SAGNOF has a new Daddy! Or I guess technically Step-Daddy — this will always be Grey’s baby. That’s right — this year I’ll be slipping into those SAGNOF slippers each week to tell you who will be doing the saving and who will be doing the stealing! 

“So like good guys and bad guys?” asks my wife as I explain to her what I’m writing about this year. 

*Sigh* “Yes…like good guys and bad guys…” I wept.

Let’s get this SAGNOF off to a great jump-off. Lo! Below are my top-30 closer rankings! 

“How’d-de-do-dat?” I’ll tell you how I did dat — by breaking each pitcher into three categories: job security, player ability, and team ability. Closers have the most frustrating variability year-by-year — so I wanted to quantify closer success.

  • Job Security: self-explanatory. How secure is their job? Is there some young stud who just moved into the barn stall next door? Have there been some bumps in the night that make this closer a bit unreliable? 10: the job should be theirs for most of the season. 1: he may have already lost the job. For players with low job security ratings, I’ve included some potential competition for the closer role throughout the season. For their rankings, you’ll have to wait until next week!
  • Player Ability: self-explanatory. How ability is their player? Huh? This is really just looking at the last 3 seasons to see if this guy is even worth his salt and pepper. 10: Eric Gagne 2003! 1: Eric Gagne 2008…
  • Team Ability: Maybe not so self-explanatory! On the surface, you’re thinking “Oh, how ability is their team?” Sure, that’s most of it, but it’s deeper than that. I took a close look at the starting rotations and bullpens for each player to see how many leads they might actually get handed. You can have 5 great starting pitchers, but your set-up guys could be cheeks and consistently blow leads. There’s also something to be said about teams that will get close wins vs. blow-outs. In 1998, Mariano Rivera only got 36 saves despite a 1.91 ERA and a 114-48 team record. That year they scored 965 runs, but only allowed 656. A +309 run differential. You want to be good — but not TOO good. 

Fun Facts: The highest run differential by any team was +411 by Joe DiMaggio’s 1939 NY Yankees. The worst: -723 by Harry Lochhead’s 1899 Cleveland Spiders. Despite this — I still think the CLEVELAND BASEBALL TEAM should change their name to the Cleveland Spiders. The logo/jersey/hat possibilities could be fantastic. Not to mention the potential stadium names! The Travelocity Spider’s Web! 

Enough stupidity — here’s the rankings! 

Tier 1 

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total
1 Liam Hendriks CWS 10 10 10 30
2 Aroldis Chapman NYY 10 10 8 28
3 Josh Hader MIL 10 10 8 28
4 Kenley Jansen LAD 10 7 10 27

 

To me, there’s no doubt that Hendriks is the A1, #1 fantasy closer heading into the season. Pair the best closer in the league the past two seasons with the team that I have as the World Series favorite (Razzball award predictions article spoiler!) and you have an easy recipe for at least 40 saves — dare I say 50? Slap a pair of back-to-back 13.1 K/9 on top of that — and Hendriks might even accumulate even more Cy Young votes at the end of 2021 (another spoiler already?!) 

r/AmITheIdiot or do the Yankees not seem as big of a threat in 2021? The offense will be just as potent as ever with the return of D.J. LeMahieu, but there are a number of question marks in that starting rotation for me after Gerrit Cole. Four to be precise — four question marks. For Chapman the 17.0 K/9 was his best since 2014, but the 3.09 ERA was his worst since 2017. This is also the 4th year in a row his fastball velocity has dropped. Every rubber band eventually snaps. 

I’m not too worried about Hader’s 3.79 ERA from last year’s weird season. Take away his 4 ER, 1 IP blow up against the Cubs in September and his ERA was a 2.00. I anticipated the Brewers team ability category would drag Hader down a little bit, but looking things over I’m actually a bit bullish on their starting rotation for 2021. Yes, all of them have basic white boy frat names: Brandon, Corbin, Josh, Adrian, Eric — but I think these guys could help the Brewers play spoilers to the St. Louis Cardinals anticipated NL Central crown. 

