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2019 Closer Situations: Team-By-Analysis
Arizona Diamondbacks
Current Closer: Archie Bradley
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Next In Line: Yoan Lopez, Yoshihisa Hirano, Andrew Chafin
(8/8) After suggesting early in July that Greg Holland's status as the team's closer might be on thin ice, manager Torey Lovullo formally removed Holland from the role July 28 in what he said he hoped would be a temporary demotion. Holland struggled in subsequent appearances and was ultimately designated for assignment Aug. 7.

Bradley and Hirano each saved three games for the Diamondbacks last season, and the team had indicated in December -- before Holland was brought in -- that Bradley was the leading candidate to close out games in 2019. Though the surface numbers haven't been as great as in past years, Bradley is finally getting his chance regardless with Holland now out of the picture. Bradley continues to throw his fastball at over 95 mph on average, but he's relied on that pitch less this season and has instead leaned more heavily on his curveball and changeup. Walks have been an issue (11.8%), but Bradley has made up for it by shaving his home-run rate in half (to 0.54 HR/9), which is no easy task in this era. The ERA estimators are kind to Bradley (3.18 FIP, 3.85 xFIP).

Lopez has been the team's best reliever by traditional measures through four months, with a 2.64 ERA through 44.1 innings. He ranks first on the team in holds with 18. Things don't check out so good under the hood for Lopez -- in fact, his FIP is nearly two runs higher than his ERA at 4.46. Lopez throws hard, averaging 96 mph on his fastball, and his 10.9% swinging-strike rate portends a better strikeout rate.

Hirano proved effective in his first season stateside, relying heavily on his split-finger pitch (46.3%) to induce groundballs, and he is throwing that pitch even more this season. He's 34 and doesn't have the stuff of a traditional closer, with a fastball that averages just 91 mph. Lovullo seems to prefer to keep Hirano's role flexible, with the ability to call upon the right-hander whenever he really needs a groundball to get out of a jam.
Atlanta Braves
Current Closer: Mark Melancon
Team: Atlanta Braves
Next In Line: Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb; A.J. Minter (minors)
(8/10) Arodys Vizcaino and Minter were expected to begin the season splitting save opportunities, but by late May neither was on the 25-man roster. Vizcaino was placed on the 10-day IL with a shoulder issue April 14 and underwent season-ending surgery a few days later before being traded to the Mariners on May 20. Minter blew a save in disastrous fashion April 27, giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. He was then pulled from a save situation the next day, optioned to the minors and Minter has been unable to reclaim a steady big-league role since.

Jackson relieved Minter in the aforementioned April 28 outing and proceeded to collect nine saves in his first 12 chances. His fortunes reversed; in his last 23 appearances, Jackson has posted a 5.06 ERA, 1.78 WHIP and 5.1 BB/9. Jackson's struggled led the Braves to trade for Greene, Melancon and Martin to stabilize the back end.

Last spring, Greene was pointed to by many as a likely candidate to lose his job as Detroit's closer, but that never happened. He ended up with 32 saves, tied for seventh most in all of baseball. Entering 2019, Greene was once again viewed as one of the more likely candidates to lose his job, but he was again excellent for the Tigers, posting a 1.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 22 saves in 25 chances before being traded. The right-hander got off to a rotten start with Atlanta (one blown save, one loss through three appearances) and finally did lose his job to Melancon on Aug. 9. The skills have not exactly been befitting of a closer in the past, but the peripherals were more closer-worthy this year (27.5 K%, 7.8 BB%, 31.8% hard-contact rate). It's possible Greene gets the job back eventually.

Perhaps more than any other organization, the Braves are ripe with young rotation options at the major-league and Triple-A levels. While Newcomb was stellar at times during his first full big-league campaign in 2018, his erratic control occasionally resulted in blowup outings. Those walk issues cropped up again in his first three starts of 2019, prompting the Braves to transition him to a bullpen role. After a brief stopover at Triple-A, Newcomb rejoined the Braves and quickly emerged as one of manager Brian Snitker's most-trusted late-inning arms. In 36.1 relief innings this season, Newcomb has a 2.72 ERA and 38:7 K:BB, though he's been bumped down the bullpen hierarchy slightly by Atlanta's deadline acquisitions.

