Monday, May 12, 2008

Closer? I hardly even knew her!

By: Ben Distler

What is happening in the 9th inning lately? Can somebody please close out a game? It seems every time we turn around this season, another formerly reliable closer is giving up a late inning lead. If I wasn’t such a trusting soul, I’d say the steroid policies were finally starting to kick in, preventing pitchers from pitching with so little rest in between appearances. However, I’m a very na├»ve and trusting soul, so I know that has nothing to do with it. Regardless, the job of closer has never been more tenuous than it is now. This means we have to keep a close eye on not only the closers who are struggling, but their likely replacements. Let’s take a look at some of the struggling closers, and see who may be taking their place.

Jason Isringhausen – 5 blown saves
From 2001-2007, Izzy posted an ERA over 3.00 only once (a decent 3.55 in 2006), and usually was comfortably in the 2.50 area. So what in the world is causing his cartoonish 7.47 ERA this year? He actually removed himself from the closer’s role, because he was so disgusted with his performance. This doesn’t bode well for a mid-season rebound. It sounds more like the Izzy train may be derailed for good. Ryan Franklin is the guy who will get the lion’s share of the save opportunities, though Russ Springer may siphon a few off.
Verdict: Pick up Franklin if you need the saves, and don’t look back.

Eric Gagne – 5 blown saves
I personally blame Gagne’s 6.89 ERA and outrageous 1.85 WHIP on his terrible, haggard, ghastly, Dustin Diamond-esque beard. Seriously, how can you expect to handle major league hitters when you roll in looking like “Screech: The Later Years?” In hindsight, we should have all seen this coming when he single handedly tried to ruin the 2007 playoff run of the Boston Red Sox. And, not too surprisingly, he failed at that too. Just like with Izzy, Gagne may have run his course as a viable closer. Expect him to be more effective at starring in Celebrity Fit Club on VH1 rather than closing games. At the moment, it seems Guillermo Mota has the inside track to get most of the save chances, but he has a checkered past as a closer as well. Salomon Torres actually has the most experience and success as a closer, and I expect him to eventually take the job.
Verdict: Pick up Torres and dump Gagne for good.

Trevor Hoffman – 2 blown saves
With 530 career saves, it is hard to doubt Mr. Hell’s Bells himself. Similar to Izzy, Hoffman hasn’t posted an ERA above 3 from 2002-2007. Could it be that the 40 year old longtime closer is finally breaking down? While it is true that his K numbers are on the decline, his save totals are not, having posted save totals in the 40s the past 4 years. Also, his current 5.91 ERA is mostly the result of one bad outing April 2nd. He’s only given up 3 earned runs since then. Couple this with his home park, the ultra spacious Petco, and I think this point to at least one more useful, if not spectacular, season by the Hoff.
Verdict: If he were to fail, pounce on Heath Bell. Otherwise, hold tight.

Kerry Wood – 3 blown saves
Wood is a very interesting case. As we’ve learned in the past, Wood can be a real gamble. I think our best bet is to make a pros and cons list. Pro: He closes for a first place team, so he should have a lost of opportunity. Con: He’s injury prone. Pro: He has 17 Ks in 18 innings. Con: He has an ERA of 4.00. Pro: He has a WHIP of 0.78. An ERA/WHIP differential like that suggests one of two things: either he has had a run of bad luck, or he tends to leave a stick straight fastball right over of the middle of the plate. Seeing as he’s only given up one HR this year, I’m going to pronounce Wood’s closing job to be secure. With a WHIP that low (he’s only walked one batter all season), odds are that his ERA will gradually end up in at least the low 3 range. That being said, this IS Kerry Wood, who has practically made a career of getting injured, so make sure you have your eye on Carlos Marmol, who would most likely replace Wood
Verdict: Wood will get the ERA down and be a top 10 closer, provided he is healthy.

Whoever the heck the Braves closer is
The Braves haven’t actually blown that many saves this year. This could be because nobody can seem to stay in the role longer than a week or so. The Braves started with Rafael Soriano, whom they traded for last season, as their closer, thinking they had the position locked up. Well, of course he has been on the DL since April 7th with elbow problems, so they then turned to Peter Moylan. Moylan responded by throwing some seriously hard fastballs… and then tearing a ligament in his elbow and had to visit the dreaded Dr. James Andrews. Currently, the shoulder shrug that is Manny Acosta (and his headed for trouble 1.44 WHIP) occupies the role. He’s only keeping the seat warm until John Smoltz comes off the DL. Smoltz was a dominant closer in the past, but is only offering up his services to close again because his elbow is in such pain that he can’t take the rigors of starting any more. Can you feel the excitement? Considering the merry go round of injuries and ineffectiveness, not to mention the fact that the Braves are barely above .500 anyway, you probably have a better way to get some saves.
Verdict: Ride Smoltz if you can, but be prepared to see him break down at any moment.


Anonymous said...

It's Smoltz's shoulder that's giving him trouble, not his elbow. He has a strained biceps tendon (where it attaches at the shoulder).

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to tame the monster that is closers all season long on my blog, too. You just can't win. That's why I say to heck with them. Just wrote about that recently. Anyway, Gagne's got his job back, so I hope nobody jumped off the ledge and dumped him. He probably will remain the team's closer all season. Torres and Friends just aren't reliable-enough options.