Kenley Jansen’s 2020 offseason spent in the 10 times earth gravity of Driveline Baseball’s Hyperbolic Time Chamber paid off to an extent – he improved on most of his 2019 disappointing season. Like Hader, if you take away one blow-up game (0 IP, 5 ER) from Jansen in early September, his stats look much better (3.33 ERA vs 1.48.) If only it were that easy. With the loss of Justin Turner — there might be an opportunity for a few more close games in LA leading to another 40 save season opportunity for Jansen. Towards the end of last season the Dodgers were just bringing him in with 4 and 5 run leads just so he stayed frosty. 

Tier 2

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total Competition
5 Raisel Iglesias LAA 10 9 5 24
6 Edwin Diaz NYM 8 8 8 24 Trevor May
7 Drew Pomeranz SD 7 7 10 24 Emilio Pagan
8 Ryan Pressly HOU 8 9 7 24

 

With a little luck and some tenderness, I could see any one of these gentlemen moving up to Tier 1 platinum elite status. 

For Iglesias, it’s the fact that the Angels big acquisitions this offseason have been Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb. Full stop. Trevor Bauer could change that as a Bauer/Andrew Heaney/Dylan Bundy three-headed attack would hand him more leads. But from everything I’m reading the Angels just don’t have the cashola to pull Bauer. Apologies, as always, to Michael Trout. 

For Edwin Diaz, it’s whatever the hell happened in 2019. I personally think that’s behind him — I’ll forgive — but I’ll NEVER forget!

For Drew Pomeranz, it’s keeping up how fantastic his recent full-time relieving turn has gone. The Padres keep getting better around him which should lead to lots of leads to close. He’s got that Andrew Miller tall, failed starter thing working in his favor. 

Tier 3

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total Competition
9 Brad Hand WAS 9 9 5 23
10 Nick Anderson TB 4 9 9 22 Pete Fairbanks

Diego Castillo

11 James Karinchak CLE 9 9 4 22
12 Taylor Rogers MIN 7 7 7 21
13 Kirby Yates TOR 8 7 5 20

 

Those dang Rays. Nick Anderson would be tier 1 if it weren’t for their total lack of respect for how the game should be played! One pitcher designated the closer, no gloves, and foreign matter on every baseball! I honestly might be a bit generous with that 4 job security score. There’s no job to have security over because their daily closer is whoever’s name pops out to Kevin Cash when he’s practicing his tessomancy.

The American League Hader, James Karinchak, would be higher as well if he weren’t on the team in the middle of a fire sale. Oh, the burning! Karinchak on the CLEVELAND BASEBALL SQUADRON is like the word ‘knickerbockers’ plenty of K’s — not a lot of W’s. 

Yates is in a similar boat with Karinchak. I swear Mike D’Antoni must be the GM of the Blue Jays — focusing only on offense. Trigger Warning: VOMIT. Go take a quick look at their starting rotation. Starts off promising with Hyun Jin Ryu. Nate Pearson is a young stud – he could take a step forward. It’s all yucky from there. 

Tier 4

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total Competition
14 Jake Diekman OAK 5 5 6 16 Lou Trivino 

J.B. Wendelken

15 Will Smith ATL 2 5 9 16 Chris Martin

A.J. Minter

16 Hector Neris PHI 3 5 6 14 Archie Bradley
17 Rafael Montero SEA 5 5 3 13
18 Craig Kimbrel CHC 5 4 4 13 Rowan Wick

 

There’s a lot of sweet, sweet value to be earned from all these guys. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Athletics will again be forgotten about, but still make the playoffs in 2021? The -2.30 FIP/ERA differential for Diekman has me a bit shook, but with Hendriks out of the picture, it’s Diekman’s world right now. 

The Braves would be wise to go the way of the Rays and use the three-headed closer approach. I really think Smith, Martin, and Minter will be sharing the 9th inning. Great for real baseball, but who cares about that?!

Hector Neris just won’t let us love him. Just when he puts up a 3.01 ERA/3.71 FIP in 2017 — he follows it up with a 5.10/4.04 in 2018. Then he drops a 2.93 ERA/3.83 FIP in 2019 — only to leave us with a 4.57 ERA/2.50 FIP in 2020. Who will Neris be in 2021? The hell if I know.

