Closer Encounters: 2023 Closer Rankings

Closer Encounters: 2023 Closer Rankings

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

Before we dive into my closer rankings for 2023, I'll point you back to my 2022 Saves in Review series. Part 1 summarizes how saves were distributed in general and how all 30 teams approached the ninth inning. Part 2 recaps how saves were drafted in the 2022 NFBC Main Event and the availability of saves throughout the season via FAAB/waivers.

Fortunately, we have more clarity on closers right now than we did at this same time last year, when we were still waiting for the MLB lockout to end. Many free-agent relief pitchers remain unsigned, but only a few are notable, and while we all wait patiently for Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore and Michael Fulmer to find homes, none are likely to significantly impact these rankings.

My hope is that these initial 2023 closer rankings will help you reach your save category targets throughout draft season. I've included my personal save projection for each relief pitcher listed, but keep in mind these numbers may differ from the RotoWire save projection seen on our site rankings and player pages.

I will be fully transparent on how I project saves for relief pitchers. First, I pull forecasted wins totals for 2023. I use Vegas odds for this, aggregating from a few different sources. Next, I open my personal closer warehouse to review each team's percentage of wins that resulted in saves in recent years. I simply averaged these percentages since 2017 and multiplied that by the 2023 win projection to

Before we dive into my closer rankings for 2023, I'll point you back to my 2022 Saves in Review series. Part 1 summarizes how saves were distributed in general and how all 30 teams approached the ninth inning. Part 2 recaps how saves were drafted in the 2022 NFBC Main Event and the availability of saves throughout the season via FAAB/waivers.

Fortunately, we have more clarity on closers right now than we did at this same time last year, when we were still waiting for the MLB lockout to end. Many free-agent relief pitchers remain unsigned, but only a few are notable, and while we all wait patiently for Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore and Michael Fulmer to find homes, none are likely to significantly impact these rankings.

My hope is that these initial 2023 closer rankings will help you reach your save category targets throughout draft season. I've included my personal save projection for each relief pitcher listed, but keep in mind these numbers may differ from the RotoWire save projection seen on our site rankings and player pages.

I will be fully transparent on how I project saves for relief pitchers. First, I pull forecasted wins totals for 2023. I use Vegas odds for this, aggregating from a few different sources. Next, I open my personal closer warehouse to review each team's percentage of wins that resulted in saves in recent years. I simply averaged these percentages since 2017 and multiplied that by the 2023 win projection to determine team save totals.

It's not a perfect science, but here are the results of this exercise:

Team

2023 Projected

Wins Aggregate

2023 Projected

Team Saves

 

Team

2023 Projected

Wins Aggregate

2023 Projected

Team Saves

AL East

 

NL East

NYY

98

45

 

ATL

95

44

TOR

91

46

 

NYM

95

45

TB

86

46

 

PHI

88

41

BOS

83

40

 

MIA

75

38

BAL

76

39

 

WAS

60

29

AL Central

 

NL Central

CLE

86

41

 

MIL

88

48

CWS

84

39

 

STL

86

42

MIN

83

40

 

CHC

73

36

KC

68

39

 

PIT

67

30

DET

67

37

 

CIN

67

33

AL West

 

NL West

HOU

98

45

 

LAD

99

45

SEA

86

46

 

SD

90

50

LAA

80

39

 

SF

81

40

TEX

79

39

 

ARI

73

35

OAK

60

29

 

COL

71

38

Next, I pull up our Closer Grid, a page I manage throughout the year and have been updating all offseason. I list out probable save candidates for each team, then review each player's percentage of team saves from recent seasons. I also consider their history of saves, the strength of the alternate options within each bullpen, leverage index, arbitration and free-agency status and trade risk before assigning their percentage of team saves for 2023. I then multiply that percentage by the team's total save projection to come up with the player's individual save projection.

Now to the fun stuff — my 2023 closer rankings!

Below the rankings, I've included several of my closer targets and fades for 2023. As always, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section.

