The life of a closer is high risk, high reward — just as often as they flame out, they can transform into the backbone of the bullpen, all while being subjected to the most high-pressure moments in baseball, with the outcome of the game directly in their hands. Sure, they may not all get as much press as the best starters, but some of these relievers that have become just as important. Looking at the league today, here are the five best closers currently playing professional baseball.
5. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Since taking over as the full-time closer in the 2014 season, the four-year veteran has become a lights out closer for the Baltimore Orioles, holding an ERA below 2.00, recording at least 35 saves, and having a WHIP below 1.00 in each campaign. What’s most impressive about his effectiveness in the closer role is that he’s given up no more than four home runs and walked at most 23 batters over that stretch. Britton relies heavily on just three pitches throwing his fastball in the high 90s with his sinker at the same speed and also has a curve ball.
Although he has blown four saves in each of the last two seasons, Britton is as reliable as they come for closers rarely making mistakes to hitters. The Orioles bullpen has placed fifth and sixth in the league in ERA since he’s taken over.
4. Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals have been a consistent playoff contender in the National League for over the past decade and a half in large part due to their strong pitching staffs over the years. This was no different for the past two seasons with Rosenthal holding down the closer role for the Cardinals, recording more than 45 saves and 80 strikeouts in each campaign. The 25-year-0ld put together his best season in 2015, posting a career-high 2.10 ERA while converting a career-best and franchise record 48 of 51 saves. These stats helped him earn his first career All-Star Game nod.
Rosenthal’s impressive year also included throwing 23? scoreless innings, which at the time was the longest streak among relievers in the National League. His back-to-back 40-save seasons make him the third-youngest MLB pitcher, and the second Cardinals pitcher, to accomplish that feat. He’s also just the seventh reliever to notch back-to-back seasons with 45 or more saves. Rosenthal has been a stable force for St. Louis and deserves to be in the conversation about best closers in the league.
3. Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
In his first four seasons in the majors, Melancon was a well-traveled reliever, playing for three different teams over that span. He has found a home with the Pittsburgh Pirates, assuming the closer role for the team over three seasons.
It all began when Jason Grilli was sent to the disabled list midway through the 2013 season, which thrust Melancon into the closer duties for the first time, and he excelled holding a career-best 1.39 ERA while converting 26 of 31 save opportunities. He was named the team’s full-time closer the following season. Then Grilli was traded to the Los Angeles Angels, and Melancon only elevated his game, recording an MLB-best 51 saves with just two blown saves in the 2015 season. His dominance this past season helped him earn the National League Reliever of the Year award, while he also played a major role in helping the Pirates’ bullpen finish with a league-best 2.67 ERA.
Over the last couple of seasons, Melancon has established himself as arguably the best closer in the game on one of the best teams in the majors.
2. Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Through the first five seasons of his major-league career, the 27-year-0ld has been the standard for closers around the league. His track record backs up that bold statement as he recorded an ERA below 2.60, more than 39 saves, 87 strikeouts, and a WHIP below 1.10 in each campaign during that span with the Atlanta Braves. Although he did take a step back in his effectiveness in his lone season with the San Diego Padres in 2015, he still posted a 2.58 ERA while converting 39 of 43 save opportunities and held a 1.04 WHIP.
If his 2015 season is taken out of the picture, it only strengthens his argument for being arguably the best closer in the league, as he posted consecutive three seasons with an ERA below 1.70 while topping 90 strikeouts in each season, including breaking the century mark twice and also held a WHIP below 1.00. This helped him earn four consecutive All-Star Game selections and lead the NL in saves in four straight seasons, as well as win two MLB Delivery Man of the Year awards, an NL Rolaids Relief Man Award (2012), and the NL Rookie of the Year.
Yes, Kimbrel didn’t see the same amount of success in his lone year with the Padres, but it doesn’t take away from his status as one of the premier closers in the game.
1. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
In the last four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Chapman has been a dominant force in the majors, posting an ERA below 2.60 and holding an ERA lower than 2.00 twice during that stretch while also earning four straight All-Star Game selections. Additionally, he has recorded 30-plus saves, over 100 strikeouts, and held under a 1.20 WHIP with opposing batters hitting below .190 against him in each campaign. Chapman has been a nearly unhittable pitcher due to his blazing fastball that has reached upward of 105 mph along with a hard slider thrown at around 88 mph.
There were initially concerns about his command, but the 27-year-old has walked 33 or fewer batters in each of the last four seasons. His off-the-field issues this offseason shouldn’t take away from Chapman’s dominance over the last few years, which has clearly distinguished him as the best closer in the game.