Craig Kimbrel will be the starting closer for the Cubs in 2021 (or is it — the closing closer? Hm…) But I think that’s only out of respect — just like my ranking of him here. Yea, the 4.61 xERA tells a better story and the 16.4 K/9 looks nice — but the 7.00 BB/9 isn’t pretty. He wasn’t as bad as he was in 2019 — but he still wasn’t that great. He’ll be off this list entirely in no time. The Cubs ‘trust the process’ finale tour is just kicking off too. 

Tier 5

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total Competition
19 Amir Garrett CIN 4 5 3 12 Michael Lorenzen Lucas Sims

Sean Doolittle

20 Jordan Hicks STL 1 4 7 12 Andrew Miller

Giovanny Gallegos

Alex Reyes 

Ryan Hesley 

Carlos Martinez

21 Matt Barnes BOS 4 4 2 10 Adam Ottavino
22 Jose LeClerc TEX 3 3 3 9 Jonathan Hernandez
23 Stefan Crichton ARI 2 3 4 9
24 Richard Rodriguez PIT 3 5 1 9

 

Too many unknowns in the Reds & Cardinals bullpens. You could make a case for any of those six Cardinals to close and I’d probably believe you. I actually like all four of the Reds options, but the team was a huge disappointment last year and I don’t see that changing after losing the Cy Young. 

What an island of misfit toys the Red Sox rotation is for 2021: Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez, and Nick Pivetta. They’re going to need a whole lot of that old Boston Idiot magic to make some noise in the AL East. Barnes should be looking over his shoulder at the recently acquired Adam Ottavino. Barnes had a pedestrian 4.30 ERA last season. Ottavino had the 11th highest FIP to ERA differential in 2020. The BABIP Gods frowned upon him with a .375 mark — bad for 16th worst among relievers. 

Richard Rodriguez is someone I actually wouldn’t mind drafting late in 2021. Yea, the Pirates might win 15 games, but that’s still somehow too high for their front office so Rodriguez might be on his way out. Over his last 3 seasons, Rodriguez has a 10.5 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9. He would make a nice set-up guy for a playoff-bound team. 

Tier 6

Rank Player Team Job Security Player Ability Team Ability Total Competition
25 Daniel Bard COL 3 3 2 8
26 Greg Holland KCR 3 3 2 8 Josh Staumont
27 Yimi Garcia MIA 1 4 3 8 Anthony Bass
28 Reyes Moronta SFG 1 5 1 7 Tyler Rogers

Jarlin Garcia

29 Hunter Harvey BAL 3 3 1 7 Cole Sulser
30 Bryan Garcia DET 1 4 1 6 Joe Jimenez

Gregory Soto

 

If you completely whiff on closers I would take a shot on Yimi Garcia and Reyes Moronta from this tier. In 15 innings last season, Garcia allowed only 1 ER. He was in the 97th percentile for xBA and 98th percentile for hard hit % and fastball spin. Don’t forget that the Marlins made the playoffs in last year’s weird season too. Yes, I only gave them a 3 for ‘team ability,’ but that’s partially because the Mets, Phillies, and Braves should all be better in 2021 and the Miracle Marlins probably won’t surprise many people this year. 

As for Moronta, despite his 5+ BB/9 he’s done a good job at keeping those free runners to score boasting a 2.66 ERA over his 128.1 career innings. He missed all of 2020 with a torn labrum, but is expected to be ready for 2021. His success is due to the 97 mph of his fastball working with his slider which gets 12.4 inches of horizontal movement (top-20 in 2019.) The Giants won’t give him many leads, but those he does get he will probably lock down. 

 
  1. William Hung says:
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    Not that it matters either way, but Joe Jimenez isn’t the closer for the Tigers?

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry William Klug says:
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      He might be — but he did lose the job at the end of last year. I’d really like Gregory Soto to get a crack at it.

      • William Hung says:
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        Oh wow I missed that – I thought the Tigers were ride or die with JJ since they suck and letting him learn on the job

    • Tom says:
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      Pomeranz has gone from a complete afterthought to the 7th ranked closer based on that fluke of a season? He can just as soon be a middle inning mop up guy.