2023 Closer Rankings

Rank

Tier

Player

Team

Rufe's Save Projection

1

1

Edwin Diaz

NYM

34

2

1

Josh Hader

SD

38

3

1

Emmanuel Clase

CLE

35

4

2

Devin Williams

MIL

36

5

2

Jordan Romano

TOR

35

6

2

Raisel Iglesias

ATL

33

7

2

Ryan Pressly

HOU

32

8

3

Felix Bautista

BAL

30

9

3

Camilo Doval

SF

29

10

3

Kenley Jansen

BOS

29

11

3

Ryan Helsley

STL

25

12

3

Clay Holmes

NYY

29

13

4

Andres Munoz

SEA

17

14

4

Jhoan Duran

MIN

18

15

4

Daniel Bard

COL

28

16

4

Pete Fairbanks

TB

18

17

4

David Bednar

PIT

20

18

4

Paul Sewald

SEA

17

19

4

Scott Barlow

KC

17

20

5

Daniel Hudson

LAD

20

21

5

Carlos Estevez

LAA

23

22

5

Jose Leclerc

TEX

16

23

5

Giovanny Gallegos

STL

12

24

5

Evan Phillips

LAD

11

25

5

Alexis Diaz

CIN

13

26

5

Kyle Finnegan

WAS

17

27

6

Jason Adam

TB

9

28

6

Alex Lange

DET

15

29

6

Liam Hendriks

CWS

10

30

6

Jorge Lopez

MIN

14

31

6

Seranthony Dominguez

PHI

10

32

6

Robert Suarez

SD

8

33

6

A.J. Minter

ATL

4

34

6

A.J. Puk

OAK

6

35

6

Taylor Rogers

SF

7

36

6

Alex Vesia

LAD

5

37

7

Dylan Floro

MIA

12

38

7

Aroldis Chapman

KC

11

39

7

Craig Kimbrel

PHI

10

40

7

Reynaldo Lopez

CWS

8

41

7

Bryan Abreu

HOU

3

42

7

Diego Castillo

SEA

7

43

7

Brusdar Graterol

LAD

7

44

8

Tanner Houck

BOS

4

45

8

John Schreiber

BOS

5

46

8

Matt Brash

SEA

5

47

8

Garrett Cleavinger

TB

7

48

8

Jose Alvarado

PHI

4

49

8

Rafael Montero

HOU

7

50

8

Hunter Harvey

WAS

7

51

8

Domingo Acevedo

OAK

12

52

8

Dylan Coleman

KC

7

53

8

James Karinchak

CLE

2

54

8

Kendall Graveman

CWS

8

55

8

Codi Heuer

CHC

9

56

9

Erik Swanson

TOR

5

57

9

Hector Neris

HOU

3

58

9

Matt Bush

MIL

7

59

9

Jason Foley

DET

9

60

9

Adbert Alzolay

CHC

5

61

9

Brock Burke

TEX

6

62

9

Tanner Scott

MIA

7

63

9

Gregory Soto

PHI

10

64

9

Michael King

NYY

3

65

9

Trevor May

OAK

8

66

9

Trevor Stephan

CLE

3

67

9

Jonathan Loaisiga

NYY

5

68

9

Joe Jimenez

ATL

4

69

9

Matt Barnes

MIA

10

70

9

Chris Martin

BOS

2

Unranked relievers whom I have projected for 5-plus saves: Mark Melancon (9), Scott McGough (8), Brandon Hughes (7), Joe Barlow (6), Jimmy Herget (6), Lucas Sims (6), Kevin Ginkel (6), Brad Boxberger (5), Yerry De Los Santos (5) and Tejay Antone (5).

Please note: any ADP data referenced below is based on the past three weeks of NFBC Draft Champions drafts.

TARGETS

Devin Williams, Brewers - Gone from Milwaukee are Josh Hader (2022 trade), Taylor Rogers (signed with Giants) and Brad Boxberger (signed with Cubs) and their combined 295 career saves. The trio's departure leaves Williams as the most experienced closer on the roster despite the 28-year-old's limited track record in the ninth inning. Williams only has 18 career saves, just a few ahead of teammate Matt Bush, who ranks second on the team with 14. However, Williams is expected to be the Brewers' sole closer in 2023 after dominating opposing hitters for the third straight season. His Baseball Savant page is full of red lollipops, exhibiting a 99th percentile ranking or better for nine different pitching metrics. This includes a 100th percentile ranking for extension, which may often go overlooked, at least for fantasy purposes. Williams tweaked his delivery last year to release his fastball closer to the batter, which yielded a 7.6-foot average extension, second-highest in the league and four inches beyond his 2021 average. As a result, Williams' four-seamer was far more effective than it was in years past, with 46 percent of his strikeouts coming via the pitch (a 25 percent increase from 2020-21) despite a drop in velocity (93.9 mph). If Williams' fastball continues to be just as effective as his 'Airbender' changeup, he's likely to post his first 100-strikeout season.

A full season of closing for a team who has dominant starting pitching but a questionable offense should yield plenty of save opportunities for Williams. I have him projected for 36 saves, second-most among closers for 2023. I am very comfortable taking him at cost (ADP 50) as my anchor for saves. However, my excitement for Williams is tempered by a few concerns. First, his walk rate is 11.5 percent for his career, but that is somewhat understandable given the ridiculous movement on his changeup. Another consideration is how the new pitch clock may affect Williams in 2023. He's one of the slowest-working pitchers in baseball, especially with runners on base. Under that criteria, he averaged 30.5 seconds between pitches last season, third-slowest in the league behind Kenley Jansen (31.4 seconds) and Giovanny Gallegos (30.6). With a full offseason as well as spring training to get used to that rule, I'm not overly concerned, but it remains something to consider.

