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State of the Bullpen: American League Closer Update

Whether we punt them, chase them, or lock them down with a top tier reliever, saves are a vital part of fantasy baseball. No position is more volatile, with a higher turnover rate year in and year out than closer. This year was no different as every week brought new names and adjustments to my weekly closer rankings. In this State of the Bullpen report, starting with the American League, I’ll take you team-by-team as we see where things stand with each bullpen going into 2020. Who might be some names to keep an eye on? Which jobs are up for grabs and which are set? Well, let’s get started and find out. And check back tomorrow when will look into the Nation League.

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AL East Bullpen Update

Baltimore Orioles

Incumbent Closer: Mychal Givens

For a Baltimore team that won only 54 games in 2019, Mychal Givens led the way with 11 saves as part of a committee for most of the season. Chasing saves in this situation wasn’t a very fruitful venture. The Orioles totaled 27 saves on the year, tied with the Miami Marlins for lowest mark in baseball. It seems as though the Orioles have a slow rebuild on the horizon and shouldn’t be expected to perform too much better next season. Should Mychal Givens remain on the club, I would expect him to again lead the team in saves. Although I wouldn’t anticipate a big jump in his save total. Givens also led the bullpen in ERA with an uninspiring 4.57 ERA, so the current options behind him don’t present too much of a challenge.

Boston Red Sox

Incumbent Closer: Brandon Workman

Coming into the season, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier were the favorites to close games for the Red Sox. Alex Cora even toyed with the idea of having Nathan Eovaldi close games. But, it was Brandon Workman who ultimately won over the closing duties, finishing with 16 saves, a 1.88 ERA, and a 36.4% strikeout rate. I would expect Workman to enter the 2020 season as the clear-cut Red Sox closer.

New York Yankees

Incumbent Closer: Aroldis Chapman

Notable Free Agents: Dellin Betances

There was no question who would be closing for the Yankees this season. Aroldis Chapman enjoyed one of his finest seasons, totaling 37 saves, a 2.21 ERA, and a 36.2% strikeout rate. Chapman has the option to join fellow teammate Dellin Betances in free agency this winter with an opt-out in his contract. Although I would expect Chapman to remain a Yankee, Zack Britton would enter the season as the favorite to close game should Chapman take his services elsewhere. Britton did an excellent job as Chapman’s setup man, recording 29 holds, three saves, and a 1.91 ERA.

Tampa Bay Rays

Incumbent Closer: Emilio Pagan

Jose Alvarado was a popular sleeper pick at the closer position coming into 2019. Things certainly looked good after Alvarado recorded four saves in the first week of the season. A combination of struggles and injuries to both Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo gave Emilio Pagan the opportunity to secure the ninth inning work for the Rays. Pagan proved to be the most reliable option, with a 2.31 ERA converting 20 save chances. Nick Anderson proved to be an excellent acquisition for Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. As a member of the Rays, Anderson had a 2.11 ERA and an absurd 52.6% strikeout rate. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Anderson is closing games for Tampa Bay at some point in 2020.

Toronto Blue Jays

Incumbent Closer: Ken Giles

It was a season of what could have been for Ken Giles. When healthy, Giles was excellent with a career-best 39.9% strikeout rate to go with a 1.87 ERA and 23 saves for the Blue Jays. Dealing with elbow issues throughout the season, Giles was unable to capitalize on a full season of top-notch performance. Derek Law was called upon when Giles was unavailable, recording five saves himself. It’s yet to be seen if Giles is in Toronto’s plans for the future, but as of now, he enters 2020 as a mid-tier closer who has the upside to provide excellent value in drafts.

AL Central Bullpen Update

Chicago White Sox

Incumbent Closer: Alex Colome

Reliable, yet unspectacular can describe Alex Colome’s season for the Chicago White Sox. Colome converted 30 of 33 save chances and ended the season with a 2.80 ERA. With one more year until Colome is an unrestricted free agent, it’s possible the White Sox could decide to trade him this winter. With more top young talent on the horizon, Chicago is an up and coming team that could exceed their win total next season. Colome could be a steal and a reliable second closer, as he’ll continue to go in the back end of standard mixed-league drafts. Aaron Bummer did a good job as the primary setup man behind Colome with 27 holds and a 2.13 ERA. Bummer will be the first name from the bullpen to target should Colome find himself elsewhere next season.

Cleveland Indians

Incumbent Closer: Brad Hand

It was a tale of two halves for Brad Hand as he posted a first-half ERA of 2.17 followed by a 5.40 ERA in the second half. Hand didn’t blow his first save of the season until June 25, converting 23 of 24 save chances prior to the All-Star break as he looked to be one of the best closers in the game. Hand converted 11 of 15 saves in the second half, but only made three appearances in September after battling arm fatigue. There’s no reason to believe that Hand wouldn’t go into next season as Cleveland’s closer, despite the second-half struggles, and should be drafted as a top 10 option in drafts.

Detroit Tigers

Incumbent Closer: Joe Jimenez

All nine of the saves Joe Jimenez converted this season came after the trade deadline. Shane Greene was moved to the Braves, opening up the closer position for Jimenez. Problems with home runs and walks made Jimenez a volatile option at the position in the second half, as he ended the year with a 4.37 ERA. Buck Farmer did a decent job setting up in the eighth inning all season but shouldn’t provide an immediate threat to close unless Jimenez comes out of the gate struggling in 2020. Detroit shouldn’t be expected to win many more games next season, so the upside will be capped for Jimenez. Until he shows better control and home run suppression, Jimenez shouldn’t be trusted as a first or second option for standard mixed-league fantasy teams.

