While a battle continues to be waged by analytics and front office standards, the save may be losing its luster. As a statistic, saves started being counted in 1969, then the parameters around it changed in 1975 requiring a reliever to finish a game in order to record one. Mariano Rivera remains the gold standard of the modern day closer but many forget he cut his teeth in high leverage innings setting up for John Wetteland in 1996 en route to a World Series Championship. 

Every season fantasy players weigh whether or not to invest in a closer or reliable saves early in drafts or to try to find them in the late rounds or on the waiver wire during it. Using a valuable in-season resource like free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) on the closer du jour on a team burns up precious capital. Rushing to the wire only to be disappointed by a Cole Sulser or Jairo Díaz are two examples from 2020. 

Wait, it gets worse. There's the dreaded three words one hates to hear about late inning roles: "Closer by Committee". In layman's terms, the team nor the manager feel confident enough in one person to be the reliable closer or sharing high leverage, made fashionable by the spendthrift Tampa Bay Rays, clouds the landscape even further. Since this remains a newer term in baseball, exploring how teams used relievers in the past may help provide a baseline of data. 

Since 1969, there have been four teams with five different pitchers to record at least five saves in one season. Narrowing our scope, here are some fun facts from the last three seasons. Since 2018:

With deference to the fact 2020 and its truncated season depressed saves totals, here’s some perspective on the shrinking saves share in baseball:

  • In 2018, 1,244 saves recorded of 2,431 wins in MLB for a 51.2 percent games ended with a save

  • In 2019, 1,280 saves recorded  of 2,429 wins in MLB for a 48.6 percent games ended with a save

  • In 2020, 422 saves recorded of 898 wins in MLB for a 46.9 percent games ended with a save

Fluid roles in the bullpen continue to make mining saves tougher each season. As of this writing, a 162-game schedule remains on the bargaining table. Be sure to check historical league records to figure out the 80th percentile in saves but for some markers based on past NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) data, it takes 82 saves in 12-team leagues and 75 saves in 15-team formats. Fewer saves, more teams sharing roles and a volatile market. Sounds like fun, right? 

In order to sift out the noise, there are some pathways to success but this article's focus to identify bullpens to target may help preserve FAAB for the young hitter about to be promoted rather than some guy who may notch a save or two before imploding causing damage to precious ratio statistics (ERA and WHIP). First, the teams who project to start 2021 with some form of a closer by committee approach. 

American League

Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore enters this season in a deep rebuild looking to shed money at every turn. Wins may be tough to come by as well as predicting who closes them out. Harvey disappointed last year riddled with injury issues and not picking up a save after throwing well in 2019. Dark horse here? Tanner Scott . If he cuts his walk rates with the devastating stuff, double-digits in saves could happen but keep your darts on this bullpen reserved until there's clarity. 

Boston Red Sox

  • Last three years: 93 saves of 216 wins (43.1 games ended with a save)

  • Ten different pitchers recorded at least one save in this time

  • Committee: Adam Ottavino , Matt Barnes

One of the forefathers of the closer-by-committee approach back in 2003, Boston also started 2019 under the guidance of Alex Cora without a closer. Both previous forays into this strategy failed but it appears this may continue. Ottavino could get saves early, and then the Red Sox could deal him, Barnes lost the job in 2019 but thrived down the stretch in 2020 and dark horse Darwinson Hernandez needs time to grow into the closer role. 

Kansas City Royals

Manager Mike Matheny proved he relies on pitchers with experience. Eventually, Trevor Rosenthal ascended into the majority share last year securing seven before his trade to San Diego. Holland agreed to a one-year deal to return to Kansas City and may open the year as the closer but Hahn notched three last season, Barlow had two, and dark horse Josh Staumont , who reaches triple-digits, also looms in this bullpen. 

Minnesota Twins

  • Last three years: 106 saves of 215 wins (49.3 percent of games ended with a save)

  • 13 different pitchers with a save

  • Committee: Alex Colomé, Taylor Rogers , Tyler Duffey

It started in earnest in 2019 and carried over last year with the Twins preferring a Batman and Robin approach in high leverage situations. Adding Colomé who notched 12 saves in 2020 and 22 over 25 chances since the second half of 2019 most likely moves into a 60 percent saves share in Minnesota. Rogers projects for about a 40 percent share but there's a possibility others like Duffey also get involved depending on how games flow according to this update about the bullpen:

Suffice it to say, paying full price for any of the relievers above remains risky due to the Rays like model Baldelli may follow.

Tampa Bay Rays

Forward thinking keeps this organization at the forefront of analytics along with staying ahead of the curve. Tampa Bay does not care about who gets the majority of saves, they use Anderson as the "stopper” in the highest-leverage moment if it's the seventh, eighth or for his fantasy owners preference, the ninth inning. Fairbanks did not represent one of 12 pitchers with a save in the regular season last year for the Rays but secured three in the playoffs. Feeling lucky? One can draft Anderson for ratio protection, which he can be a stud at. However, if purely for saves, keep searching. 

