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Hunting for Saves: An Early Look at the National League

Pitcher and catchers will report in a little over a month. Baseball season isn’t so far away! Major League bullpen situations have been more unpredictable than ever over the last couple of years, yet we still need to address the saves category if we want to win our leagues. With that in mind let’s dig into the current late-inning situation of every team in the old circuit.

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In Search of Saves

NL East

Atlanta Braves: Mark Melancon (3.61 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 12 SV) will reportedly be the closer, liberating new signing Will Smith (6-0, 34 SV, 2.76 ERA, 96 K, 1.03 WHIP) to appear whenever he is needed.

Miami Marlins: Despite struggling with a 5.48 ERA in 21.1 innings with the Marlins, Ryne Stanek should be the closer moving forward. Prior to the trade, he had a 3.40 ERA with the Rays, with 61 punchouts in 55.2 frames. Jose Urena (5.21 ERA, 86th percentile fastball velocity) could transition from starter back to reliever and be an option. Jarlin (3.02 ERA, 3.77 FIP) and Yimi Garcia (3.61 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) are also names to watch.

New York Mets: Edwin Diaz (5.59 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 39.0 K%) had a nightmarish 2019. However, he was arguably baseball’s best reliever in 2018 (1.96 ERA) and is more than capable of returning to form. If he doesn’t, look for Dellin Betances (2.22 ERA from 2014-2018 with 607 strikeouts in 373 1/3 frames) to get the first shot at ninth-inning duties.

Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris (2.93 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 28 saves, 32.4 K%) was rock-solid in 2019 and earned the right to accumulate saves in 2020. David Robertson is out rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and the picture gets murkier after that. Seranthony Dominguez (4.01 ERA, 4.02 FIP), if healthy, could earn some saves in the event Neris isn’t available.

Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle (4.05 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 29 SV) should be the go-to closer but Daniel Hudson (2.47 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 8 SV) will return and steal some saves. Don’t be surprised if the team chooses to hand a few opportunities to new signing Will Harris (1.50 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 9.30 K/9, 2.10 BB/9.)


NL Central

Chicago Cubs: Craig Kimbrel is currently the closer, but had a late start to the 2019 season and a 6.53 ERA in 23 games. Brandon Morrow was invited to Spring Training but didn’t pitch in 2019 with elbow woes. He and Rowan Wick (2.43 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) are worth speculating on.

Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias is the guy to own as the anointed closer, but he lost 12 games and blew six saves in 2019. He had a high 4.16 ERA, as well. It seems like Cincinnati prefers to have Amir Garrett (3.21 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 0 saves) in setup duties, but Michael Lorenzen (2.92 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7 SV, 85 K) could be a darkhorse candidate for saves at some point if needed.

Milwaukee Brewers: All-World reliever Josh Hader (2.62 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 37 saves, 47.8% K%, 6.9 BB%) will rack up most of the saves. That is if he is still with the team in 2020. If he weren’t around, a healthy Corey Knebel (3.58 ERA, 88 K, 1.08 WHIP and 16 saves in 2018) will take care of ninth-inning duties once he is back at full speed following Tommy John surgery in 2019.

Pittsburgh Pirates: After the Felipe Vasquez’ legal disaster, Keone Kela (2.12 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 27.7 K%) inherited the closer role. He figures to hold the role for 2020 barring a trade. If there is a deal or an injury involved, Michael Feliz (3.99 ERA, 30.5 K%) will, most likely, occupy the position. Nick Burdi is a sleeper: he had a 9.35 ERA, but it came with a 1.83 FIP and a 2.62 xFIP in 8.2 innings. He went down with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome and had surgery, but the team is “cautiously optimistic” he will be ready for Spring Training.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez (3.17 ERA, 24 saves) will presumably return to the rotation in 2020. If that’s the case, then Giovanny Gallegos (2.31 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 33.3 K%, 5.7 BB%) has a clear path for saves, since Andrew Miller (4.45 ERA, 5.19 FIP, -0.4 fWAR) isn’t what he used to be.


NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley (3.52 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 18 saves) is the current closer. If something were to happen to him or if he gets traded, keep an eye on right-hander Kevin Ginkel (1.48 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 29.2 K%, 9.4 BB%.)

Colorado Rockies: Scott Oberg (2.25 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 26.0 K%) recently signed a three-year extension and looks set to be the closer. That is, provided he can show he is healthy after blood clot issues last season. Jairo Diaz (4.53 ERA, 3.70 FIP) would be the favorite for saves if something were to happen with Oberg, over Carlos Estevez (3.75 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 81 K.). The Rockies will have to pay $17 million to Wade Davis (8.65 ERA, 1.88 WHIP) in 2020.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen (3.71 ERA, 33 saves) is among the most reliable closers year in and year out. However, Dodgers’ president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently implied that the team will keep an open mind in 2020. If he is indeed removed from the role, look for newly-signed Blake Treinen (4.91 ERA, but a 0.78 mark in 2018) to step up.

San Diego Padres: You have to be very good to post a 3.4 fWAR season in 60.2 innings. That’s what Kirby Yates (1.19 ERA, 1.30 FIP, 41.6 K%, 5.4 BB%) did, and he has the firmest of grasps on the closing role. However, he is about to get expensive and the Padres have a “closer of the future” in Andres Muñoz (3.91 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 30.9 K%.) Keep that in mind and don’t be surprised if there is a trade looming within the next couple of seasons.

San Francisco Giants: Shaun Anderson (5.44 ERA, 4.77 WHIP) held the closer title after the Will Smith trade. He was better as a reliever (6.08 ERA, 3.51 FIP), but a four-run outing against the Dodgers messed up his line. Tony Watson (4.17 ERA, 4.81 FIP) will be ready in Spring Training and provides another option for saves. He has past experience in the role, but don’t be surprised if the team signs somebody to close.

From safest to shakiest

  • Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers)
  • Hector Neris (Philadelphia Phillies)
  • Scott Oberg (Colorado Rockies)
  • Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Kirby Yates (San Diego Padres)
  • Edwin Diaz (New York Mets)
  • Raisel Iglesias (Cincinnati Reds)
  • Craig Kimbrel (Chicago Cubs)
  • Archie Bradley (Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • Giovanny Gallegos (St. Louis Cardinals)
  • Ryne Stanek (Miami Marlins)
  • Mark Melancon (Atlanta Braves)
  • Sean Doolittle (Washington Nationals)
  • Shaun Anderson (San Francisco Giants)
  • Keone Kela (Pittsburgh Pirates – possible trade candidate)

My favorite sleepers for saves

  • Kevin Ginkel (Arizona Diamondbacks)
  • Michael Lorenzen (Cincinnati Reds)
  • Will Smith (Atlanta Braves)
  • Corey Knebel (Milwaukee Brewers)
  • Andres Muñoz (San Diego Padres)

For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

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