Closing Time 5/11: Ranking the Top 30 Closers every Tuesday

Rick Graham ranks baseball's closers for the 2021 season.

Red Sox closer Matt Barnes currently leads all relievers in WAR, and is top 3 in K-BB%, SIERA, and CSW. This comes after having an ERA of 4.30 and WHIP of 1.39 last year with mediocre swing and miss metrics, so did he make some drastic changes to his pitch mix, or is his velocity way up? Nope, he still throws the same two pitches, and his velocity remains the same. So what exactly has changed for Barnes to make him one of the league’s best closers? The answer is in how he is using his pitches to attack hitters and get ahead in counts. He’s trusting his fastball early in at-bats and it’s working wonders.

Last year, Barnes and a lot of Red Sox pitchers were following the Brandon Workman blueprint, which was typically to work backward (curveballs early and fastballs late) but that philosophy never made sense for Barnes. When effective, Barnes uses that curveball to get hitters to chase, it’s a pitch he spikes in the dirt often, which can be good 0-2 but rarely 0-0.  Prior to this season, Barnes’s F-Strike% (1st pitch strike) was roughly between 55-60% each season but this year, he’s sitting at 74%. It’s a simple premise, one that is taught in Little League but getting ahead of hitters can make a huge difference as a pitcher.



  • Diego Castillo was placed on the IL last week with a groin strain, but he is expected to miss only ten days, and should return this weekend. Given that he will return this week, I don’t think there is any need to mention any potential replacements for Castillo. The Rays are the Rays and they could change things up, especially with Pete Fairbanks healthy now too, but I’d imagine Castillo goes right back into being the teams closer upon his return.
  • Brad Hand had a bit of a rough week, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out just one over 1.1 innings pitched and has definitely been passed by some of the more consistent closer options at the moment. The tough week did come against the Yankees, whose lineup is very talented despite what Twitter may tell you, but the walks are the big concern at the moment for Hand. He’s not able to miss bats at a high rate anymore, so the more free bases he allows open him up for more potential blown saves.


  • Rafael Dolis was placed on the IL Sunday with a calf strain, but his timetable to return has yet to be determined. Dolis was having a nice season prior to the injury (minus the walk rate) and was starting to settle in as the Jays closer. Who gets save chance now remains to be seen, but Jordan Romano should probably be considered the favorite. If the team wants to keep Romano in that fireman role, then look for Tyler Chatwood or possibly Ryan Borucki to see some save chances while Dolis is out.
  • About a week after Gabe Kapler admitted that Tyler Rogers could see some save chances with Jake McGee struggling, he has apparently changed course as McGee has seen the team’s past two save opportunities. McGee has converted both, however, they haven’t exactly been smooth sailing. He allowed two hits last night before finally shutting the door on the Rangers, and will likely need another week or two of strong outings to keep Rogers away.


  • This will just be your weekly reminder that the Royals do not have a closer and likely won’t all season long. Mike Matheny has long been known for mismanaging bullpens so this shouldn’t be too much of a shock, but it was still a bit surprising to see Josh Staumont enter a tie game in the 7th inning last week after he had closed out the teams past three save chances. I’m going to guess he will get the team’s next save chance, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Jakob Junis.
  • The Reds haven’t had a save chance in 84 years, but it’s still fun to speculate every week who may be the teams closer if they ever need one. I think Amir Garrett is still an option here (post-suspension), and he’s been pitching much better lately. Over his past four outings, Garrett has pitched four innings, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out six. Lucas Sims would be the next best option if he can cut down on the walks while Tejay Antone still seems better suited for multi-inning work.


Rank Pitcher Change
1Josh HaderT1-
2Aroldis Chapman-
3Liam Hendriks
4Edwin Díaz-
5Ryan Pressly-
6Matt Barnes+6
7Raisel Iglesias
8Kenley Jansen-1
9Will Smith-1
10Craig Kimbrel-1
11Emmanuel Clase-
12Mark Melancon+1
13Diego Castillo
14Héctor Neris-
15Richard Rodríguez+1
16César Valdez+2
17Ian Kennedy+2
18Alex Reyes+2
19Brad Hand-4
20Yimi García+4
21Jordan Romano
22Jake McGee-5
23Taylor Rogers-
24Josh Staumont-2
25Lou Trivino-
26Gregory Soto
27Stefan Crichton+2
28Rafael Montero-1
29Daniel Bard+1
Stash List


Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns)

Rick Graham

Rick resides in the Boston area and has experience as a player and coach at the collegiate level. He has been covering relievers for Pitcher List since 2017.

7 responses to “Closing Time 5/11: Ranking the Top 30 Closers every Tuesday”

  1. Steve says:

    Seems like graveman and montero should be swapped by now

    • Rick Graham says:

      I agree, but the Mariners continue to use both in the closer role, with Montero getting almost all of his work after Graveman and/or in the 9th inning. They each have one save in May and 4 saves total so it’s still looking like a committee for now.

  2. Mike Honcho says:

    Missing from the stash list is A. Colome. It would seem given the investment, the Twins would be doing everything they could to get him right. He has a much lengthier track record of success than anyone else on that list.

    • Rick Graham says:

      Yea he’d probably be 9th or 10th. I’m not a big believer in the skill set and it seems like all that luck in the past may be wearing off. The Twins only invested $5 million over one year for him to be the co-closer with Taylor Rogers, so they could easily move on.

  3. Kenji says:

    I love the stash list. Awesome addition to the article.

  4. David says:

    I’m glad you took my advice with the stash list! Looks great!

    Now your list is complete. Top notch!

  5. Eddie says:

    First world problem, here – shallow H2H, 5×5 w/ Saves. I have Pressly, Barnes, McGee. Someone dropped Hendriks and I don’t have room for all 4. I gotta drop McGee, right?

    It’s emotionally tough to let go – he just closed out another one. Thanks for all the help, Rick!

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