We've all experienced the headache that is the pursuit of saves during this most cursed of seasons. It would be one thing if the closers were all doing it to themselves, but the managers, frankly, have been just as unpredictable. Can't anyone just stick to the plan?
Fortunately, we're beginning to see some of the most tumultuous bullpens at the start of the season reach a stasis of sorts. Whether declared or undeclared, the Rangers, Giants and Royals all appear to have settled on a closer. Then again, for teams like the Rockies, Astros and Cubs, the role is as up-for-grabs as ever.
With all the turnover that has already happened and continues to happen, now seems like an appropriate time to survey the entire closer landscape, summing up where things stand for all 30 teams. Most specifically, I'm thinking you'll want to know who you can trust to keep getting saves -- job security, in other words, which is only partly a matter of skill.
Here's how I rank each leading man in that ever-so-important measure.
Josh Hader RP
MIL Milwaukee • #71 • Age: 26
The Corey Knebel threat never materialized, and so far, the game's best reliever has been used as traditionally as can be, his appearances all coming in the ninth.
OAK Oakland • #16 • Age: 31
His velocity gains from a year ago haven't held, making him less than entirely worry-free, but until Liam Hendriks' actual performance gives the Athletics cause for concern, they'll continue to run him out there.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #74 • Age: 32
The stuff clearly isn't what it once was, but his track record gives him a long leash that he hasn't even begun to be tested yet, converting all four of his save chances with relative ease.
MIN Minnesota • #55 • Age: 29
Manager Rocco Baldelli has shown a willingness to defy convention, turning to Sergio Romo for two saves already and even having Taylor Rogers pitch the eighth inning of a tie game recently. Still, there's no questioning who the ace of the bullpen unit is.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #54 • Age: 32
We know the Yankees have a reliable replacement in Zach Britton and still don't know exactly when Aroldis Chapman will be back from COVID-19, but we know it'll be soon and that the job is ultimately his.
Kirby Yates RP
SD San Diego • #39 • Age: 33
The stuff appears intact for a pitcher with a combined 1.67 ERA the past two years, but some early shakiness combined with a recent bout with "body soreness" means the backup closer, Drew Pomeranz, actually has twice as many saves (4) as Kirby Yates (2) so far.
CIN Cincinnati • #26 • Age: 30
Some home run issues put him on shaky ground last year, but Raisel Iglesias has been mostly drama-free so far this year on a team without a clear backup plan.
WAS Washington • #44 • Age: 33
A disastrous start for Sean Doolittle has put him out of contention for the role, and Daniel Hudson is already battle-tested from splitting saves with Doolittle down the stretch and throughout the playoffs last year.
ATL Atlanta • #36 • Age: 35
Will Smith is back after his bout with COVID-19, but Mark Melancon so far hasn't invited any trouble, picking up where he left off in the second half last year.
PHI Philadelphia • #44 • Age: 32
His job is as secure as can be for now, but I can't help but wonder how long it will be given that he's again struggling with walks in the early going and surely won't deliver another .209 BABIP like last year.
Alex Colome RP
CHW Chi. White Sox • #48 • Age: 31
He doesn't miss bats the way a closer should, but the consistency is hard to knock. The White Sox will be less inclined to mess around with the role now that Aaron Bummer is shelved with a strained biceps.
Brad Hand RP
CLE Cleveland • #33 • Age: 30
A velocity dip has made Brad Hand appear more vulnerable in the early going, which might not be such a problem if bat-misser extraordinaire James Karinchak wasn't waiting in the wings.
TEX Texas • #48 • Age: 29
The Rangers refused to name a closer when Jose Leclerc first went down and then immediately gave the job to Rafael Montero when he came off the IL, like they planned it all along. He had a 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 in 22 appearances last year.
Hector Neris RP
PHI Philadelphia • #50 • Age: 31
The Phillies bullpen has been a disaster area so far, so Hector Neris' recent hiccup surely isn't enough to put his job in jeopardy. Still, his history of sliding in and out of the role can't be overlooked.
CIN Cincinnati • #23 • Age: 28
Archie Bradley's numbers the past couple years are pretty uninspiring, but as the appointed closer from the start of the year, he should be pretty secure in it unless (until?) he falters.
MIA Miami • #27 • Age: 36
Brandon Kintzler is far from a textbook closer with his pitch-to-contact approach, but he brings a stable profile to a team in dire need of stability. With a 3.37 ERA the past four seasons, he's a reasonable enough bet to keep the role.
