The best closers in baseball all have one thing in common, opportunity. We look at the best options for your MLB Fantasy in 2023, plus some history of the game’s greatest.
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This offseason, the consensus best closer in baseball signed a $102 million contract – the first such nine-figure deal for a back-end reliever.
But the fickle nature of the position was on display when that closer, the New York Mets’ Edwin Diaz, went down for the season with an injury during the World Baseball Classic.
While Diaz’s injury can be viewed as a freak accident, it underscores the amount of turnover when discussing the best closers in baseball.
Unlike starters, closers only pitch about 60-80 innings per year. But almost all of them are in high-leverage, pressure-packed situations at the end of the game. And much like umpires, a closer can succeed 95% the time – but all anyone will discuss is the other 5% when he wasn’t on top of his game.
Best MLB Closers for 2023 Fantasy
With that in mind, here’s a list of the top choices for the highest-pressure position in MLB – the best closer in baseball for 2023.
1. Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Guardians
With New York’s Diaz out for the 2023 season, there’s an opening at the top of our best MLB closers 2023 list, and Cleveland’s 25-year-old righthander gets the first chance to fill that spot.
Clase broke out last season with 42 saves as the Guardians won the American League Central division. He may not have the elite strikeout rate of Diaz and some other top closers, but many analysts believe that number is bound to improve.
Instead, Clase tops the list for two reasons. He limits offense (a 1.36 ERA and 0.729 WHIP in 2022) and he enjoys ample opportunity.
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Clase got the win (4) or save (42) in exactly half of the Guardians’ 92 victories last season, and the team is projected to enjoy similar success in 2023.
The Guardians rank towards the middle of the pack in most offensive categories, meaning lots of tight, low-scoring games where they need the elite closer in the ninth inning. Clase is a strong closer option for your MLB fantasy 2023.
2. Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Pressly was the last pitcher MLB fans saw in 2022, as he was on the hill to close out Houston’s World Series victory.
It was a familiar sight, following a 33-save regular season from the 34-year-old who’s found consistency at a position known for just the opposite.
Since joining Houston’s bullpen in 2018, Pressly’s had an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 every year except 2020 – the pandemic-shortened 60-game season.
There may be relievers with harder fastballs or more pitches, but none of them have done it as well as Pressly for this long. If you have any doubts, just watch the 2022 World Series.
3. Josh Hader, San Diego Padres
At the other end of the spectrum is this four-time All-Star lefthander. Hader turns 29 next week, and while 2022 was his fourth consecutive full season with 34 or more saves, he got there the hard way.
Hader’s 5.22 ERA and 1.28 WHIP were by far career worsts. Early struggles made him expendable to the Milwaukee Brewers, who dealt him to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline.
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But Hader’s struggles only worsened, as he amassed only seven saves in 19 opportunities for San Diego and infamously remained in the bullpen as the Philadelphia Phillies rallied against other San Diego relievers to clinch the National League Championship Series.
So is Hader’s era of dominance over? Or was 2022 just a hiccup? We’re betting on the latter, but if the lefty struggles early in 2023 he’ll quickly fall from this position on the list. For now, let’s include him as a solid option for best MLB closers in 2023.
4. Ryan Helsley, St. Louis Cardinals
A perfect example of the variability at the closer position. After a breakout season saw Helsley save 19 games while striking out almost 40% of batters faced, the righty melted down in Game 1 of the playoffs against Philadelphia, walking two batters and hitting a third as Philly took Game 1 – and eventually the series – from the Cardinals.
Now off that one bad inning, questions seem to surround Helsley as 2023 gets underway. But we’re betting on his 103-mile per hour fastball to keep him near the top of our list for another season. He’ll be a good closer for your baseball fantasy.
Other Top MLB Closers For 2023
- Devin Williams, Milwaukee Brewers
- Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins
- Andres Munoz, Seattle Mariners
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Best MLB Closers 2022
Let’s look back at the best MLB fantasy closers 2022 had in store.
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Losing Diaz for the 2023 season is a huge blow to the Amazin’ Mets.