      • Kerry William Klug says:
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        He’s proven throughout his career that he’s a much better reliever.
        Starter: 698.1 IP, 1.4 whip, 8.8 k/9, 4.25 era
        Reliever: 134.1 IP, 1.079 whip, 11.3 k/9, 2.55 era

        • 183414 says:
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          Padres should have already resigned Rosenthal. Wouldn’t try and win their 1st World Series with Pomergranz and Pagan. Just when I began respecting Preller.
          These tiers are a joke. Jansen way overrated. Hand will be used when needed. Only lefty in the pen.
          Soto is better than Bryan Garcia.

    • Mitchell Hartson says:
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      How could you not have had Alex Colome on this list?

      • Kerry Klug

        Kerry Klug says:
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        That news was confirmed on Wednesday — this article was written Tuesday.

  2. Honest Joe says:
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    You should certainly reference this article at beginning of season, all-star break, and season wrap-up. Just to see how volatile the market is.
    I am probably that dude who is gunning for a tier 3 RP to pair with Rich Rod, and then just mine the waiver wire.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Kerry William Klug says:
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      I like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates best from that tier for different reasons.
      Hand will be handed a lot of low scoring close games to close behind Scherzer/Corbin/Strasburg and their weak offense.
      Yates will be handed lots of high scoring close games to close behind their poor rotation and crushing lineup.

  3. I’ll be following these posts throughout the season. Think you’ve done a pretty impressive job here.

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry William Klug says:
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      Thank you, I really appreciate that.
      This is always one of Razzball’s most fluid columns because of how frustrating the position can be. It should go the wak of kickers! Give me a flex spot instead – pitcher or hitter!

  4. Colome to the Twins. Big competition for the closer job there surely

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      Oh man already!
      Fangraphs has them both in the role currently, but I like Taylor Rogers to hang on to it. Though I might drop his security score to a six because he’s officially on a shorter leash.

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      Oh boy update already! Rotoworld is saying the Twins are signing Colome to be their closer…back to the drawing board!

  5. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Bryan Garcia just free money! Which is what I say as I throw money into the street

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      The minor league numbers tell me more k’s are coming!
      And if you’re in Fantrax most people will probably be drafting one of the Brian Garcia’s in their database. Like everyone who drafted Matt Barkley #2 overall in the Razzbowl.

  6. NUX says:
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    It’s so very classic that within 24 hrs of posting, 2 closers have “lost” the gig already lol

    Great work here brother, look forward to these throughout the season

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      Thank you!
      And Robert Osuna is still floating around out there.

      • Kerry Klug

        Kerry Klug says:
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        Roberto*
        -sorry on my phone.

  7. Wallpaper Paterson says:
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    I like saves + holds to avoid the annoyance of closers.

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry William Klug says:
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      Me too — we switched to that in my home league 5 or 6 years ago and will never look back.

  8. Shawnuel says:
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    Seriously, this is the 4th time in 3 days that I have seen Ryan Helsley’s name spelled incorrectly.

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      Tomato, Tolmato.

  9. packers2018 says:
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    I like your format.

    You probably have the toughest assignment writing about closer ranks, especially how teams manage their bullpens now days.

    I hate drafting a closer early (5th-6th round) but it might take the pressure off the rest of the draft. Seems like if you don’t then a guy or 5 ladies would have to draft at least 3 players from the lower tiers.

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      I did the Top 100 Hitters and Top 100 Pitchers in the past few years and I thought that was hard — should I move someone up after a 6 IP/3 ER/6 K start? Should I overreact to one 3 inning blow up?
      I’ll be pulling my hair out for sure.
      I’m with you on the closers — I’ll take elite set-up guys and best relievers under shaky closers instead.

  10. thatguy says:
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    These rankings are sus

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      EMERGENCY MEETING!

  11. Jimmy says:
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    Austin Adams Darwinzen Hernandez Sam Delaplane which one of these guys has the best chance to see the 9th inning this year! Great stuff!

    • Kerry Klug

      Kerry Klug says:
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      This is tough — I’d say
      Adams
      Hernandez
      Delaplane

      But here’s my thoughts
      Adams: the Mariners only acquired Montero fairly recently to be their closer — so they’re going to give him the chance to close.
      Hernandez: Lefty and he’s now behind Barnes and Ottavino
      Delaplane: no big league experience yet, but boy that slider sure is purty.

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