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The most frustrating aspect of in-season roster management for most fantasy baseball players is staying on top of the closer carousels that inevitably pop up over the course of a long season. Being able to target pitchers in a good position to overtake the current top closing option gives you an edge in adding saves during the season. Whether this comes in the form of targeting Emmanuel Clase or Jordan Romano at the end of drafts in 2021 or picking up Paul Sewald or Joe Barlow for the saves they provided towards the end of the season, these small advantages can pay off well.

Many believe the three most predictive factors when attempting to predict future closers are velocity, strikeout ability, and manager usage. In other words, the eighth-inning reliever tends to be elevated to the closer role more often than a seventh-inning reliever with lesser velocity or a better strikeout rate. Knowing this, we can target relievers who have been trusted in high leverage roles before with strikeout upside and above-average velocity.

Jonathan Loaisiga

It could be argued that Chad Green is the Yankees’ next pitcher up given his usage in recent years, but Loaisiga offers better velocity and a less volatile profile. Despite Green’s seniority, he entered games with about the same leverage index as Loaisiga (1.73 for Green and 1.83 for Loaisiga) and was used to get more than three outs more than even Loaisiga (26 and 25 appearances of this sort for Green and Loaisiga respectively). Given these similarities, I’d side with Loaisiga’s superior contact management and ground ball rate. Loaisiga generated a 60.9% ground ball rate thanks to a sinker that averaged over 98 MPH, helping lead to a superb 2.17 ERA despite a pedestrian 24.4% strikeout rate. If Chapman were to miss an extended period of time or lose his grip on the closer role, Loaisiga should be one of the first options to pick up saves for the Yankees.

Daniel Bard

Despite losing his job last August, Bard has returned to Rockies’ camp flashing the same stuff that got him back into the majors and back into a closer role in the first place. Bard put together a subpar 2021 but could see some regression from the .353 BABIP he surrendered last season (.404 against left-handed batters) and normalization of his 26.3% line drive rate. Alex Colome is currently the favorite to garner saves in Colorado, and Estevez ended 2021 as the Rockies’ closer, but Bud Black has made it a point to not commit to any specific reliever as closer to this point Bard’s stuff and experience make him a dark horse candidate to pick up save opportunities if one or both of the other two relievers ahead of him falter early in the season.

Ryne Stanek

Ryne Stanek has long had premium velocity (averaged 97.8 MPH on his fastball for his career) with good strikeout rates (28.6% career strikeout rate) and poor walk rates (12% career walk rate). Stanek operated as a conventional setup man for Houston in 2021 and pitched to the tune of a 3.42 ERA and 3.97 SIERA. Houston’s bullpen has thinned a bit from last season with the departures of Brooks Raley, Yimi Garcia, and Kendall Graveman. Despite the addition of Hector Neris, Stanek still projects to be the primary setup man for closer Ryan Pressly. Pressly has been among the best late-inning relievers in baseball since joining the Astros in 2018 but has also dealt with nagging knee injuries the past few seasons. If Pressly goes down to injury, Stanek appears to have the inside track to a closing opportunity on a contending team. While this is more of a long shot, Stanek is one to target if closer handcuffs have any value in your league.

Dylan Coleman

While Coleman lacks in experience, he may make up for it with pure stuff. The 25-year-old averaged over 98 MPH on his fastball with an average spin rate of 2520 RPM (only 65 fastballs thrown in his brief major league debut). Paired with a decent slider, Coleman was able to post a 40.4% strikeout rate between AA and AAA before striking out 28% of the 25 batters he faced in his cup of coffee. While Scott Barlow locked down the closer role at the end of 2021 for the Royals, Mike Matheny has not consistently stuck with the same closer for long periods of time in his tenure with Kansas City.

Seranthony Dominguez

Dominguez was emerging as the Phillies’ preferred ninth-inning option during his rookie season in 2018. He then struggled with an elbow problem in 2019 and eventually succumb to Tommy John surgery, limiting him to one appearance between 2020 and 2021. He appears to be healthy this spring and is slowly regaining the velocity he wielded as one of the best young relievers in MLB four years ago. If he can pitch close to the 2.95 ERA and 32% strikeout rate he had in 2018, he should be a contender for high leverage work and saves in the backend of the Phillies bullpen.

Art Warren

Warren burst onto the scene in 2021 in his first season with the Cincinnati Reds. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider, Warren pitched to a 1.29 ERA, 41.5% strikeout rate, and 2.31 SIERA in his 21 innings. His breakout was cut short by a midseason oblique injury, but the stuff and strikeout ability he flashed in the minors was apparent over the course of the season. For 2022, Warren enters the season in a closer committee with Hunter Strickland, Justin Wilson, and Luis Cessa with Lucas Sims sidelined. Warren far exceeds all three in terms of strikeouts, and while Strickland has similar velocity, his career 39.8% ground ball rate could be an issue in Great American Ballpark. While Sims may be a perfectly adequate option to close in his own right, Warren could grab the role and run with it while Sims is injured early in the season.

Other relievers who averaged at least 95.5 MPH on their fastball while striking out at least 26% of the batters they faced in 2021 who could emerge as closers this season include Josh Staumont, Garrett Whitlock, Anthony Bender, David Bednar, Jorge Alcala, Pierce Johnson, and Camilo Doval. All of these pitchers are likely already part of closer committees but have the skills to run away with the job full-time.

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