Swarzak, who was acquired in the deal that sent Vizcaino to the Mariners, battled shoulder and oblique issues throughout most of 2018. He was limited to 26.1 innings out of the Mets' bullpen and his performance was a far cry from 2017, when he posted a 2.33 ERA over 77.1 innings. The right-hander finished with an ERA north of 6.00, and the estimators suggest he deserved only slightly better (5.48 FIP). Swarzak continued to miss bats at a decent clip, but his walk rate jumped from 7.3% to 12.1%. He features a 94-mph fastball and an 85-mph slider, and splits the usage evenly, throwing 53% fastballs and 47% sliders. Swarzak has been far more effective with Atlanta than he was with Seattle to start the season.

Minter was primed to take over as the everyday closer, but ended up being demoted after posting a 9.82 ERA and 2.36 WHIP in 15 appearances. He has an abysmal 16.8 BB% and 43.8% hard-hit rate during his time with the big-league team this season. Minter will have to straighten things out at Triple-A before potentially rejoining the Braves in September, and he may be deployed in a low-leverage role initially upon his return.
Baltimore Orioles
Current Closer: Mychal Givens
Team: Baltimore Orioles
Next In Line: Shawn Armstrong, Hunter Harvey, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry
(8/9) New manager Brandon Hyde has taken a more modern approach to his bullpen usage in 2019. Four pitchers earned saves for Baltimore through five games, none of them being the presumptive favorite Givens: Castro, Bleier, Fry and Mike Wright. Givens eventually took hold of the primary ninth-inning job but was given a break from the role after allowing eight earned runs in four appearances (May 20, 23, 24 and 26), blowing two saves and taking three losses in that span. The Orioles have continued with the ninth-inning carousel lately, with Givens, Armstrong and Fry splitting eight saves between them since June 20.

Givens recently appeared to find his groove with a 2.20 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 20:6 K:BB in his last 14 outings, but it's only resulted in sporadic nine-inning usage. Overall the 29-year-old has the best strikeout rate (33.0%) of his career and a .201 BAA.

Armstrong was considered a sleeper in the Mariners' bullpen coming into the year, but he battled an oblique issue in spring training, struggled upon his return and was ultimately designated for assignment by Seattle on April 28. Walks have remained an issue since Armstrong joined Baltimore on a waiver claim (11.8%), and his average fastball velocity is down a tick from last year, but the strikeouts are back up which led to a strong start with his new team. Armstrong has come back down to earth and has a 4.10 ERA and 1.23 WHIP for the Orioles, but he's pitched well enough to remain in the mix for Hyde.

Castro has some intrigue given the raw tools. The key word there is "raw." Castro regularly touches mid-to-high 90s with his four-seamer, but that hasn't translated to many Ks whatsoever in the majors (17.0 K%). Unfortunately, the 24-year-old continues to be plagued by control issues with a 12.8 BB%.

Bleier missed time due to injury in the spring, and his is very much a middle-reliever profile. A 31-year-old journeyman lefty, Bleier owns an 10.8 K% in parts of four big-league seasons. He doesn't even crack 90 mph on the radar gun, but Bleier gets groundballs in bunches (61.6%) and is stingy with the free passes (3.9 BB%). He has 6.17 ERA over 35 innings during 2019 after posting a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the last previous seasons.

Fry has proven to be a solid middle reliever for Baltimore over the past two seasons with a 3.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 73:36 K:BB, but nothing really jumps off the page for him as a ninth-inning option besides the team's lack of pitching depth. He's earned two saves since early July but his 20.1% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk rate makes him an unappealing option married with his inconsistent usage.

The wild card here is Harvey, who once again dealt with injuries last year, tossing 32.1 innings at Double-A after totaling 18.2 innings in 2017 and 12.2 innings in 2016. Baltimore really should end the starting experiment and see what Harvey can do in relief. If that move is made and Harvey finds his way up to the big leagues in 2019, he would immediately become one of the more intriguing arms in the Orioles' bullpen, as he can throw in the mid-90s with movement and spin a quality curveball.
Boston Red Sox
Current Closer: Brandon Workman
Team: Boston Red Sox
Next In Line: Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Darwinzon Hernandez; Heath Hembree (10-day IL, elbow)
(8/6) The Red Sox's closer situation was up in the air throughout the winter and for much of the first half of the season, but Workman has emerged as the primary option.

Eovaldi was expected to be entrusted with the closer role upon his return from the injured list in July, but he struggled initially and injuries forced the Red Sox to move Eovaldi back into the rotation.

