No category in fantasy baseball flushes precious free agent budgets, or busts waiver priorities than trying to get the next closer. For the first time in recent memory, closer costs seem to be in decline while perusing average draft positions. So the age old question of when to target a closer will provide options. In fact, for those who like to zig when the market zags, getting two top tier closers in 2020 could be a way to differentiate in drafts or auctions. It also makes sense to get one top tier closer, a second tier closer with potential risk but also with upside along with a third before rounding out a roster. 

In an effort to identify potential targets, along with reading how closers will be valued in the season ahead, many charts, data points, and some synopses will ensue in this article. It is apparent owners remember being burned pushing up Blake Treinen and Edwin Díaz into the top-60 picks in 2019 drafts. Getting the top saves option from the previous season does not necessarily translate into a stable investment. In fact, trying to discern which teams value one closer could be more important when choosing them. 

Before assessing which closers to zero in on, here’s last season’s top ten closers according to average draft position from the NFBC with 2018 results included:

On this list, Blake Treinen lost his job, Edwin Díaz set a career high in blown saves, and Craig Kimbrel missed time after falling victim to the draft pick attached to his free agency then a balky elbow. In fact, when viewing last year’s closers, José Leclerc , Wade Davis , any closer in Kansas City not named Ian Kennedy , Blake Parker , Cody Allen , Arodys Vizcaíno , Jordan Hicks (injured UCL), Brandon Morrow , Hunter Strickland , José Alvarado , Shane Greene (trade) and Sergio Romo (trade) all lost their role in 2019. This does not include the myriad of closers during the season, rather a look at the ones most targeted in drafts leading up to the start of last year. Also note, it appears Felipe Vázquez will not be playing anytime soon for the Pirates, they really missed the chance to unload him and his off-field issues at the trade deadline. That was a tremendous miscalculation. 

Here’s the list of teams, and relievers, with at least one closer to reach 30 or more saves in 2019: 

These teams rostered a reliever who recorded at least 20 saves: 

Within this, realize both Hansel Robles and Héctor Neris did not start the season as the closer but once they ascended to the role, held it the rest of the season. Emilio Pagán took over the ninth inning but still shared some saves down the stretch. He proved to be more of the preferred option rather than the only one. However, he’s not a part of the super bullpen being amassed in San Diego via a trade for Manuel Margot

Last, the franchises allowing two or more relievers with 10 or more saves:

Sometimes, taking a reliever with skills over role can pay off. Patient owners reaped dividends if they stashed Taylor Rogers awaiting the inevitable meltdowns associated with Blake Parker . However, those in deeper leagues should realize Minnesota will protect Rogers, meaning Sergio Romo could reach double digit saves for a team which will be in games late due to a strong lineup. This seems to embolden Will Smith believers since he’s being taken over 50 picks ahead of the pitcher named the closer this off-season, Mark Melancon . Investors taking stock in history repeating itself like in San Francisco with Smith usurping Melancon for saves. 

With this in mind, here’s the early top-ten according to NFB Draft Champions Leagues (15-teams, 50 round draft and hold) with last year’s statistics included: 

Leagues without pickups during the season often drive the price up in draft position making it a terrific barometer when trying to discern which relievers will be the most sought after. In the first “industry” draft (2020 FSGA 14-team draft), the top targets remained the same but a little later and in a different order: 

One can see the tiers forming with Hader, Yates and Chapman atop it, then the run from Hand through Giles leading to another gap. One does not need to shop from this group, but the stability provided by them can create a competitive advantage. In NFBC drafts, the next run will occur around pick number 141 with Craig Kimbrel , Will Smith , Héctor Neris , Raisel Iglesias , Emilio Pagán , Alex Colomé , José Leclerc and Hansel Robles being taken before 171st overall collectively on average. It’s in this tier a double tap (back-to-back) picks could pay dividends. Or, one of them with high risk and high reward attached, like LeClerc could pair well with a reliable option like Chapman. Building a balanced portfolio between risk with relative stability helps prevent reaching in a draft or auction. During the LABR 15-team mixed draft, the top-10 changed in pricing with one team taking pocket “closers”, two top-tier closers in back-to-back rounds (Yates and Chapman):

After Giles marked the 10th closer taken, six relievers including Nick Anderson were taken in rounds 10 and 11. Identifying when a run could occur and staying ahead of it without punting the category helps eliminate reaching for a reliever as a draft ensues. Reading the room proves to be a pivotal part of survival when procuring saves. 

