Projecting saves leaders for every AL team


The four best teams by 2018 record called the American League home, and that is normally a positive for producing saves. At the same time, four of the five worst teams were AL squads. Those four teams (Orioles, Royals, White Sox, Tigers) hardly piled on the saves, averaging 33.5 between them, when the league average was 42.

Let us just say little is likely to change for the bad teams in 2019, while the good teams boast established closers, save for the champs. As a result, it is likely easier to find saves in the NL this coming season. (Our closer chart is updated regularly to help you know which players are next in line to get saves.)

Regardless, we covered one man's projected saves for 2019 already for the NL, and now it is time for the AL. Avert your eyes on a few of these teams, and not just because of the writing.

Baltimore Orioles: Last season's Orioles did not win much and it was reflected in the save totals. Brad Brach led the way with 11 of them, and Mychal Givens saved nine. Will the Orioles be any better this season? It is reasonable to ignore this entire pitching staff, but then again, if one man can save more than 20 games ...

My projection: If you are looking for every last save, it sure seems like Givens has the role and perhaps a bit of job security, too. I say Givens keeps the job and saves 24 games all on his own, while lefty Richard Bleier picks up a few as well. There seems little danger of the Orioles flipping their relievers to contenders in late-July for prospects.

Boston Red Sox: The longer we all wait for free agent Craig Kimbrelto return to the Red Sox the less likely it seems it will happen. The World Series champs sure look as if they intend to go with some combination of right-handers Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and perhaps Tyler Thornburg, who was fantastic for the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers but has barely pitched since thanks to the same elbow injury so many pitchers deal with. Stop thinking one of these pitchers is incapable of saving 30 games just because they never did it before. At some point, every closer got his first chance.

My projection: I think Barnes is in the lead after a solid 2018 season. He has 47 holds the past two seasons and despite what everyone on TV tells you, pitching in the ninth inning is not so much different from the eighth inning. You throw a baseball to hitters. Every reliever I have asked about this confirms it. Barnes will pitch well enough in the ninth inning to make all the talk about Kimbrel returning irrelevant. He saves 28 games, Brasier 8 and Thornburg 6.

Chicago White Sox: Right-handers Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera each closed out games with other clubs a season ago, and either would be a perfectly reasonable choice to save games for these White Sox, who had 10 different pitchers register a save in 2018. ESPN Fantasy projects Herrera to save 19 games, Colome 15. It seems to me it would make more sense, assuming health for each, for one fellow to close and the other to set up, but who knows.

My projection: I think a timeshare is unlikely. I go with Colome for 30 saves and Herrera for five, while perennial tease Nate Jones and promising Jace Frypick up four saves each. If you want holds, Herrera should get them. I also believe this is not one of the five worst teams in baseball again.

Cleveland Indians: The Cody Allen era has ended. Lefty Brad Handcame over in midseason trade from the San Diego Padres and looked great. No drama here in what is looking like an underwhelming crew of relievers, except Hand.

My projection: Hand saves 36 games. Good luck finding a right-hander here to count on for a few saves, or even double-digit holds. Perhaps it is newcomer Alex Wilson. Ageless lefty Oliver Perez could save a few as well.

Detroit Tigers: There comes a time in each mixed roto draft when some saves-needy manager finally clicks on right-hander Shane Greene and then feels much remorse afterward. I have been there. Greene did earn 32 of the club's 37 saves last season and while younger Joe Jimenez was an All-Star, though his final numbers do not reflect success, there is little reason to believe things will change in 2019. It is not like Greene and his 5.12 ERA is awesome trade bait, for real life or fantasy.

My projection: Greene saves 30 games, Jimenez six, though if one desires holds-plus-saves, I would go Jimenez. This will be another long season in Detroit.

Houston Astros: All I hear this spring about this bullpen is how great right-hander Ryan Pressly was last season and, it is true, he was great. I expect roughly 30 ... holds from him in 2019.
My projection: Roberto Osunasaves 38 games for the eventual AL champs. There is no committee here.

Kansas City Royals:Man, the AL boasts a whole bunch of bad teams! Brad Boxberger saved 32 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks but had an otherwise ugly statistical season. I can see why the Royals brought him in, I guess, but ... no, actually I cannot understand it. Teams that lose 90-plus games do not need to sign bad relief pitchers to get through a bad season.

My projection: Wily Peralta saved 14 games in 2018. He can reach 25 saves on this crew unless manager Ned Yost forces Boxberger into the role. Let us give Boxberger eight saves and lefty Jake Diekman another five.

Los Angeles Angels: The aforementioned Cody Allen was not good last season after years of consistency finally ran out. The walks were up, velocity down. The Angels believe he will be fine and perhaps that is so.

