Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Saves and Steals: And here we go

Edwin Diaz

New York Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz walks off the field after Washington Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki hit a game-winning three-run home run in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, in Washington. Washington won 11-10. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


We’re back with another year of Saves and Steals, my weekly closer rankings and bullpen reports. I’ll also highlight who’s been contributing in the steals department and some potential adds to supplement some speed in category leagues. Well, the draft season was fun and all until all of our closers started going down. We start the season with Jordan Romano, Jhoan Duran, Paul Sewald, and Devin Williams on the injured list. I’ll give my thoughts on the respective situations in my Opening Day rankings. In the steals department, Victor Scott II has a chance to run wild in St. Louis.

Tier 1: At the Top

Edwin Díaz - New York Mets
Josh Hader - Houston Astros

Díaz was the consensus top closer entering 2023 before suffering a season-ending knee injury during the World Baseball Classic. He was coming off the best year of his career, posting a 1.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 118 strikeouts with 32 saves across 62 innings. Given it wasn’t an arm injury, there’s no reason to think the 30-year-old right-hander can’t pick up where he left off and be a dominant closer again.

Hader joins Díaz atop the closer rankings. The veteran southpaw has consistently been one of the best closers, collecting over 30 saves with strikeout rates near 40 percent every season. And now he joins one of the best teams in baseball. Díaz and Hader have the skills and job security that put them a step above the rest.

Tier 2: The Elite

Raisel Iglesias - Atlanta Braves
Emmanuel Clase - Cleveland Guardians
Andrés Muñoz - Seattle Mariners
Camilo Doval - San Francisco Giants
Pete Fairbanks - Tampa Bay Rays

Iglesias has posted an ERA under 3.00 and at least a 10 K/9 in seven of his nine professional seasons. And he showed no signs of slowing down in 2023. Meanwhile, Clase took a step back with a decline in his strikeout rate. It led to a bit more volatility, but he still led the majors with 44 saves despite blowing 12 opportunities. Unless we see a decline in his velocity, we could see some upward regression and a bounceback in his strikeout totals.

Two things were keeping Muñoz from being selected higher in drafts. One was perceived injury risk, and the other was a questionable situation with other relievers in the saves mix. But the 25-year-old right-hander has some of the best skills in baseball. His 18.4 percent swinging-strike rate ranked third only behind Félix Bautista and Robert Stephenson among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched last season. With Matt Brash and Gregory Santos nursing injuries heading into the season, nothing is preventing Muñoz from seeing every save chance in Seattle and running with the job. With health, he’s destined to jump into the top tier this season.

Doval lost a bit of steam later in the season with some heavy usage but still turned in an outstanding season, converting 39 saves with a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 87 strikeouts across 67 2/3 innings. With an improved offense and one of the league’s best defensive third basemen behind him, he’s set for another quality year as the Giants’ closer.

Fairbanks, like Muñoz, has great stuff with durability concerns. After signing an extension before the season, the Rays finally let him run with the closer role when healthy. The 30-year-old right-hander converted 25 saves with a 2.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 68 strikeouts across a career-high 45 1/3 innings.

Tier 3: The Solid Options

Evan Phillips - Los Angeles Dodgers
David Bednar - Pittsburgh Pirates
Ryan Helsley - St. Louis Cardinals
Alexis Diaz - Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel - Baltimore Orioles
Clay Holmes - New York Yankees

Phillips has been one of the best relievers in run prevention over the last couple of seasons, with a collective 1.58 ERA over 125 1/3 innings since 2022. There was always a question of whether the Dodgers would acquire another reliever to close. But they didn’t, and Phillips enters the year as the solidified closer on a team that could win over 100 games.

Bednar is back and ready for Opening Day after dealing with a lat issue this spring. He tied Doval for the league lead in saves with 39 last season to go with a 2.00 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts across 67 1/3 innings.