Camilo Doval, Giants - Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi recently said on a conference call with reporters that Doval will remain the closer for 2023. These comments were made after the team signed two relief pitchers with closing experience — Taylor Rogers and Luke Jackson (elbow). Both are effective against left-handed hitters, which should compliment Doval in an area he struggles (.261 BAA vs. lefty bats in 2022). However, I'm still projecting Doval for slightly over 70 percent of the Giants' saves in 2023 (he was at 69.2 percent last year, 9th-highest among closers). While he's known for his devastating slider, the 25-year-old introduced a sinker to his arsenal on July 14 last season and the pitch was a game-changer. From that date forward, Doval racked up 15 saves and 35 strikeouts across 31 innings with a 1.74 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and no home runs allowed. Doval's sinker produced a -17.3 degree average launch angle, the lowest against any pitch in the majors with a minimum of 50 batted ball events. The pitch was so effective that it even replaced his slider as his primary offering down the stretch. WHIP concerns remain due to a career 9.9 percent walk rate, but I feel Doval's adjustment last season shows he's capable of taking a giant leap forward. I have San Francisco projected for 40 saves as a team, but keep in mind the Giants are only two years removed from a 107-win season in which they tied for the league lead with 56 saves. Even a 50-save season for the Giants in 2023 could result in 35-save ceiling for Doval.

Daniel Hudson, Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol, Alex Vesia, Dodgers - Craig Kimbrel may have tallied 22 of the Dodgers' 43 saves last season, but these four were the real stars of a unit which ranked second in the league by bullpen ERA (2.87). Now that Kimbrel is with Philadelphia, it's seems likely that Dave Roberts will continue using the matchups-based closer committee that he deployed towards the end of last season and into the playoffs. Juan Toribio, the Dodgers beat writer for MLB.com, seems to agree:

Now the biggest question remains: who earns the most saves in 2023?

Since Phillips was often called to face the toughest pockets of opposing team's lineups and only racked up two saves in the process, I don't think he'll lead Los Angeles in the category. That said, he's still a supremely effective pitcher with double-digit save upside. Daniel Hudson had his 2022 cut short thanks to a torn ACL. Per our latest update, the veteran hopes to be ready for spring training, so don't be surprised if he's a bit delayed to start 2023. However, Hudson has 32 career saves (most among these four pitchers), including five last season in only 25 appearances before he got hurt. Graterol's career has been marred by injuries thus far, hence my tepid save projection, but he has the upside for 20-plus if he manages to get through a full season unscathed. Vesia was highlighted in these rankings prior to last season and went on to post the best season of his young career. He lowered his walk rate and posted 40 strikeouts over his final 25.1 innings, with only one run allowed during that span. He's by far the cheapest of the four pitchers by ADP (550) and the one I'm targeting most heavily in drafts. In fact, Vesia and Hudson are two of my most rostered relievers thus far. Overall, I think saves will be spread out between the four, with Hudson the tallying the most once healthy. With the Dodgers projected to be among the league leaders in wins and saves, there's room to profit with all four of these relievers.

Hunter Harvey, Nationals - Proceed with caution given his extensive injury history. We can also assume Washington isn't likely to win many games in 2023. However, if health prevails, as it did somewhat for Harvey last season with his career-high 39.1 innings at the big-league level, there's plenty of upside in his profile. The 2013 first-round pick boasts an impressive fastball that averages 98.3 miles per hour and was responsible for 71 percent of his strikeouts last year. He threw the pitch often (77 percent of the time) while occasionally mixing in a splitter (15 percent) and curve (seven percent), but the four-seamer maintained its effectiveness, limiting opposing hitters to a .202 batting average and a .308 slugging percentage. Harvey only has 63 innings on his big-league resume, but it comes with good ratios (2.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) and an above-average strikeout rate (26.6 percent). With health, he has 15-save upside. For what it's worth, I also like Kyle Finnegan as a CL2 if I spent up earlier in my draft to get an anchor for saves.

Codi Heuer, Cubs - We recently saw Jose Leclerc come back from Tommy John surgery mid-season and make a fantasy impact in the saves category down the stretch. So why not Heuer? The 26-year-old missed the entirety of the 2022 campaign after undergoing surgery last March and isn't expected to complete his rehab process until late June or early July. With no obvious closer on the Cubs roster, Heuer's pathway to save opportunities could be pretty clear upon his return, especially since he's expected to be one of the cornerstones of this bullpen for the foreseeable future. He's a big reason Brandon Hughes and Brad Boxberger missed the cut in my rankings.