Trevor Gott RP
SF San Francisco • #58 • Age: 28
Manager Gabe Kapler rather infamously doesn't "do" closers (or bullpen roles of any kind), but his actions betray him this year, seeing as Trevor Gott has all but one of the Giants' save opportunities so far while being used almost exclusively in the ninth. Whether or not he's good is, frankly, secondary.
Keone Kela RP
PIT Pittsburgh • #35 • Age: 27
Keone Kela is set to return Thursday after a long absence for a positive COVID-19 test that just wouldn't go away. It's been months since we've seen him pitch, but the Pirates are installing him as the closer right away -- a role he's certainly talented enough to fill.
SD San Diego • #47 • Age: 30
Manager Mike Matheny, apparently hearing the criticism of his bullpen management during his stint with the Cardinals, has been as progressive as anyone with regard to roles so far, but Trevor Rosenthal may finally be settling into the ninth-inning spot now, his fastball back up to triple digits and his control looking improved, for the most part.
Joe Jimenez RP
DET Detroit • #77 • Age: 25
The Tigers haven't begun their spiral yet, making Joe Jimenez appear more useful than he probably will be, especially since he's once again looking hittable. Gregory Soto might actually be the team's best reliever.
Anthony Bass RP
TOR Toronto • #52 • Age: 32
The Blue Jays are talking like Ken Giles will be able to return from his strained forearm sooner than later, though it may be wishful thinking. Anthony Bass has handled the role capably in his absence, but his talents may not measure up in the long run.
Edwin Diaz RP
NYM N.Y. Mets • #39 • Age: 26
It seemed like the Mets were just pulling back on Edwin Diaz for a while to get his head right, but he has been lights out in five August appearances and still hasn't gotten the role back, recently working the eighth to set up Seth Lugo for a traditional, one-inning save.
STL St. Louis • #65 • Age: 29
With Kwang Hyun Kim back in the rotation, Carlos Martinez on the IL and Ryan Helsley having tested positive for COVID-19, the stars are aligning for the Cardinals' best reliever to have the role he should have had all along, whenever they're cleared to play again.
TB Tampa Bay • #70 • Age: 30
Is Nick Anderson the closer? Well, he's tied for the team lead with two saves, and his co-leader, Oliver Drake is on the IL. Of course, both of those saves came while bailing out someone else in the ninth, and we know the Rays would prefer not to have a dedicated closer.
Jairo Diaz RP
COL Colorado • #37 • Age: 29
He's clearly the guy right now, having recorded five saves down the stretch last year and three already this year, but whether Jairo Diaz is actually good remains in question. He needed Daniel Bard to rescue him from a blown save recently, though Carlos Estevez is probably next in line.
Cole Sulser RP
BAL Baltimore • #54 • Age: 30
Cole Sulser was a non-entity coming into the year and has had a couple of bad blown saves already, but the Orioles can't seem to quit him, going right back to him for the save Wednesday. Like last year, there may come a point when their save chances are so sporadic that we won't even recognize whether or not they've made a change.
SD San Diego • #45 • Age: 29
Austin Adams has been slow to recover from knee surgery and Yoshihisa Hirano from COVID-19. With Carl Edwards also landing on the IL with a strained forearm, Taylor Williams, who has already secured three of the team's five saves, doesn't have much competition left. Maybe Matt Magill?
Ty Buttrey RP
LAA L.A. Angels • #31 • Age: 27
Ty Buttrey has gotten the last three save chances in what's supposed to be a closer committee (which tells us where Joe Maddon's head is), but his actual performance both this year and last should have us hoping Hansel Robles can recapture his 2019 form and reclaim the role.
Ryan Pressly RP
HOU Houston • #55 • Age: 31
Ryan Pressly hasn't looked right since he started having knee trouble midway through last season, which might explain why his transition to the closer role has gone so poorly. The Astros surely would have moved on by now if they had a clear alternative in their bullpen, which is comprised almost entirely of rookies.
Rowan Wick RP
CHC Chi. Cubs • #50 • Age: 27
The Cubs don't sound like they're completely ready to give up on Craig Kimbrel, which is why you shouldn't get too comfortable with his presumed replacement, Rowan Wick, who leads the team with two saves so far. And then there's Jeremy Jeffress, who the Cubs reserved for the ninth after using Wick in the seventh and eighth Wednesday.