According to the Oxford Pocket English Dictionary, the term closer is defined as “a person who is is skilled at bringing a business transaction to a satisfactory conclusion.” Upon further examination, the dictionary lays out a definition as the word pertains to baseball, but I like the way it’s put in the first definition. Above all, baseball is a business and closing pitchers are usually the best of the best, albeit for the brief amount of time they’re in the game. They’re the closest things to a rockstar in the game of baseball. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip from Mariano Rivera’s (arguably the best to ever call themselves a closer) final entrance at Yankee Stadium.
The larger than life position is filled by many greats, but these are the top 5 current closers baseball.
1. Josh Hader
While not a closer in the traditional sense of the word, the Brewers‘ manager Craig Counsell trusts Hader in high-leverage situations and he’s the guy getting the ball in the most important moments of the game. A common outing for Hader is coming in in the 7th in a do-or-die type situation and finishing the game off. He’s sitting pretty at 13 saves on the year with an ERA of 2.45 through 29.1 innings pitched. Last year he finished with 143 strikeouts in 55 games, and almost like clockwork he is currently on pace to finish with 142.5 Ks through 2019 if he hits that same 55 game mark. Hader won NL Reliever of the Month for the month of May, putting up 21 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings, picking up 6 saves along the way. Hader relies mostly on his four-seam fastball and slider, the fastball averaging a velocity of 95.3 MPH with an average spin-rate of 2,285 rpm. If the MLB is going to figure Hader out, it certainly hasn’t done so yet. His awkward semi-side arm delivery continues to throw batters off and cements him as the top closer/high-leverage pitcher in baseball.
2. Ryan Pressly
Another non-conventional closer at the top of the list (maybe you’re sensing a theme that the MLB is changing) is the Astros‘ Ryan Pressly. While not usually appearing in 9th innings of games, Pressly is certainly the guy the ‘Stros are turning to in high-leverage situations. He’s putting up absolutely phenomenal numbers on the year, boasting an ERA of 0.66 with a WHIP of 0.659. He fanned 32 in 27.1 innings pitched, 1.18 Ks per inning. Not impressed? Here’s the kicker – he’s allowed just 2 walks on the season thus far, for a SO/W rate of 16.00. With these numbers it’s hard to believe, but there are baseball fans who consider themselves to have a working knowledge of the game and all its players who have barely heard of Pressly. His curve-ball has one of the highest spin-rates of the year, which is averaging an astounding whiff rate of 23.5%. His 40 appearance scoreless streak recently broke.
3. Edwin Diaz
The Mets‘ go-to closer comes in at third in this list. 2018 was a career best year for the right-hander leading the MLB with 57 saves, but while 2019 has been a little rougher around the edges, he’s still making a large impact for the Mets. In 23.2 innings pitched on the year, he’s posted 38 strikeouts for an average of 1.64 Ks per inning. His four-seamer on average has a higher spin-rate than Hader’s with 2,424 rpm averaging 96.8 MPH. In 2019 he’s currently wielding a save percentage of 87%. In his last 30 games, he has a WHIP of 1.23. He’s currently tied for 4th in the MLB in the save category with 13 on the year. His high rate of strikeouts is his biggest weapon, and I can say for certain he is one of the last guys I want to see come in against my team down one run.
Kenley Jansen is a larger than life force that comes in and shuts out teams’ last dying hopes, period. On the year, he has 17 saves and 35 strikeouts through just 24.2 innings pitched for an average of 1.45 Ks per inning. His velocity has dropped a little bit this year, as his cutter is coming in at 92mph on average, his sinker at 94mph, and his slider at 83mph. He had a great May as his slider has posted an unreal whiff percentage of 35.29% on the month and his sinker isn’t far behind at an even 20.00%. This hike in whiff-percentage from April (slider-20.00%, sinker 14.71%) is incredibly reassuring for the right-hander in the face of all the critics who were content to say Jansen just isn’t what he used to be after an off-par start to the year following his open-heart surgery in the off-season. He continues to be one of the most intimidating pitchers in the game and is a huge factor in the Dodgers‘ continued success.
3rd in the running for total saves in the MLB last year, Craig Kimbrel remains one of the league’s best closers despite not occupying a roster spot until yesterday (6/4/19) when he signed with the Cubs for 3 years, roughly $45 million, per Ken Rosenthal. As the MLB draft got underway June 3rd, the market for Kimbrel quickly heated up. Since the Red Sox gave Kimbrel a qualifying offer, it meant that another team couldn’t sign him without losing a first round pick, so ever since the first round of the draft came to a close, Kimbrel was game on, and Theo Epstein and the Cubs came out on top. On a related note, Dallas Keuchel was in the same situation, and we will likely see him sign soon. In June of 2018, Kimbrel was posting an otherworldly whiff percentage of 30.36 with his curve. As a whole, he gave up an OBP of .260 with a posted ERA of 2.74 on the year. He averaged 3.10 strikeouts for every walk he issued. He averaged 1.55 strikeouts per inning, fanning 96 total on the year. Kimbrel will undoubtedly make a huge difference for the Cubs for the rest of this season and the next two years.