My projection: Right-hander Ty Buttrey, acquired in the Ian Kinsler swap, sure looks like a closer to me. I think Allen starts the season with the role and painfully loses it before April ends. Buttrey saves 26 games, Allen gets eight and the occasionally wild Justin Anderson gets enough chances to save seven games.

Minnesota Twins: Former Angels closer Blake Parker was brought in, likely to compete with right-hander Trevor May, who looked good in the role last September, and lefty Taylor Rogers, who might deserve the role the most. New manager Rocco Baldelli knows he has options.

My projection: I think a combination of May and Rogers ends up with most of the saves. Perhaps that is not what you expected. After all, Baldelli could surprise. He is young, analytically minded to some degree. Why does one pitcher have to get 30 saves? May ends up with 24, Rogers 13 and Parker ... three more than you and I.

New York Yankees: This is a fantastic bullpen, deep with strikeout options and a former closer, but I do not see a sharing of the role.

My projection: Aroldis Chapman saves 37 games despite a short injured list stint or two, while right-hander Dellin Betances and lefty Zack Britton combine for 12 more, while combining for more than 50 holds.

Oakland Athletics: I know all about Kenley Jansen and Edwin Diazand Chapman and anyone else one could consider for the first relief pitcher off the draft board, but I go with Blake Treinen. I just will not get him in any leagues because drafting a closer, even a top one, in the first five or six rounds of a roto format (not points), seems silly to me. I generally wait past Round 10 in 10-team formats.

My projection: Treinen had 38 of the team's 44 saves in 2018. This season, he earns 40. Joakim Soria seems a good bet to pile on more than 25 holds. Fernando Rodney will shoot fake arrows into the sky with a crooked hat, but I do not see saves coming his way.

Seattle Mariners: Diaz is a Met, leaving a mess behind. Former San Francisco Giants setup man Hunter Strickland signed as a free agent but again, it makes no sense for a rebuilding team to waste any money on an experienced reliever. As a result, there needs to be no loyalty, too. I would like to see what right-hander Matt Festa, saver of 20 games for Double-A Arkansas, could do in the role, but he might not even make the club. Right-hander Shawn Armstrong, 28, saved 15 games for Triple-A Tacoma and he seems interesting, though he is likely to start the year on the injured list.

My projection: Perhaps the Mariners expect Strickland to save games the first four months, and then they trade him for something. It could happen. I will go with that. Strickland saves 19 games, albeit with an ERA higher than we would like, then pitches the seventh inning for some contender like the Dodgers -- rival of the Giants! -- the final two months. Armstrong is likely the eighth-inning fellow waiting his chance, and he saves 11 games the final two months. Dan Altavilla and Cory Gearrin loom as well, if you want to take every Mariners reliever with a chance for saves in your AL-only.

Tampa Bay Rays: Lefty Jose Alvarado was third on last year's Rays with eight saves, behind Sergio Romo and Colome, but since he figures to have no role as an occasional starting pitcher, he likely gets most of the saves this season. I think right-hander Diego Castillo could close -- well, myriad Rays pitchers could close successfully -- but this feels like an obvious situation.

My projection: Alvarado saves 29 games, while Castillo and Chaz Roe pick up another four or five each.

Texas Rangers: If I had to name one relief pitcher not currently among the top 10 in ESPN ADP that is most likely to push his way into the top 5 on the Player Rater, it is Jose Leclerc. His numbers were awesome. He is signed long term. The rest of the bullpen is sketchy, unless you think Jesse Chavez recreates his stunning season.

My projection: Leclerc saves 37 games and leads all pitchers that save more than 20 games in strikeouts, topping 100. Let us give Chavez a cool 23 holds, though.

Toronto Blue Jays: I think we can call right-hander Ken Giles well-traveled at this point, as he has closed for three teams over the past four seasons. He remains a nice strikeout option as well. Bud Norris, whose 28 saves for the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals ended up eclipsed by only 11 pitchers, looms in case something goes awry, and that is certainly possible.

My projection: Giles saves 30 games, as occasional and unannounced wildness costs him a week or two of saves during the season, but he remains the first option. Norris seems a reasonable choice for 20-plus holds. If you are wondering why I do not name prospects in these saves articles with the chance for saves, it is because there are so few options. Most managers would prefer to let any veteran close instead of a prospect. Anyway, Giles is fine, not a top-10 closer, but close enough to be the first one you draft.

Houston Astros: All I hear this spring about this bullpen is how great right-hander Ryan Pressly was last season and, it is true, he was great. I expect roughly 30 ... holds from him in 2019.