Searching For Saves: Who Could Emerge As The Cleveland Indians’ New Closer?

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While it’s possible that the Indians look outside the organization to replace Brad Hand, it’s clear that finances are going to be a factor in their decision making. That’s the only explanation for placing Brad Hand, with his $10 million option for 2021, on waivers before he was ultimately released. If they are going to look towards a replacement from within, who could step up? Let’s take a look:

James Karinchak

The primary setup man in 2020, Karinchak would seem like the odds on favorite to assume the role on Opening Day. Over 27.0 IP in ’20 he showed the elite strikeout stuff he had coming up through the minors, though that doesn’t mean that there aren’t questions:

  • Strikeouts – 17.67 K/9
  • Control – 5.33 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 23.1%

Obviously there are concerns about his control and potential to struggle with home runs, and that’s a scary combination in the later innings. Sure people have to make contact for that to be a significant issue, and with a 16.9% SwStr% that doesn’t always happen. Still he held a 5.5 BB/9 over his minor league career, including a 6.8 BB/9 at Triple-A which helped him to a 5.19 ERA over his 17.1 IP at the level.

While he’s the favorite as of today, there’s no guarantee that he’s able to hold the role long-term.

Nick Wittgren

While Wittgren doesn’t have the elite strikeout stuff that Karinchak has shown, he’s been consistently good over the past five seasons. Over 209.0 IP in the Majors he owns a 3.36 ERA and 1.19 WHIP as he’s shown enough strikeouts (8.78 K/9) and control (2.54 BB/9). He’s shown even more the past two seasons, including a 10.65 K/9 and 2.28 BB/9 in ’20, but home run issues loom large (HR/9):

  • 2019 – 1.56
  • 2020 – 1.52

If he doesn’t have elite stuff, there are going to be questions that can’t be ignored.

Emmanuel Clase

We can call him a dark horse, as he missed all of 2020 after being suspended for PED. That said, Clase was acquired from the Texas Rangers as arguably the main piece of the Corey Kluber trade and dubbed a potential closer of the future.

He showed it in 2019, when he starred for the Rangers over 23.1 IP:

  • Strikeouts – 8.10 K/9
  • Control – 2.31 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 60.6%

He had shown significantly more strikeout stuff coming up through the minors. In 2019 he averaged 99.44 mph on his fastball, which he threw 78.84% of the time, and paired it with a slider. He’ll be just 23-years old when the 2021 season starts and it’s possible that he gets thrust into the role quickly. He may not be the immediate solution, but long-term he has the highest upside and is the name to watch.

Long-Term Priority:

  • Emmanuel Clase
  • James Karinchak

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball

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