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Save Risers: 2018 MLB Season Recap

The 2018 season has now come and gone (so sad!), so it is now time to dive into trends and projections for next season! A tough statistic to find trends on is saves, as a lot of success for closers comes from success from teams. There are also a lot of bullpens by committee these days, further stifling the value of closers.

That being said, only four of the pitchers that ranked in the top-10 in saves in 2017 followed up in 2018. One of those pitchers had a huge jump in saves, but Wade Davis, Craig Kimbrel, and Kenley Jansen were all relatively in similar positions for saves in each of the last two seasons. While pitchers like Alex Colome and Greg Holland fell off of the leaderboard from 2017, new closer depth charts added new names for 2018.

Here is the list of the top save breakouts from 2018.

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SV Breakouts of 2018

Edwin Diaz (RP, SEA): SV Increase 2018(57)-2017(34) = +23

Starting with the best closer of the 2018 season, Edwin Diaz is one of four holdovers from the 2017 leaders. While the remainder of the players in this article will be those that had their situations change to make a leap as closers, Diaz was already entrenched as the fireman in Seattle prior to the season. Even though he was the closer, he was also coming off of a 2017 season where he had a 4.02 FIP, allowed 1.4 home runs per nine, and walked 4.4 batters per nine. 34 saves were nice, as were his 12.1 strikeouts per nine, but he did take a step back from his electric 2016 season.

Turning the page to 2018, Diaz did better than his 2016 season, where he struck out 88 batters in 51 2/3 innings while posting a 2.79 ERA, putting up one of the most dominant seasons from a relief pitcher ever. His 57 saves were the eye catcher for sure, but he also had a 1.61 FIP to go along with his 1.96 ERA and struck out 124 batters in 73 1/3 innings. He allowed just 41 hits in 2018 and posted a 0.79 WHIP, slashing his walk rate by more than half to 2.1 per nine.

Diaz is the top closer leading into the 2019 season, as the Mariners will continue to put him in the position to save 40 or more games. Even if the walks do return, he has walked three batters per nine throughout his professional career, Diaz's strikeout potential will mitigate any walk issues.

Blake Treinen (RP, OAK): SV Increase 2018(38)-2017(16) = +22

Continuing our journey through AL West closers that had huge 2018 seasons, many should have known that Oakland Athletics closer Blake Treinen would be a breakout player this season. After a woeful start to the 2017 season with the Nationals (5.73 ERA in 37 2/3 innings), his season (career?) turned around when he was traded for Sean Doolittle. Treinen became the closer for Oakland after the trade, saving 13 games and posting a 2.13 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 38 innings.

While Treinen's 2018 season seemingly came out of the blue, he did have a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings in 2016, albeit those were less high leverage innings and his FIP was 3.62. In 2018, Treinen pitched to an 0.78 ERA and 1.82 FIP, striking out 11.2 batters per innings and posting a 0.83 WHIP. His nine wins were a cherry on top of the huge season that included 38 saves and he allowed just 46 hits in 80 1/3 innings.

It will be tough for the 30-year-old to duplicate his efforts from 2018 in 2019, but the Athletics were a 97-win team this season and do have a young core that will put him in a position to save a lot of games. He should be considered with Craig Kimbrel as the 2nd closer off of the board leading into next season.

Brad Hand (RP, SD/CLE): SV Increase 2018(32)-2017(21) = +13

The addition of Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand to this list was mainly to illustrate the ups and downs for closers. Hand was one of the most lockdown relievers of the 2017 season (posting a 2.16 ERA in 79 1/3 innings), but only saved 21 games with the Padres. He then saved 24 of his 29 opportunities with the Friars in 2018 before he was traded to the Indians.

With his trade to Cleveland, Hand was put in a better position to win, but only received 10 save opportunities, saving eight games and earning seven holds. He also saw his ERA drop (from 3.05 in 44 1/3 innings with San Diego to 2.28 in 27 2/3 innings with the Indians) while seeing his strikeout rate drop and WHIP rise. He still struck out 100 batters, for the third consecutive season, and saw his save tally jump double digits to 32 in 2018.

Even though he had somewhat of a roller coaster 2018 season, his stock is hot leading into 2019, as both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are free agents for the Tribe. There is still a chance that one of the two could return to the AL Central champions, but, for now at least, it can be assumed that Hand is the closer leading into 2019. If that is the case, there is absolutely top-five RP upside for Hand and he could be a mid-round steal.

Shane Greene (RP, DET): SV Increase 2018(32)-2017(9) = +23

After looking at three relievers that were among the best in baseball, we will now go to one that saw his ERA jump by nearly 2.5 points. After a 2017 season where he struck out 73 batters in 67 2/3 innings and pitched to a 2.66 ERA, Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Shane Greene was a hot name as a sleeper closer this season. He had no pedigree leading into 2017, he was a failed starter both with the Yankees and Tigers, but he was also the only reliever in place for saves in Motown.

Fast forward to the end of the season, Greene did see his save tally jump from nine at the end of 2017 to 32 for the 2018 season, but he regressed in most other ways. He did his walk rate drop from 4.5 in 2017 to 2.7 in 2018, but he also saw his strikeout rate drop from 9.7 to 9.2 and his HR rate more than double from 0.8 to 1.7. While his 4.61 FIP shows that his 5.12 ERA was a bit unlucky, Greene was really just useful for the saves.

Whatever issues that Greene has, a closer is a closer and most leagues still have saves as a category. That being said, do not forget about Greene on draft day, hoping that he stays the closer in Detroit and could help his homer issues from last season.

Brad Boxberger (RP, ARI): SV Increase 2018(32)-2017(0) = +32

For our last closer on the list, we go to the 2015 American League saves leader. Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Brad Boxberger had 41 saves for the Rays in 2014, but had saved just three games in his other five seasons coming into 2018. With Archie Bradley in tow, it appeared that, at a minimum, Boxberger was holding the closer's role warm for the fireballer.

While Bradley may be the future for the Snakes, Boxberger was the present in 2018 and saved 32 games while striking out 71 batters in 53 1/3 innings. Sadly, that ends the good things that we can say about the Box, as he walked 32 batters, allowed 44 hits, and continued his trend of allowing at least one home run per nine. His 4.39 ERA was even a bit lucky (he had a 4.55 FIP) and his 1.42 WHIP fully shows how questionable he was as a closer.

There is very little reason to consider Boxberger as a closer option for 2019, but, much like Greene, saves are still a category and the Diamondbacks may want to lean on Boxberger as the closer to give Bradley the opportunity to pitch for longer periods. This also assumes that Boxberger is the most reliable option to finish games in the desert, which will likely not be the case, as the team will likely look for a better option in free agency.

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