FADES

Ryan Helsley, Cardinals - While there's not a huge discrepancy between the market drafting Helsley as the 9th closer off the board (ADP 64, as per the last three weeks of NFBC Draft Champions leagues) and my rankings (11th), I have yet to take him through 18 NFBC drafts. I believe in Helsley's skills, but I'm concerned about his health. He's missed time in each of the past four seasons thanks to various injuries (shoulder, elbow, knee), and while he technically didn't spend a day on the injured list in 2022, he injured his finger during the last regular-season game, affecting his availability for the playoffs. Our latest note on Helsley indicates that an MRI on his finger came back clean, but news has been awfully quiet since then. This is simply a case where I want to see Helsley pitch during spring training. If he seems unaffected by the finger injury and he's throwing close to the 99.7 miles per hour he averaged on his fastball last year, I'll buy back in. Until then, I'm somewhat tempering his save projection and not taking the risk in drafts, especially since Giovanny Gallegos has proven to be an effective closer himself, earning 14 saves in each of the past two seasons.

Alexis Diaz, Reds - Diaz's rookie season was impressive on the surface, but there are several reasons I'm fading him for 2023 drafts. First, he's an extreme flyball pitcher whose home stadium is Great American Ball Park. Diaz's 54.5 percent flyball rate was fourth highest among qualified relievers last season, and while he only gave up five home runs for a respectable 0.7 HR/9 rate, I'd expect those numbers to climb this year. Second, his 12.9 percent walk rate was one of the worst in the league among relievers. Finally, his manager is known for fluid bullpen roles and the eventual returns of Tejay Antone (forearm), Lucas Sims (back) and Tony Santillan (back) will only clutter things further. Diaz will be looking to carry over some momentum from the final two months of 2022, during which he recorded seven of the Reds' final 11 saves (63.6 percent), but I'm only projecting him for 13 saves, whereas most projection systems are forecasting 20 or more. The market is drafting Diaz as the 16th closer off the board by ADP (126), but as my 25th-ranked closer, I'll be fading him.

Kendall Graveman, White Sox - Graveman led the American League with 27 holds last year and is the market favorite to fill in as the White Sox closer while Liam Hendriks faces his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Graveman has 16 career saves, including six last season in support of Hendriks, but there's a big discrepancy between my ranking (54th) and his ADP as the 25th closer off the board. His 1.21 WHIP since transitioning to relief in 2020 is still somewhat elevated by typical closer standards, while his walk rate continues to come in below league average. I'd be more interested in Graveman if his strikeout rate was closer to the 27.5 percent he posted in 2021, but that looks like an outlier amongst his career outputs. Not only do I feel Reynaldo Lopez is the better pitcher, he's being drafted 175 picks later than Graveman around ADP 425. Of course, it's worth noting Lopez has yet to record a save in his career, but I'm more willing to gamble on him as a potential save source than to pay up for Graveman, who might not even close to start the year. Aaron Bummer, Joe Kelly and Jake Diekman are veterans who could easily take on ninth-inning responsibilities, while Garrett Crochet (elbow) carries closer upside when healthy.

Seranthony Dominguez, Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Phillies - Phillies manager Rob Thomson has a deep and experienced bullpen with plenty of options to close, but no official closer, making it difficult to project how saves will be distributed for this team in 2023. Dominguez (ADP 249), Kimbrel (278) and Soto (319) are getting the attention in drafts, but I'd argue Jose Alvarado — whom I purposely didn't include in this header — is Philadelphia's best option to close regardless of his ADP (his is 490). Alvarado improved his walk rate by 7.5 percentage points last season while posting the fifth-best strikeout rate among qualified relievers at 37.9 percent. If Alvarado's walks still concern you, I'll remind you that Soto's command is worse, while Dominguez and Kimbrel also posted below-average walk rates last season. In fact, all four pitchers were over 10.5 percent last year in that category. As for saves, only one Phillies reliever tallied more than 10 last season, so it's tough for me to project more than that for any of these 2023 options given the way Thomson manages his bullpen.

Trevor May, Athletics - May is the most experienced reliever in the A's bullpen and will be an important asset for them in high-leverage situations. However, he only signed for one year, and Oakland is expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball again. Not only will wins and save opportunities be hard to come by, he's the type of reliever contending teams covet at the trade deadline. My projection of eight saves might even be too high considering he only has 12 for his career. For some reason, the market is drafting May as if he's the A's closer (ADP 293) when A.J. Puk (400) and Domingo Acevedo (513) are probably better targets for saves at their respective costs.

Stay tuned to our Closer Grid throughout the offseason for all the latest closer updates.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
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