Cubs and Angels Closers: Who Deserves the Job?

Wednesday May 9th, 2012

Sam Evans: Today’s two franchises haven’t been able to find a consistent pitcher to close out games this year, and it has resulted in sub .500 starts for both teams. The Cub’s headed into this year with their closer since 2009, Carlos Marmol, expected to have another season closing out games for their team. Jordan Walden, the twenty-four year old who closed out thirty-two games for the Angels last year, was named the Angels’ closer early in Spring Training. Now, only about thirty games into the season, and both of these pitchers have lost their jobs. Both teams secretly want their former closers to regain the job, but neither pitcher has had a successful year so far. Let’s look at what went wrong for these two pitchers and who took their place.

Carlos Marmol has always had the potential to be one of the best closer’s in the history of the game. His repertoire features a 93 MPH fastball, a changeup that he throws at around 86 MPH, and one of the best pitches in the game, his slider which is anywhere from 80-83 MPH. These pitches, the slider in particular, have led Marmol to record some the highest strikeout rates the game has ever seen. In 2010, Marmol’s 16 K/9 set a MLB record for a single-season (for pitchers with more than fifty innings pitched). However, Marmol has always had one thing holding him back from being the best closer in the league, walks.

In 2010, Marmol walked fifty-two in seventy-seven innings. In 2011, he walked forty-eight in seventy-five innings. In 2011, Dan Haren threw 238 innings and only walked thirty-three batters. Marmol has never seemed to realize that if he would let hitters put the ball into play, he would become a much better pitcher. Especially late in ballgames, walking insane amounts of hitters isn’t going to help you close games, no matter how much movement your pitches have.

Despite his control problems, Marmol still had some very effective years as the Cubs’ closer. From 2009 to 2010, Marmol saved fifty-three games in sixty-one opportunities. The Cub’s knew that every time Marmol closed out games, it wasn’t going to be easy. Marmol developed quite the reputation for loading up the bases, and then either striking out the final hitter, or walking him. In 2011, Marmol’s risky ways finally caught up to him.

Last year, Marmol tied for the Major League lead in blown saves (with Jordan Walden. Coincidence? I think not). In forty-four save opportunities, Marmol converted only thirty-four. There is no reason why the Cubs’ management shouldn’t have named Sean Marshall the closer once Marmol started struggling last year. The main differences between Marmol’s previous years and 2011 was a lower K/9, and a much higher HR/FB%. The main reason for Marmol’s higher HR/FB% was due to his problem with falling behind in counts. This year, after Marmol blew two saves and struggled in low-pressure situations, the Cubs’ took away his job closing games after seeing enough. They certainly did not want a repeat of 2011.

The Cubs new management has been smart enough to realize that despite Marmol’s potential, it’s not worth watching him blow games. Cubs’ Manager Dave Sveum has decided to go with a closer committee of Rafael Dolis and James Russell until Marmol shows improvement. Russell is a twenty-six year old lefty who has improved greatly in his last three years for Chicago. Dolis is a twenty-four year old who reached the majors at the end of last year. If Marmol continues to pitch the way he has so far, I’d expect Russell to become the full-time Cubs closer. However, none of these pitchers are going to be the dominant closer that the Cubs are looking for.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have also had a very disappointing start. For example, Chone Figgins has twice as many homers as Albert Pujols. Anytime you’re paying the best hitter of our generation top dollar, you expect more production than that. Another issue for the Angel’s has been their bullpen. Despite a great starting rotation, the Angel’s bullpen has looked awful this year. In fact, the Angels were desperate enough to trade one of their top pitching prospects, Donn Roach, in order to acquire Ernesto Frieri (who doesn’t have one career save in the majors so far) from the Padres to try and help their bullpen.

Coming into 2012, Jordan Walden seemed like a solid option as the Angels closer. Even though he blew ten saves last year, he did have a 2.79 FIP. After all, 2011 was his rookie year and it’s not like the Angels had many other options. Walden features a 97 MPH fastball, and a decent slider and changeup as well. Even if it takes another year or two, the Angels figured that Walden’s stuff could make him one of the best closers in the game.

2012 has been rough for Walden so far. Thanks to a .375 BABIP and 6.o BB/9, Walden has been terminated from his 9th inning role with the Angels. Taking his position was the veteran lefty Scott Downs. Last year, Downs was arguably better than Walden but for some reason the Angels refused to use him in high-pressure situations. Still, it seemed that if Walden kept failing in save opportunities Downs would be the next man in line to get his job. This year, in only 9.2 innings, Downs has yet to give up a run. Unfortunately, two days ago the Angels announced that Downs is day-to-day with a left knee contusion. That means that once again, the Angels closer job is up for grabs.

While Downs is gone, either Walden or Frieri will get the chance to fill in closing for the Halos. Frieri has been a pitcher that the Padres primarily used in the 7th inning, but even then, he posted amazing results. I think until Walden can have a couple of solid outings, Frieri is the best option for the Angels. The bullpen is obviously the weakest area on a stacked Angels roster, so they better hope that one of these guys can take the role and run with it.

It’s unfortunate that neither Walden nor Marmol has been able to pitch to their potential in the majors this year. If either one of them “figures it out”, they could become one of the best closers in the game. For the Angels and the Cubs however, there is no reason to keep either one of these pitchers as their closer unless they show some serious improvement…fast.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter. (@RJA206)***

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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

Posted on May 9, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, Players: Fantasy Baseball Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Cubs and Angels Closers: Who Deserves the Job?.

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