The closer had a somewhat modest 32 saves in 2022, but held opposing hitters to a .160 batting average and averaged an unheard-of 17.1 strikeouts per every 9 innings pitched.
Diaz made headlines throughout the year with his entrance music “Narco”, culminating in a live performance from artist Timmy Trumper at an August game at Citi Field.
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies
An otherwise forgettable season in the Mile High City had the highlight of Bard’s emergence as a reliable back-end bullpen option.
His 34 saves came thanks to a 1.79 ERA – all the more impressive for a guy who pitches in MLB’s most notorious hitters’ park, Coors Field.
Liam Hendriks, White Sox
The South Siders stayed in contention to the end of the 2022 regular season thanks in large part to their closer, who followed up his breakout 2021 campaign with another 39 saves while continuing to average about 1.5 strikeouts per inning.
Sadly, Hendriks was diagnoses with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma this offseason. But according to teammates Lance Lynn his recovery is progressing “way better” than expected. If all goes well, the Australian closer could be closing games again before the All-Star break in July.
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Best Closers in Baseball: The First Modern Closer
When Dennis Eckersley arrived in Oakland in 1987, he appeared destined for a mop-up role in the Athletics’ bullpen.
The former two-time All-Star made his name as a 20-game winner for the Red Sox in 1978, then moved to the Chicago Cubs for three rather forgettable seasons.
But Athletics manager Tony LaRussa turned Eckersley into a new type of weapon – a ninth inning-exclusive pitcher who routinely came into the game at the start of the final frame with no one on base and his team in the lead. Eckersley’s job was to get three outs (and only three outs) as efficiently as possible.
Mission accomplished. “Eck” saved 45 games for Oakland as they won the 1988 American League pennant, but he did while pitching only 72.2 innings.
It was one save off the then-MLB record held by the Yankees’ Dave Righetti, who saved 46 games in 1986. But Righetti pitched over 100 innings to accomplish the feat.
Eckersley would go on to make four more All-Star Games as a closer, even winning the 1992 Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards after saving 51 games for Oakland. He pitched well into his 40s and modernized the role we now know for elite closers.
Best Closers in Baseball: The Best Season Ever
Chances are you may not have heard of Eric Gagné if you weren’t following MLB in 2003.
The epitome of the “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of closers, Gagné became the L.A. Dodgers’ finisher in 2002 after struggling as a starting pitcher in 2000 and 2001. Enjoying immediate success, he saved 52 games in 2002, but that only set the stage for his historic 2003 season.
Gagné won the National League Cy Young Award and finished in the top-five for MVP voting with the following numbers: 55 saves, 1.20 ERA, 0.692 WHIP, 137 Ks in only 82 innings.
The numbers read like a video game. Almost 60% of Gagné’s outs came via strikeout, and he struck out 45% of batters faced overall.
Closers enjoy fame for their unique entrance songs, but Eric Gagné’s entrances during 2003 were accompanied by the Dodger Stadium scoreboard simply flashing the words ‘GAME OVER.’ Fans were rarely disappointed.
Best Closers in Baseball: The GOAT
It might be one of the easiest questions to answer for a baseball fan.
We can argue about the best power hitters, the best seasons, even the best stadiums… but there’s little debate that former Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever.
You want eye-popping numbers? He’s won five world Series, made 13 All-Star games, and is the all-time leader in saves (652) and games finished (952).
How about outstanding seasons? He saved 40 or more games nine times, and 50 or more games twice. Blowing some of the best MLB closers out the water.
Could Rivera Do It Under Pressure?
Rivera’s postseason ERA was a minuscule 0.70, with an MLB record 42 career postseason saves. He was on the mound four different times as the Yankees closed out World Series championships.
Just for good measure, he’s also the career leader in All-Star Game saves (4) and pitched in more games than any pitcher in American League history (1,115).
Some people may raise an eyebrow at the notion of a closer as the best baseball player ever, but consider this: who’s the only baseball player to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame?
Babe Ruth? Ty Cobb? Hank Aaron? Derek Jeter? Nope. It’s Rivera, who received the honor in 2019.
It’s one of the easiest sports questions to answer – Mariano Rivera is indisputably the best closer in baseball history.