Taking into account all of this information, closer comes down to personal preference. Yes, bad teams can provide saves. However, they do not do so in the same manner. Detroit remains loyal to a closer so taking a late round flier on Joe Jiménez makes much more sense than reaching for the headache which will happen in Miami. Jimenez recorded 82 strikeouts over 59.2 innings last season and went 9-for-10 in save chances. 

Atlanta’s manager Brian Snitker owns an itchy trigger finger at closer. Savvy owners continue to target Will Smith , who beat out Mark Melancon in San Francisco for saves to do so again in 2020. Melancon ramped up his cutter usage and could benefit from deploying more curves. He racked up 11 saves with Atllanta with a 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 24 strikeouts versus two walks his last 21 innings in 2019. Plus, he upped his ground ball rate to 63.5 percent. But, Smith’s converted 48 of 55 save opportunities since June 29th of 2018, went 6-0 last year with a 2.76 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Either could close games if Melancon struggles at the start of the season so invest with knowledge this could end up with both accruing 15 or more saves or one running away with the job. (Gun to my head, Smith). 

No one seems to want Brandon Workman but, if he truly gets the ninth inning to start 2020, he’s an intriguing option. Workman did not give up a home run to the last 215 batters he faced last season, won ten games, recorded 16 saves and 15 holds with 104 strikeouts in 71.2 innings. His .166 slugging percentage against ranks as the lowest over the last 50 years by a reliever. 

In order to identify a few relievers for 2020, here’s a chart using the criteria from Josh Hader ’s breakout in the second half of 2017 with pitchers who achieved them last season: 

Noting Hendriks, Hader, Diaz, Osuna and Smith in the list, they remain closers to target with confidence. I am assuring everyone a rebound by Edwin Díaz this season. If he does not, I will take the blame. It feels like Diaz should be older, but he will turn just 26 in March of 2020. Hidden beneath his bloated 5.59 ERA in 2019, Diaz recorded a 3.07 xFIP (17th-best among qualified relievers) and a 2.63 SIERA (tied for ninth). His 99 strikeouts ranked ninth among all relievers. Discounted veterans always go overlooked while fantasy players search for the new shiny toy. 

Kevin Gausman owns more appeal as a reliever than a starter, so his role with the Giants will determine his upside. Do not be surprised if he struggles as a starting pitcher, Gausman becomes the eventual closer for San Francisco. As a reliever in the second half, Gausman worked 20.1 innings with a robust 26.8 strikeouts minus walks percentage and 2.42 xFIP. 

Both Drew Pomeranz and Nick Anderson could be ratio erasers. Often overlooked in fantasy since owners crave saves, pitchers in daily formats who can provide wins, help maintain a low ERA and WHIP plus own strikeout upside.  As a reliever, Pomeranz yielded 11 hits, three earned runs and four walks with 36 strikeouts in only 21 innings of work. He saved two games with Milwaukee and during his career as a reliever, Pomeranz owns a 2.72 ERA with a 140:41 K:BB in 115.2 innings, a 1.09 WHIP and 3.22 xFIP. Anderson will be a popular candidate with good reason following the Pagan trade. In 23 games with the Rays, Anderson recorded 41 strikeouts versus two walks with a 2.11 ERA.

In an effort to discern the early market, teams will be assigned a label of stability. Think of it as a preseason draft kit. Teams will be listed in alphabetical order by low to the potential as a highly volatile bullpen in 2020: 