After a breakout 2022 season, Helsley missed significant time last year with a right forearm strain. So there’s some risk here, but he has as much upside as anyone. Don’t be surprised if he’s resting on occasional back-to-back opportunities if the Cardinals want to monitor his workload.

For about two-thirds of the season last year, the younger Díaz brother was among the best closers in baseball. But a high walk rate and fly ball tendency in an incredibly hitter-friendly ballpark will bring some volatility. It also means he has a small margin for error. And he seemed to wear down a bit down the stretch, with his velocity down a tick. Still, he has solid strikeout stuff on a Reds team that should be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

We’ve seen some up-and-down seasons from Kimbrel over the last several years, but he continues to get the job done. The cliff can certainly come at this stage of his career, but it doesn’t seem like we’re there yet. Expect him to add a good amount of saves to his 417 career total on a Baltimore team with World Series aspirations.

Holmes is among the last of the “trusted” save sources with a solidified role. While he did have a career-high strikeout rate last season, he doesn’t get as many whiffs as the closers ahead of him, instead aiming to keep the ball on the ground. It makes him a bit streaky, but you can bank on 20-plus saves with solid ratios in the end.

Tier 4: There’s Upside Here

Tanner Scott - Miami Marlins
Adbert Alzolay - Chicago Cubs
Jose Alvarado - Philadelphia Phillies
Jose Leclerc - Texas Rangers
Robert Suarez - San Diego Padres
Mason Miller - Oakland A’s
Kevin Ginkel - Arizona Diamondbacks
Griffin Jax/Brock Stewart - Minnesota Twins
Trevor Megill/Joel Payamps/Abner Uribe - Milwaukee Brewers
Michael Kopech/Steven Wilson - Chicago White Sox

Can we trust the breakout season from Scott, in which he cut his walk rate in half? Where his walk rate lands will determine how far he can climb the rankings or how long he’ll hold his job. We’ve seen those control issues come up early in spring. But there’s no denying the upside after he finished as one of the only relievers with over 100 strikeouts.

Alzolay settled nicely into the closer role in Chicago until a forearm strain landed him on the injured list. That, and comments from new manager Craig Counsell this spring indicating he may not commit to a set closer has Alzolay in this upside group. The same can be said for Alvarado, who spent two stints on the injured list with elbow inflammation last year and has several relievers behind him who can step in to take the ninth inning on any given day.

It seems like we’ve been waiting for Leclerc to run with the closer role in Texas for years now. But he just hasn’t been able to hold on to the job, whether due to performance or injury. His career-high save total came back in 2019 with 14 saves. It’s Leclerc’s job to lose going into the season, but veteran David Robertson could step in if needed.

Suarez recorded a four-out save for the Padres in the team’s opening series against the Dodgers in South Korea. He’s set as the primary closer in San Diego to kick things off, but Yuki Matsui has been impressive in his outings this spring and could factor into the saves mix at some point.

Going into spring camp, Athletics manager Mark Kotsay stated he wanted Miller to earn the closer role once he was set to begin the season in the bullpen. He seemed to do just that, striking out 14 batters with three runs allowed over 7 2/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander is by far Oakland’s best reliever for the closer role, and he should start the season pitching the ninth inning. He’d likely be ranked a bit higher if he were on a better team. Still, he could be a quick riser in this column.

Ginkel figures to get the primary share of save chances in Arizona while Sewald is on the injured list with a strained oblique. He had an excellent season for the Diamondbacks in 2023, posting a 2.48 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 70 strikeouts across 65 1/3 innings. Expect Sewald to step right back in once he’s healthy.

While Ginkel is the next man up in Arizona, things aren’t quite as clear in Minnesota. Duran is set to miss some time to open the season with an oblique injury. In typical Rocco Baldelli fashion, he could opt to go with a committee in the ninth inning. That could include Jax, Stewart, and possibly the left-handed Steven Okert on a matchup basis.

