Five New Closers Who Could Be Gunning for Saves in 2024

These five bullpen arms are looking to prove they can be their team's full-time closer during the 2024 season.

Robert Suarez of the San Diego Padres pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Robert Suarez #75 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on September 27, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Relievers are unpredictable. I mean, sure, baseball is unpredictable in general, but relievers are in a class of their own. It’s why the most dependable closers can still command massive free agents contracts, even if they only pitch 60 innings per year. Teams are willing to pay big bucks to ensure order at the most chaotic position.

Around this time last year, I wrote about two new closers to watch in 2023. Trevor May, a nine-year MLB veteran, was set to be the primary closer for the Oakland Athletics. Alex Lange, a promising young curveballer, was in line for the closing job with the Detroit Tigers.

Both pitchers ended up earning 20-plus saves last season, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for either the veteran or the youngster. May spent a month on the IL dealing with anxiety, which could have played a role in his decision to retire this offseason. His traditional stats were excellent upon his return from the IL (1.99 ERA with 21 saves in 23 chances), but his underlying numbers (4.92 SIERA, 5.31 xFIP) might have been another reason he decided to hang up his hat.

Lange threw a career-best 66 IP with a respectable 3.68 ERA and 26 saves in 32 chances. However, his overall numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as they were the year before. He particularly struggled over the final four months of the season, and he ultimately recorded fewer than two-thirds of his team’s saves.

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Neither May nor Lange was a bad pitcher in 2023, but at the same time, neither took his opportunity as a closer and ran with it.

Like I said, when we aren’t talking about guys like Hader, Devin Williams, and Emmanuel Clase, relievers are hard to predict.

Nonetheless, I’m going to do my best to make some predictions anyway. Here are three brand new closers I’m expecting to take on the ninth in 2024, along with a couple of more proven arms who could get their first shot at a full-time closing job this coming season.

First-Time Closers in 2024

Robert Suarez, San Diego Padres

2023 Stats: 26 G, 27.2 IP, 4.23 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 3.23 xERA, 0 SV, 3 BS, 0.0 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC Projections: 65 G, 65 IP, 4.42 ERA, 22 SV

After a six-year tenure in NPB, Robert Suarez turned heads during his age-31 MLB rookie campaign. Pitching to a 2.27 ERA in 45 games, Suarez impressed the Padres so much that they signed him to a five-year contract as one of their first moves of the 2022-23 offseason.

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At the time, his $46 million guarantee was tied for the ninth-largest free agent deal ever for a relief pitcher. Only Josh Hader has signed a more lucrative free agent contract in the 16 months since.

Unfortunately, it would be an understatement to say the first year of Suarez’s new deal didn’t go according to plan. The righty sat out until the All-Star break with an elbow injury. Upon his return, he looked utterly hittable.

Suarez saw his strikeout rate fall from an elite 31.9% to a pedestrian 22.2%. Opposing batters were chasing his pitches less often and making more contact on offerings in the zone. He actually induced more groundballs and weak contact in 2023, but when his opponents managed to put the ball in the air, they were far more likely to hit it to the pull side. He gave up the same number of home runs in 2023 as he did the year before – despite facing just over half as many batters.

Still, San Diego and Suarez himself are hopeful he’ll turn things around in 2024. With Josh Hader joining the Astros, Suarez will slot in as the Padres closer this year. Manager Mike Shildt has not formally given him the role, but the 33-year-old is the clear favorite.

Suarez didn’t save a single game last season. In fact, he only made two appearances in the ninth inning. The year before wasn’t much different; he made seven appearances in the ninth and earned just a single save. However, he was quite successful as a closer during his final two seasons in NPB, pitching to a 1.65 ERA and recording 67 saves across 114.2 IP in 2020 and ’21.

The Padres won’t be surefire contenders in 2024, but this isn’t the Rockies we’re talking about, and there should still be plenty of save opportunities for Suarez. The only question is if he can stave off new teammate (and a fellow former NPB closer) Yuki Matsui to hold onto his ninth-inning role.

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James McArthur, Kansas City Royals

2023 Stats: 18 G, 23.1 IP, 4.63 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 2.95 xERA, 4 SV, 0 BS, 0.5 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC Projections: 66 G, 66 IP, 4.56 ERA, 15 SV

If you weren’t following the Royals last season, you might not be familiar with the name James McArthur. But if the righty keeps pitching like he did last season, it won’t be long before that changes.