Low Volatility/Stable Bullpens

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley , Closer; Kevin Ginkel, Handcuff/Wild Card - There’s a chance Bradley takes the role and runs with it given his strong finish last year (18 saves from July 30th until the end of the season) but heed his 4.68 xFIP in them. 
  • Chicago White Sox: Alex Colomé , Closer; Aaron Bummer , Steve Cishek Handcuffs; Zack Burdi, Wild Card - Colome racked up 30 saves but his xFIP (4.61), second half swoon and reduced strikeout rate makes him a bit more risky than perceived. 
  • Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias , Closer; Michael Lorenzen , Handcuff; Robert Stephenson , Wild Card - Every year Iglesias gets overlooked but recorded a second straight 30-plus save season while changing his arsenal increasing his four-seam usage. Also, Stephenson’s strong finish (last 24 appearances, 1.38 ERA, 26 innings, 28:7 K:BB) puts him on the radar if anything happens to Iglesias. 
  • Cleveland Indians: Brad Hand , Closer; Emmanuel Clase, Handcuff; James Karinchak, Wild Card - Although Hand remains a solid commodity, keep tabs on his fatigued elbow in September of last year. 
  • Detroit Tigers: Joe Jiménez , Closer; Buck Farmer , Handcuff - Jimenez surged to nine saves of his last ten opportunities, recorded 82 strikeouts in 59.2 innings last season and his handcuff is Buck Farmer , draft with confidence. 
  • Houston Astros: Roberto Osuna , Closer; Ryan Pressly , Handcuff - Did you know Osuna owns a WHIP below one for his career? Also became the youngest reliever with 150 saves in major league history. 
  • Los Angeles Angels: Hansel Robles , Closer; Ty Buttrey , Handcuff; Keynan Middleton , Wild Card - Remember when everyone took Buttrey over Robles last year even with Cody Allen signed to close games? At least most realized Allen was fool’s gold. Robles owned a 1.52 ERA over his last 47.1 innings. 
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen , Closer; Blake Treinen , Handcuff; Brasdor Graterol, Wild Card - A positive, Los Angeles remains one of the most stable organizations when mining for saves, so Jansen gets a long leash. He’s another year older but fared better in strikeout rate and his underlying data along with at least 30 saves for six straight seasons. 
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader , Closer; Corey Knebel , Wild Card - Tied Chapman for third in the majors with 37 saves and led all relievers again with 138 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. Only question here, will Milwaukee deal Hader as a part of a retooling if they drift in the standings? 
  • Minnesota Twins: Taylor Rogers , Closer; Sergio Romo , Handcuff; Trevor May , Wild Card - No longer the speculative pick, Rogers tied for fourth in the American League in saves with 30 along with ten holds. He sometimes struggles in back-to-back outings, so Romo remains on the periphery of saves chasers. 
  • New York Mets: Edwin Díaz , Closer; Seth Lugo , Handcuff; Dellin Betances , Wild Card - No pitcher gets more assured security than Diaz as a closer due to his success being tied to the general manager. Diaz still finished with 99 strikeouts and the 17th best FIP (3.07) in the majors among qualified relievers. 
  • New York Yankees - Aroldis Chapman , Closer; Zack Britton , Handcuff; Adam Ottavino , Wild Card - Loaded bullpen allowed New York to prevent Chapman from appearing in three straight outings all year. His velocity ticked down but sitting atop the hierarchy translates to stability in an unsure market. 
  • Oakland Athletics: Liam Hendriks , Closer; Joakim Soria , Handcuff - No one saved more games than Hendriks (25) from June 21st until the end of the season. He racked up 124 strikeouts over 85 innings and remains underpriced. 
  • San Diego Padres: Kirby Yates , Closer; Drew Pomeranz , Handcuff; Andres Muñoz, Wild Card - Yates led the majors in saves while setting career bests in ERA (1.19), WHIP (0.89) and strikeouts minus walks percentage (36.2 percent). This bullpen’s absolutely loaded. 
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Ken Giles , Closer; Anthony Bass , Handcuff; Justin Shafer , Wild Card - Giles converted 23 of 24 save chances last year but also lost time with elbow soreness. If healthy, he could finish in the top-five at his position. 

Medium Volatility/Not-so-stable Bullpens

  • Atlanta Braves: Mark Melancon , Closer; Will Smith , Handcuff; Shane Greene , Wild Card - Melancon starts the year with the role, but bake his manager’s itchy trigger finger with a stocked bullpen into his price point.
  • Boston Red Sox: Brandon Workman , Closer; Matt Barnes , Handcuff; Darwinson Hernandez, Wild Card - Deposed manager, Alex Cora, hinted Workman would open the year as the closer. Workman yielded one home run last year but needs to cut his walk rate in order to take a step forward in closer rankings. However, he could be a sneaky play in 2020. 
  • Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel , Closer; Rowan Wick , Handcuff; Duane Underwood Jr., Wild Card - Will the real Kimbrel please stand up, please stand up? No other closer could finish in the top-five or on the injured list more than Giles than Kimbrel. Risk averse will avoid him but he could net 30 saves with a return of his fastball velocity. 
  • Colorado Rockies: Wade Davis vs. Scott Oberg at closer; Jairo Diaz , Wild Card - Contracts suggest it’s Davis’ job to lose in camp, performance leans towards Oberg. Does anyone trust the Rockies to do the right thing? 
  • Kansas City Royals: Ian Kennedy , Closer; No clear handcuff at this time - Safety lies in Kennedy accruing 30 saves after taking over as closer last year. But, he’s in the last year of a contract on a team in a rebuild no matter what their manager says. Pay for two-thirds of a season as the closer. 
  • Philadelphia Phillies: Héctor Neris , Closer; Seranthony Domínguez , Handcuff - Took over as the closer after his manager played the match-up game with little success before losing his job, Neris notched 28 saves in 2019. He finished tied for ninth among relievers with 89 saves and 10th in WHIP (1.02). Not too shabby but with a new manager in town, track his role in spring. 
  • Texas Rangers: José Leclerc , Texas; Rafael Montero , Handcuff; Joely Rodriguez , Wild Card - LeClerc sets up as a perfect upside complement to a top tier closer in 2020. He needs to reduce free passes and work in the strike zone. Positive migration candidate or loses the role by June. Personally stashing Joely wherever possible. 
  • Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle , Closer; Will Harris , Handcuff; Daniel Hudson , Wild Card - If healthy, Doolittle will be one of, if not the best closer bargains in drafts this year. 