Workman has been surprisingly good -- shockingly good even, for a 30-year-old reliever with 0.7 fWAR for his entire career entering the season. Walks are a big issue (15.5 BB%), but he's been able to overcome them to this point. He's holding opponents to a microscopic .116 BAA through 53 appearances and has a 34.5% strikeout rate. Workman has four saves since July 15 and is the only Red Sox pitcher with more than one save in that stretch.

Barnes brings the ever-enticing combination of strikeouts (36.2 K% last season, 40.8% this season) and groundballs (48.5%). The right-hander averages 96 mph with his fastball and spins a good curveball. The underlying numbers say he's been pretty much the same guy he was last year (2.84 FIP, 2.71 in 2018), despite an increase in his ERA from 3.65 last season to 4.67 in 2019. Barnes is 4-for-10 in save chances this season and has 18 holds, typically working as a bridge to the ninth inning.

Walden had an excellent run with the Red Sox last year, but it was such a small sample and his larger body of work at Triple-A left a lot to be desired. Needless to say his success so far in 2019 has been a surprise, but the underlying numbers support what he's doing to a large extent. Walden has been throwing his fastball less often and has really upping his slider usage, resulting in a jump in chase rate.

Hembree had a 2.51 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 35:12 K:BB through the first two-plus months of the season, but he battled an elbow issue in June and returned to the injured list at the start of August.

Hernandez was promoted from Triple-A in mid-July and has quickly established himself with a 2.35 ERA and 42.5% strikeout rate in his first 13 outings. The 22-year-old is unlikely to see save chances given his inexperience and 17.8% walk rate, but he's a good candidate for high-leverage opportunities.
Chicago Cubs
Current Closer: Rowan Wick
Team: Chicago Cubs
Next In Line: Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop, Kyle Ryan, Brad Wieck, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Derek Holland; Craig Kimbrel (10-day IL, elblow), Brandon Morrow (60-day IL, elbow)
(9/5) At the All-Star break last year, Morrow had 22 saves, tied for sixth-most in the National League. He did not end up making a single appearance after the break, as biceps inflammation lingered and sabotaged Morrow's attempts to ramp back up. The Cubs signed Kimbrel after the 2019 first-year player draft got underway in June and he took over the closer job later that same month. Kimbrel landed on the injured list with a knee injury in early August, and while he made a quick turnaround then, he was placed back on the IL in early September with elbow inflammation.

Morrow underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow Nov. 6. The expectation was that Morrow would miss the first month or so of the 2019 campaign, but he experienced a setback in April and was forced to shut down his throwing program. Yet another setback in late August officially ended Morrow's season.

While manager Joe Maddon has two experienced backups to Kimbrel in Strop and Cishek, it's been the 26-year-old Wick who has gotten the last two save chances when Kimbrel has been unavailable (Aug. 17 and 22). Dumped by the Padres in the offseason, Wick spent the first half in the minor leagues outside a handful of low-leverage appearances in the majors across multiple stints with the Cubs. He's settled in for good since his June 29 recall and now has a 2.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 21:6 K:BB in 18 second-half innings. The right-hander is averaging close to 96 mph his fastball and his strikeout rate is up nearly nine percentage points from a year ago.

Strop has endured an up-and-down season with 10 saves but also six blown saves and a 5.73 ERA. He was the primary ninth-inning option in Morrow's absence last year, but his hamstring injury opened the door for Jesse Chavez -- now with Texas -- and Cishek to see save chances late in the season. Strop has seen his fastball velocity drop from 95.1 mph to 93.6 mph in 2019, though his strikeout rate has actually risen a bit. His HR/9 has jumped to 1.36, more than double his mark from the prior two seasons.

Cishek's fastball now sits right around 90 mph, but he posted the third-highest strikeout rate of his career last season (27.1%). He's seen that drop to 22.8% in 2019. His sidewinding delivery is a headache for same-handed hitters, as evidenced by their .208/.267/.312 line against Cishek this season. He gives a bit back against left-handed batters, but his slider is good enough to mostly limit the damage without the platoon edge. Cishek saw a run of six saves between mid-May and mid-June, but he blew his lone save chance since Kimbrel joined the club.

Kintzler currently leads the team with 17 holds, and he's been the team's best reliever for most of the year with a 2.53 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. His 15.5 K-BB% through 57 appearances is nearly double his mark from 2018, and Kintzler's 57.2% groundball rate has helped him keep a manageable HR/9 (0.84).
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