National League

Atlanta Braves

  • Last three years: 98 saves of 222 wins (44.1 percent of games ended with a save)

  • 18 different pitchers recorded at least one save in this time

  • Committee: Will Smith , Chris Martin

After losing in the National League Championship, Atlanta allowed it's closer Mark Melancon to leave via free agency. This creates a void in the ninth inning likely to be shared due to match-ups by Smith and Martin. Each picher owns some experience in the role and Smith could be the closer if A.J. Minter continues to pitch well giving them two upside left-handed relievers in high leverage late innings. 

Cincinnati Reds

In a cost cutting measure, Cincinnati traded Raisel Iglesias to the Angels. Iglesias can be a free agent in 2022, but he recorded 73 of the 94 saves listed above, almost an 80-percent share. Due to his void, Garrett's come out publicly on Twitter saying he wants the closer role, Sims owns a wipeout curve and the best arsenal of them all may lie with dark horse Antone. Depending on who gets the majority share, there may be some value here. However, the Reds pitching coach Derek Johson worked with Milwaukee in 2018 when three different relievers each secured 15 or more saves (Jeremy Jeffress , Corey Knebel and Josh Hader ). 

San Diego Padres

  • Last three years: 97 saves of 173 wins (56 percent of games ended with a save)

  • Nine different pitchers with a save in this time

  • Committee: Drew Pomeranz , Emilio Pagán

An early season injury cut Kirby Yates ’ 2020 season short and he left for Toronto via free agency. Rosenthal remains a free agent and could return for a pay cut. If not, Pomeranz could handle high-leverage if needed with left-handed hitters in the ninth while Pagán may be his right-handed compliment. Dark horse, Austin Adams , cannot be quit. Update: Dark horse, Austin Adams, cannot be quit but the addition of Mark Melancon means the team prefers a veteran with closing experience proved necessary in hopes of chasing the Dodgers in the National League West.

San Francisco Giants

Early reports speculate the team would like Moronta to take over the role, but he's coming off a shoulder injury which sidelined him last season. Rogers represents the "stopper", Wisler joined as a free agent firing sliders around 80 percent of his pitches and Selman's the southpaw. Can Kapler trust just one pitcher? Buy some Maalox if you believe this statement and invest. 

With deference to size constraints on this piece, here are how some teams project to enter spring training with battles for the closer role: 

  • Cleveland: James Karinchak (stud), Nick Wittgren , Emmanuel Clase - everyone coronates Karinchak but if this team tries to pinch pennies, he may not close initially. 

  • Detroit: Bryan Garcia, Gregory Soto , Joe Jiménez, José Cisnero - dark horse Cisnero gets no love but owns the best strikeout upside of this group. Keeper league dark horse, Zack Hess.

  • Toronto: Kirby Yates , Jordan Romano , Rafael Dolis ()">Rafael Dolis - Love Romano, but if Yates shows he's healthy, the Blue Jays can spin this however they like to mirror the Rays, but Yates should be the target here. 

  • Arizona: Stefan Crichton , Ryan Buchter , Chris Devenski - No reliever has repeated as the saves leader for the Diamondbacks under Mike Hazen, last year Archie Bradley led the way with six, Crichton with five. Update: Enter Joakim Soria into the conversation as well. He signed a one-year deal after this was published and may ascend to the top of the bullpen hierarchy in Arizona.

  • Miami: Anthony Bass , Yimi García - Betting on Bass with the two-year deal but dark horse rookie Jordan Holloway needs to be tracked as the year progresses. 

  • New York Mets: Edwin Díaz , Seth Lugo , Trevor May - It has to be Díaz, right? His manager insists a fluid bullpen could happen in 2021, but stay tuned. 

  • Philadelphia Phillies: Archie Bradley , Héctor Neris - Once again, taking the new arrival Bradley for the most saves in one of the historically worst bullpens ever last season. Update: Also, keep tabs on how well Brandon Kintzler does during spring training. He agreed to a minor league deal but gets a $3 million dollar contract with incentives if Kintzler breaks camp with the Phillies.

  • St. Louis Cardinals: Jordan Hicks , Giovanny Gallegos , Alex Reyes - If you ask three people who wins this job, three different answers may ensue. If healthy, and it's a big if, HIcks wins the job with Gallegos being the "stopper". 

For those scoring at home, 18 of the 30 major league teams show up on this list owning unstable closer environments. Baseball and how it approaches the game continue to evolve so fantasy owners need to do the same. Target a stud reliever early, fill in with upside arms in the middle rounds, and hit a flier late to reach 80 or more saves in your league. Avoid the pitfalls and hit your marks in high leverage. 

Statistical Credits: