While Major League Baseball has somewhat mitigated the chaos of September baseball by truncating the roster expansion to just two extra rosters rather than potentially fourteen in the month of September, there was still fairly hectic bullpen usage in September. This slight change in usage patterns accompanied a new crew of potential closers for the 2022 season. These closers aren’t clearly established and could lose their job going into 2022 depending on offseason moves or spring training performance. But they emerged after a great deal of fantasy baseball players turned their attention to football at the end of the season. Having early knowledge of these relatively new closers should give early drafters a leg up and provide some preliminary clues as to who will enter 2022 as a team’s closer.
Joe Barlow recorded his first save on August 13th and held the job fairly steadily through the end of the season. the 25-year old posted intriguing numbers in AAA while serving as the closer there, and fit well as a replacement after the Ian Kennedy trade. Despite his surface-level success, there are reasons to believe he may not be a strong reliever in the long term. He closed 2021 with a 24.3% strikeout rate and a 10.8% walk rate, Around average in each for a major league reliever. None of his 4.18 SIERA, 11.9% swstr%, and 94.5 MPH average fastball velocity stood out either. Texas is unlikely to bring in high-priced relievers to unseat Barlow, but if his peripherals don’t come closer to his minor league performance, he likely will be replaced at some point during the season.
After a laborious season for Daniel Bard, he was relieved of his closer duties towards the end of August. This opened the door for Carlos Estevez to try his hand at closing games for the Rockies. Estevez closed the season with a 4.38 ERA and 3.95 SIERA but posted a 5.65 ERA in September as the full-time closer. Trusting Rockies closers is always a dangerous proposal, and Estevez does not appear to have standout skills when it comes to strikeouts and ground balls.
Giovanny Gallegos picked up twelve saves from August 30th through the end of the season after Alex Reyes was removed from the closer role. Gallegos was very successful in his first run as a full-time closer, and Alex Reyes did not fully rebound to end the season. Armed with a slider with great depth and the best fastball velocity of his career, Gallegos should be a shoo-in to start 2022 as a closer and might be a top 12 option given his combination of skill, team, role security, and ballpark.
Scott Barlow and Drew Steckenrider had a share of saves in their respective bullpens for the majority of the season, but each emerged as their team’s preferred options to end the season. Scott Barlow converted six saves in September while the rest of the Royals bullpen had one. His 2.42 ERA and 3.33 SIERA certainly justify a closing role. Steckenrider recorded seven of Seattle’s thirteen September saves, with the next closest reliever being Paul Sewald and his four saves. It should be noted Yohan Ramirez’s save came in an extra-inning game. As for Steckenrider’s 2022 outlook, Seattle’s bullpen is likely to continue to be a very crowded group of talented arms. Diego Castillo, Paul Sewald, and Casey Sadler will each be under club control for 2022 with Andres Munoz and Ken Giles coming back fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Combine this with Steckenrider’s concerning 21.7% strikeout rate and 3.93 ERA and Steckenrider isn’t likely to be a great early draft value.
While Tanner Rainey’s season started disastrously and ended in disaster, Rainey flashed the type of stuff he consistently had in 2020 upon his return from the minor leagues on September 19th. In his first five appearances after his call-up, Rainey threw four and two-thirds innings, striking out eight, walking two, and giving up one run. More importantly, he found himself pitching ahead of Kyle Finnegan when it came to leverage situations and save opportunities. Giving up three runs and the lead on the last day of the season will send Rainey into the offseason with a bad taste in fantasy managers’ mouths, and his overall numbers (7.39 ERA and 4.78 SIERA) will keep him low in rankings and projections. However, if Washington doesn’t bring in an established closer option Rainey would be an interesting cheap dart throw at the end of drafts.
Camilo Doval will likely be one of the trendiest relievers at the outset of draft season, and his last season heroics combined with dominant stuff makes it easy to dream of Doval becoming the next elite closer. Armed with a fastball that sits between 98-99 MPH and can get up to 102 MPH and a slider sporting a 40.3% whiff rate, the skills to be a closer are certainly there. At the end of September Doval took over closing duties with Jake McGee sidelined due to injury. He converted all three of his chances between September 28th and October 1st. The one possible issue blocking Doval from being a top 12 closer is the presence of Jake McGee, who performed fairly well in 2021, is under contract for 2022, and has picked up 76 of his own saves through his career. Doval’s playoff usage may help inform us whether the Giants view him as a future closer or not.
Part of Chris Stratton’s rise into the Pirates’ closer role was David Bednar getting hurt near the end of the season. Stratton earned six saves after the start of September in fourteen total appearances, with Bednar only picking up one save among his six appearances. Even when Bednar was healthy, it appeared as though Pittsburgh was running the duo as co-closers rather than having a sole closer. Bednar was better than Stratton in almost every measure which is useful in projecting future closers. Chiefly, fastball velocity, strikeout rate, ERA, and SIERA. If the Pirates have interest in keeping down David Bednar’s arbitration salaries or figure making Stratton the closer could increase his value at the trade deadline, we very well could see Stratton open the season as Pittsburgh’s closer. Otherwise, I would expect Bednar to be the closer sooner rather than later.
As a rule 5 draft pick recovering from Tommy John surgery, Tyler Wells was not exactly expected to become an impact piece for Baltimore. His 4.11 ERA would make it seem like he wasn’t an impact piece, but digging deeper it’s clear Tyler Wells has some interesting attributes. He posted a 23.7% K-BB%, nearly double the league average of 14.2%. His 3.57 xERA and 3.37 SIERA each suggest he was a little unlucky with balls in play, and his four-pitch arsenal was good enough to garner a 13.3% swstr% and a 39.1% chase rate. While Brandon Hyde turned to Wells in September to be his primary closer, it was clear the rookie was running out of steam. He only had a 20% strikeout rate in the second half compared to a 32.3% strikeout rate in the first half. He would ultimately miss the last week or so of the season with a shoulder issue. As for his 2022 outlook, he will face competition from Cole Sulser, who pitched to a 2.70 ERA in his 63 1/3 innings of work. Baltimore could also opt to bring in a veteran to challenge for saves similar to Cesar Valdez early in 2021. regardless, Wells is more of a late-round dart throw than closer to be targeting.