Highly Volatile/Unstable Bullpens

  • Baltimore Orioles: Mychal Givens , Closer (?); Hunter Harvey , Wild Card - Primed for a breakout, Givens never really received a full complement of save chances. Add in Harvey lurking in the wings, not many wins for a terrible staff, and act accordingly. If Harvey leads this bullpen in saves, it will not be a surprise. 
  • Miami Marlins: Brandon Kintzler , Closer (?); Drew Steckenrider , Handcuff; Ryne Stanek , Wild Card - Desperate drafters can throw a dart at Kintzler. It’s not for the faint of heart though, especially given last year’s lack of consistency after the Romo trade in the ninth inning. 
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Keone Kela , Closer; Kyle Crick , Handcuff; Richard Rodríguez , Wild Card - Kela pitched well in his small sample last year (One earned run his last 23 innings) but he’s a volatile personality with health issues. Less than optimal. Many will stash Crick while ignoring Rodriguez. Over his last 46 outings, Rodriguez owned a 2.30 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Bigger wild card, Nick Burdi
  • San Francisco Giants: Tony Watson vs. Shaun Anderson ; Jandel Gustave and Melvin Adon, Wild Cards - Perhaps the team’s best closing option projects to be in the starting rotation, Kevin Gausman . Maybe a mix and match approach, or one of the young guns steps up in spring training. 
  • Seattle Mariners: Matt Magill , Closer (?); Yosahiro Hirano, Handcuff (?); Austin Adams , Wild Card - In a perfect world, Magill closes at the start of the year, gets traded for prospects and Adams takes over in the second half when healthy. Magill’s last 18 innings yields a 23:2 K:BB with a 3.00 ERA and 1.11 WHIP after adjusting his arsenal. Adams will be returning from ACL surgery, but owns tremendous upside if healthy. 
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Giovanny Gallegos (?), Closer; Andrew Miller , Handcuff (?); Alex Reyes , Wild Card - Want to venture a guess as to who leads this bullpen if Carlos Martínez makes the rotation? Me either. Early returns suggest Gallegos will be overpriced. For the risk averse, do not ignore Alex Reyes (no, I cannot quit him). 
  • Tampa Bay: Nick Anderson , Diego Castillo , José Alvarado ; Closers (?); Colin Poche , Wild Card - Early speculators on Anderson may profit but Tampa Bay does not care who closes games. Castillo and Alvarado also could net saves in a stocked bullpen. 

Like stolen bases, save totals fell in 2019 to 1,180 total compared to 1,244 in 2018. Add in the potential committee based approach favored by analytics, teams trading high leverage arms for prospects at the deadline and the inherent risk of taking a closer at or above his draft capital into account before draft season. Savvy owners can take advantage of a depressed price and those comfortable may opt to chase saves on the wire like any other year. It’s a proven strategy which yielded Liam Hendriks and Héctor Neris owners profit last year if rostered prior to their ascension to the ninth inning. It’s a leap of faith or research during the season. Know your strengths and act accordingly. 

Be sure to read all the player profiles provided in the Fantasy Alarm draft guide along with monitoring how pitchers will be used entering spring. Many questions remain as to how the Marlins, Giants, Orioles, Mariners, Marlins, Braves, and Pirates bullpens will evolve. Some key names to key on include: Hunter Harvey , Shaun Anderson , Keone Kela and Matt Magill . Read, prepare and dominate this season. 


Statistical Credits: - Game Notes