during the offseason after a resurgent year with the Padres, one that saw him allow only two earned runs through the season’s first two-plus months. There was some inevitable regression during the second half, and a repeat of his 2021 first half seems very unlikely. Besides his age (37) and his mediocre metrics, Melancon will now move from one of the most pitcher-friendly parks to a stadium that is much more appealing to hitters. Arizona’s Chase Field had the sixth-highest batting average on contact over the past three years. San Diego’s Petco Park ranked 27th in that stat. Not good news for a closer who doesn’t often miss bats. Kennedy was great in Texas through the first half of last year (16-for-17 in saves, 2.51 ERA, 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) before slumping a bit following a trade to Philadelphia. I think these two could play hot potato with this gig throughout 2022.

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Alex Colome
Setup men: Carlos Estevez, Daniel Bard, Robert Stephenson
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: D

And speaking of park factors...!!! Rostering any Rockies pitcher is a treacherous investment, unless you are 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez. Colome doesn’t get a lot of soft contact for someone who is a ground-ball pitcher. He had a tough year in Minnesota thanks in part to his 41.5 hard-hit rate. And with his HR rate also ticking up, Coors Field doesn’t seem like a good place for him. Estevez is younger and throws much harder, but he has a profile very similar to Colome’s. Bard gathered 20 saves for the Rockies last year, but it wasn’t a smooth ride; he allowed at least one earned run in one-third of his appearances. Best to sit back and wait to see if someone takes hold of this job. Although we could be waiting for a while.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Blake Treinen OR Craig Kimbrel
Setup men: Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol
Notable injuries: Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery, scheduled to return in May)

Security grade: B

UPDATE: The Dodgers acquired Craig Kimbrel on Friday, April 1 and while it’s not an April Fools’ joke, it is problematic if you invested in Blake Treinen. We could still see Treinen as the team’s closer, but there’s a strong chance we see him moved around more, costing him save chances.

Good luck, Blake! All you’ve got to do is replace the best closer in Dodgers franchise history. That’s not to say he can’t do it; Treinen was top-notch last year, with his slider, cutter and turbo sinker mix helping him record a 1.99 ERA. He also had an 83.3 mph average exit velocity, the third-lowest mark in MLB. The two years preceding that were a bit troublesome for Treinen, but don’t forget that he was arguably the best relief pitcher in the game in 2018 while with Oakland. It’ll be interesting to see how Kahnle slots in once he returns from his elbow rehab. He has closer-type stuff, although Hudson has more experience in that area.

San Diego Padres

Closer: Emilio Pagan
Setup men: Dinelson Lamet, Robert Suarez, Pierce Johnson, Austin Adams
Notable injuries: Drew Pomeranz (forearm, out indefinitely)

Security grade: F

Another five-man “Closer Committee,” and this one doesn’t even include Pomeranz, who probably would be the closer if he were ready to go following forearm surgery in August. Instead, this is a jumbled mess for fantasy managers. The most common guesses have Pagan in the top spot, but he hasn’t looked like the same pitcher who was dominant with the Rays in 2019. Lamet’s days as a starter are likely over after a host of injuries, but he could be a game-changer either in the ninth or in an undefined, multi-inning role out of the bullpen. Suarez, 31, has never pitched in the Majors, but he did record 67 saves over the past two seasons in Japan. Johnson has potential with his high-velocity stuff; it would be even better if he could clean up his command and low-ground-ball tendencies. In a nutshell, this is another situation to avoid for the time being.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Camilo Doval
Setup men: Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers
Notable injuries: none

Security grade: B

Doval was nothing short of a revelation last September, tossing 14.1 scoreless innings and leaving opposing hitters with a microscopic .356 OPS. He is armed with a high-spin, high-velocity fastball and a baffling slider that sits in the high 80s. Better yet, he issued only three walks during that closing stretch. That’s a gigantic improvement (no pun intended) from his Minor League numbers, where his walk rate was often in the double digits. No one should expect the 24-year-old Doval to be equally incredible as he makes his way through a full MLB season for the first time. But if he has found something that improves his command and control for the long haul, we have the makings of an elite closer here. McGee and Rogers give San Francisco two very competent options for the ninth if the youngster slips up.