Kansas City Royals

Incumbent Closer: Ian Kennedy

Ian Kennedy ended his 2018 campaign with a 3-9 record and 4.66 ERA in 22 starts for the Royals. Coming into 2019, it was time for Kennedy to reinvent himself to save his career, and he did a phenomenal job. Kennedy worked out of the bullpen and soon proved to be the best choice to close games, finishing the season with 30 saves, a 3.41 ERA, and a career-best 27.4% strikeout rate.  A popular name at the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see what the Royals ultimately do with Kennedy as he has one year left on his contract.

Minnesota Twins

Incumbent Closer: Taylor Rogers

Notable Free Agents: Sergio Romo

Whether it was Blake Parker, Sam Dyson, or Sergio Romo, no one the Twins sent out there could hold off Taylor Rogers from taking over the closer role. Rogers converted 30 saves for the Twins to go with a 2.61 ERA. Ending the season as a top-12 closer in my final closer rankings, Rogers should head into 2020 as the clear favorite for saves. I consider Rogers a dark-horse candidate to lead the AL in saves next season. Sergio Romo enters free agency and will likely find a home elsewhere after briefly sharing closing duties with Rogers after he was acquired from the Marlins at the trade deadline.

AL West Bullpen Update

Houston Astros

Incumbent Closer: Roberto Osuna

Notable Free Agents: Will Harris

Roberto Osuna performed excellently in his first full season as a Houston Astro, recording 38 saves with a 2.63 ERA and 10.11 K/9. This is exactly what Houston acquired him to do. The trio of Osuna, Ryan Pressly, and Will Harris combined to make one of the best late-inning bullpens in the game. Harris will hit free agency this winter and should be a popular target for teams in need of bullpen help after posting a 1.50 ERA in 60 innings for the Astros. Depending on the situation, Harris could be an early sleeper candidate to close next season.

Los Angeles Angels

Incumbent Closer: Hansel Robles

Hansel Robles went under the radar for much of the season despite having an excellent year, recording 23 saves for the Angels and finishing the season with a 2.48 ERA. Robles had career-bests when it came to his improved walk rate at 1.98 BB/9 and his home run rate at 0.74 HR/9. Ending the season right in the middle of my closer rankings at 15, Robles should be the favorite to close games for the Angels in 2020.

Oakland Athletics

Incumbent Closer: Liam Hendriks

Notable Free Agents: Yusmeiro Petit(club option)

Liam Hendriks burst onto the scene in the middle of the season for the Oakland Athletics to not only save games but perhaps save their season. Blake Treinen set records on his way to a career year with Oakland in 2018, making him one of the first relievers taken in drafts. Struggles and injuries opened the door for Liam Hendriks, who in many ways became this year’s Blake Treinen. Hendriks finished the season with 25 saves, a 1.80 ERA, and a 37.4% strikeout rate. Both Hendriks and Treinen have one year left until free agency, but I don’t expect either to be moving this offseason with Oakland in a competitive window. Hendriks will likely be a top 10 closer taken in 2020 fantasy drafts as he ended the season number four in my closer rankings. Fellow teammate Yusmeiro Petit also had an excellent season, and has proven time and again to be a valuable middle-relief innings eater. Petit has a club option for 2020 at $5.5 million and will likely stay put in Oakland.

Seattle Mariners

Incumbent Closer: Matt Magill/Anthony Bass

Notable Free Agents: Arodys Vizcaino

The Seattle bullpen proved to be one to avoid all season long, as it finished just as much of a mess as it started. Matt Magill and Anthony Bass shared closing duties to end the season, both earning five saves each. Seattle is in a state of rebuild, so it’s difficult to say who might have the leg up on closing duties next season. If I had to guess today as things stand, I’d say the Mariners closer for 2020 could very well be young righty Sam Tuivailala, who posted a 2.35 ERA and 28.7% strikeout rate in 23 innings with the club. Arodys Vizcaino was acquired from the Braves but will enter free agency never having pitched for the club. Vizcaino will be an interesting name to watch with 50 career saves. A team like San Francisco would make perfect sense for Vizcaino and provide a realistic chance to see him close games next season.

Texas Rangers

Incumbent Closer: Jose Leclerc

Notable Free Agents: Shawn Kelley (club option)

It was a disappointing season for Jose Leclerc, to say the least. Fantasy owners had lofty expectations for Leclerc after he posted a 1.56 ERA, 12 saves, and a 38.1% strikeout rate. Instead, he left owners wondering what to do with him for much of the season in which he recorded only 14 saves, a 4.33 ERA, a decreased strikeout rate, an increased walk rate, and lost his job Shawn Kelley for a good portion of the year. The good news for Leclerc is that he was given the job back for the final two months of the season, recording nine of his 14 saves in that span. Leclerc should be expected to have the inside lead on the closing job in Texas next season, but keep an eye on Emmanuel Clase. The 21-year-old, hard-throwing righty pitched to a 2.31 ERA in 23 innings after his call-up in August.

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