The most utility from a backup closer could come from Milwaukee, where Williams is set to miss roughly three months with two stress fractures in his back. Payamps worked as the primary setup man last season and had an excellent campaign. Though, his underlying numbers don’t exactly scream “closer” stuff. And he did perform better in the first half. Megill has more of what you’d see from a prototypical closer, with a high-90s fastball and lots of swing-and-miss. Uribe may very well be the next young reliever to get excited about, but he’s still only 23 years old with control issues. My hunch is that we’re a year too early on him. We’ll have to see how the situation plays out with the first few save opportunities.

The White Sox situation may be only slightly better than the A’s. But there’s no clear standout on who could take the closer role. Kopech could have the most upside in the group after his move to the bullpen. Wilson had been solid for the Padres over the last two seasons before he was traded to Chicago. Jordan Leasure is a name to watch. The 25-year-old right-hander will be making his major league debut after breaking camp with the club and producing gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors.

Tier 5: Just Getting By

Kenley Jansen - Boston Red Sox
Alex Lange - Detroit Tigers
Kyle Finnegan - Washington Nationals
Carlos Estevez - Los Angeles Angels
Yimi Garcia - Toronto Blue Jays

It feels strange to have Jansen this low, but there’s no doubting the skills decline. The 36-year-old veteran was nursing lat, back, and shoulder injuries throughout the spring. How much longer can we count on him?

Lange held on to the closer role in Detroit despite a 15.6 percent walk rate, converting 26 saves with a 3.68 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 79 strikeouts across 66 innings. He goes into the season as the primary closer, but you have to wonder how long he can sustain success with the high walk totals.

Finnegan lost the closer role to Hunter Harvey before reclaiming it when Harvey went down with an injury. It’s interesting to hear that he’s added a sweeper to his arsenal after mostly featuring a four-seam fastball and a splitter. He’s the closer, for now. But Harvey could step in quickly if Finnegan struggles.

If the rest of your pitching staff could endure a 3.90 ERA and 1.49 WHIP, then you were happy with the 31 saves Estévez produced last season. Robert Stephenson was expected to challenge him for the closer role but will begin the season on the injured list. He’s working his way back from a shoulder injury.

García would actually be a bit higher on this list if we knew both Romano and Erik Swanson would be out for an extended time. Romano was shut down with right elbow inflammation but has already begun working his way back. For now, García should step in for early saves.

Tier 6: If You Must

Will Smith/James McArthur - Kansas City Royals
Tyler Kinley/Justin Lawrence - Colorado Rockies

The Royals brought in Smith as a veteran presence in the bullpen. He could get the first go at the closer role, but McArthur is likely the better pitcher who can take over at some point. And don’t go chasing saves on the Rockies unless you’re absolutely desperate.


Devin Williams - back
Jordan Romano - elbow
Jhoan Duran - oblique
Paul Sewald - oblique

Steals Department

We got some big news affecting the stolen base landscape just days before Opening Day. The Cardinals were set to open the season with Dylan Carlson starting in center field and sending top prospect Victor Scott II to Triple-A Memphis. Carlson was hurt in a collision with Jordan Walker in the outfield during Monday’s Spring Training game. He was diagnosed with a sprained AC joint and will be sidelined for at least a couple of weeks, opening the door for Scott II to make his major league debut with St. Louis on Opening Day. The 23-year-old outfielder will slot in at center field and brings plenty of speed with him after swiping 94 bases across 132 games between High-A and Double-A last year. It’s questionable how much he’ll be able to contribute in the other categories. He totaled nine home runs and displayed a solid hit tool, but has just 66 games under his belt in the upper minors. Still, he could be a significant difference-maker in the steals department and should be added in all category leagues. Other players rostered in under 40 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Wednesday night who should contribute some steals include Jackson Merrill (39 percent), Jarred Kelenic (37 percent), Jose Siri (30 percent), Parker Meadows (23 percent), Sal Frelick (23 percent), Will Benson (22 percent), Jake Fraley (22 percent), and Zach Neto (17 percent).