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2021 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Joakim Soria
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
(6/15) Soria has the most experience in this bullpen with 223 career saves, but was limited earlier this season after suffering a calf strain. He finally got into a groove in mid-May, logging seven consecutive scoreless outings before struggling again once the calendar turned to June. In six June appearances, the right-hander has three losses and one blown save. On a positive note, Soria 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, save chances have been hard to come by for last place Arizona, who has the worst record in the majors after yet another extended losing streak. Arizona relievers have not recorded a save since Smith earned a three-inning save on May 30.

Crichton does not possess normal traits of a closer who makes hitters miss, recording a below average 21.3% strikeout rate in 2020 and 15.5% mark through June 14. Despite the lack of strikeouts and a poor ratios (5.57 ERA, 1.67 WHIP), Crichton has converted four of the team's six saves overall. However, the lack of quality alternatives in the Diamondbacks' bullpen may be what has earned him most of the save chances early on.

Smith, Clarke and Bukauskas round out the remaining options for saves. Smith has been pitching a multi-inning role for the Diamondbacks and earned a three-inning save - the first of his career - on May 30. After posting an 8.8 K/9 last season, that mark is currently 4.8 through 16 appearances (48.1 innings). Clarke has been inconsistent, but has been fantastic over his last 10 appearances, recording a 0.90 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 11:2 K:BB over 10 innings. Bukauskas (elbow) is currently on the 10-day Injured List but has promising strikeout upside in an otherwise uninspiring bullpen when he does return.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Will Smith
Team: Atlanta Braves
(6/15) Given his strong spring and proven track record in the role - previously recording 34 saves for the Giants in 2019 - Smith has been the Braves' primary ninth-inning option through the first two and a half months of 2021 with 12 saves in 13 chances. Relying heavily on his slider and four-seam fastball, the southpaw's 33.6% strikeout percentage through 28 appearances aligns with his 2019 success. Smith is doing a much better job keeping the ball in the park this season (1.0 HR/9) after recording a 3.9 HR/9 in 2020, though his 4.56 ERA could be improved.

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 immediately stepped 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, but that has yet to come to fruition. Martin has a fantastic 2.84 ERA and 0.79 WHIP through 12.2 innings thus far.

Minter has prior experience in the role, recording 15 saves for Atlanta in 2018. He's off to a decent start in 2021 in a setup role, logging a 4.74 ERA and 13 holds through 29 appearances.

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. In fact, he did not allow an earned run in nine May appearances. Matzek has maintained a strong 34% strikeout rate this season, which could eventually move him up the pecking order for saves.

After inking a one-year deal with Atlanta on May 9, Greene could quickly re-emerge as one of Snitker's most-trusted setup men. He has 66 career saves should Smith or Martin be unavailable.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Paul Fry
Team: Baltimore Orioles
(6/15) 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 opened the season logging eight of Baltimore's first 11 saves of 2021. The 36-year-old doesn't fit the typical closer profile, as his primary pitch is a changeup that he throws 78% of the time at an average of 78 mph. Valdez had been Baltimore's most trusted high-leverage arm, but recent implosions have bloated his ratios (5.26 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) and Hyde recently turned to Sulser and Fry for the team's most recent save opportunities.

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 southpaw is off to a strong start this season with a 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 34:11 K:BB over 23.1 innings while closing out the Orioles' most recent save on June 4. He likely would have received the save chance over Sulser on June 1 if he hadn't pitched the two days prior.

Sulser had five saves for the Orioles before losing the closer's role last season, but he's primarily been limited to middle relief in 2021. The right-hander, owner of a 1.96 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 35:8 K:BB over 23 innings, received his first save chance of the season June 1 and came through despite allowing a couple baserunners.

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 (17.5%) to maintain his high-leverage role.

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 was recently activated from the 60-day IL after dealing with an oblique strain he suffered this spring.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Matt Barnes
Team: Boston Red Sox
(6/15) 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 25 appearances this season. The right-hander has given up nine runs through 28.1 innings and owns an impressive 50:7 K:BB while converting 14 of his 17 save opportunities. He's built some job security given his fantastic start to the season.

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 94.5 mph, but his walk percentage (15%) is also up. The veteran has recorded 13 scoreless outings over his last 14 appearances, during which he's struck out 14 over 12 innings. He had an inconsistent start with his new club but has settled in with a 2.77 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Those are much better results to possibly re-enter the save mix at some point in 2021.

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. He hasn't allowed a run over his last 18 appearances dating back to April 30.

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 is a promising weapon for Alex Cora's bullpen as his sole weakness tends to be his command (19.1% walk percentage), 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 1.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 32:8 K:BB over 31 innings (18 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 eight runs over 24.2 innings (2.92 ERA), but he's allowed five home runs (1.8 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.

Brasier has yet to make his 2021 debut since suffering a left calf strain during the final week of spring training, then suffering a comebacker to the head during his minor league rehab assignment. 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
(6/15) After a rough first half of 2020 and rocky spring (12.15 ERA), Kimbrel has returned to form with a 0.66 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 45 strikeouts through 27.1 innings. He's 18-for-20 in save chances and the lack of quality options behind him afford Kimbrel stability in the role for the time being. It will be interesting to see if the pending free agent becomes a trade candidate later this summer with the Cubs currently in first place in the NL Central.

Chafin has been one of the Cubs' most dependable relievers so far. In addition to the team-leading 15 holds, the lefty has a solid 1.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 27 strikeouts across 28.2 innings. He should continue working in a high-leverage role for Chicago.

Tepera has some closing experience during his years in Toronto and has a 1.99 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 10.2 K/9 and a career-low 6% walk rate across 31.2 innings this season. The 33-year-old has a save and 13 holds through 31 appearances.

Winkler and Brothers round out the remaining options for saves. Brothers is a southpaw with a 15.0 K/9 that will likely be featured against lefty-heavy parts of the batting order (.111 BAA). Winkler has a 0.79 ERA through 25 appearances this season.

Wick saw plenty of high-leverage chances last year, recording a 3.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 27% strikeout rate while recording four saves and 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.
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Closers in Waiting Ranks
  1. Devin Williams (MIL)
  2. Emmanuel Clase (CLE)
  3. Kendall Graveman (SEA)
  4. Taylor Rogers (MIN)
  5. Jake McGee (SF)
  6. Jake Diekman (OAK)
  7. Tejay Antone (CIN)
  8. Daniel Hudson (WAS)
  9. Blake Treinen (LAD)
  10. Emilio Pagan (SD)
  11. Jose Alvarado (PHI)
  12. Giovanny Gallegos (STL)
  13. Adam Ottavino (BOS)
  14. Pete Fairbanks (TB)
  15. Drew Pomeranz (SD)
  16. Zack Britton (NYY)
  17. Chris Martin (ATL)
  18. David Bednar (PIT)
  19. Demarcus Evans (TEX)
  20. Trevor May (NYM)