After a disastrous big league debut (seven earned runs in a single inning of work), McArthur dominated over the final two months of the season. In 22.1 IP, he posted a 2.01 ERA and 2.05 FIP, bewildering opposing batters with a pair of unhittable breaking balls.

On most teams, a pitcher like McArthur would need to prove himself over a longer period of time before earning a chance to close games. However, the Royals have a thin bullpen, even after several offseason acquisitions.

Veteran Will Smith has ninth-inning experience, but he’s coming off a rough second half of the 2023 season that saw him lose the closing job with the Rangers. Meanwhile, prospect John McMillon has promising stuff, but he has even less big league experience than McArthur.

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Manager Matt Quatraro has yet to name his closer, and many think he could ultimately choose Smith for lack of a better option. However, if McArthur keeps pitching like he did last year, it won’t be long before he’s getting regular reps in the ninth.

Mason Miller, Oakland Athletics

2023 Stats: 10 G, 33.1 IP, 3.78 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 3.23 xERA, 0 SV, 0 BS, 0.7 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC Projections: 68 G, 68 IP, 3.39 ERA, 20 SV

One of three 24-year-old right-handers named Miller to debut last season, Mason may have been overshadowed by his similarly-named contemporaries. He didn’t throw nearly as many innings as Bobby and Bryce, and it certainly didn’t help that he played for the Oakland A’s.

Still, Mason Miller is not a name you want to overlook. The young hurler throws a four-seam fastball that averages 98 mph and hits triple digits. He also throws a nasty swing-and-miss slider and a changeup that looks like a lethal weapon against opposite-handed hitters.

Miller will be moving to the bullpen full-time in 2024. Despite his lack of relief experience, it shouldn’t be long before he’s the best arm at manager Mark Kotsay’s disposal.

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As with the Royals and Padres, the Athletics have not named a closer. Given their lack of options, there’s a good chance they’ll enter the season without one. Miller is easily the most talented arm on the roster, but the A’s have no reason to put too much pressure on him too soon. That said, if he pitches like we know he can, it won’t be long before Miller is ready to handle the heat of the ninth inning.

More Proven Arms

José Leclerc, Texas Rangers

2023 Stats: 57 G, 57 IP, 2.68 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.16 xERA, 4 SV, 5 BS, 0.9 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC Projections: 66 G, 66 IP, 4.26 ERA, 19 SV

Fresh off a strong performance in the postseason, the longest-tenured player on the Rangers could finally become his club’s full-time closer. José Leclerc has done great work over seven years with Texas, racking up 40 saves and 44 holds in 286 appearances. Of 114 relievers who have thrown at least 250 innings since 2016, his 3.03 career ERA ranks 18th.

Still, Leclerc has never been the team’s closer for a full year. He has never recorded more than 14 saves in a season. Could this be the year that changes?

The Rangers signed David Robertson this offseason, but while he has plenty of closing experience, he has done his best work as a set-up man. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robertson gets some save opportunities this season, but he didn’t sign with the expectation that he’d be the official closer.

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Leclerc is a fan and clubhouse favorite in Texas. He enters the year with more goodwill than ever after his performance in the World Series. Manager Bruce Bochy should give Leclerc plenty of chances in the ninth inning, and he has a clear path to the closer’s job if he can earn it.

José Alvarado, Philadelphia Phillies

2023 Stats: 42 G, 41.1 IP, 1.74 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 2.82 xERA, 10 SV, 2 BS, 1.3 fWAR

2024 ZiPS DC Projections: 74 G, 74 IP, 3.58 ERA, 22 SV

Although the Phillies have ultimately opted for a closer-by-committee approach in recent years, they have entered each of the past two seasons with a dedicated closer: Corey Knebel in 2022 and Craig Kimbrel in ’23.

This winter, Dave Dombrowski decided not to sign a closer. Perhaps that’s because he’s finally accepted that a committee is the best course of action. Either that, or he’s realized that José Alvarado has been the team’s best reliever in each of the past two seasons, and he deserves a chance to join the ranks of the league’s elite closers.

Since returning from a minor league demotion in mid-2022, Alvarado has been one of the nastiest arms in the game:

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I wouldn’t blame manager Rob Thomson if he continues to use Alvarado as a situational weapon, to be deployed in whichever inning he’s most needed. At the same, Alvarado has absolutely earned the chance to be a full-time closer, and this could be the year he finally gets the job.