Thursday August 25, 2011
Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports): Closers are a topic a lot of people ask about, but I never really got around to writing about. Mainly because, in my opinion, it is a position that is completely overrated. While it certainly helps to have a guy that can go in and slam the door and collect saves for over a decade a la Mariano Rivera, it isn’t necessary to have a “closer” to be a contending team. One need only to look at the top 20 leaders in saves in baseball to notice that the Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz sits 19th with 25 saves, and Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Madson is 20th with 23 saves. It also doesn’t guarantee success, as Heath Bell, Drew Storen, Leo Nunez, Joel Hanrahan are all in the top 10 in saves, while their teams are not in playoff contention.
Top 10 Saves Leaders in MLB as of today:
|Craig Kimbrel||Atlanta Braves||40||14.56||3.53||1.70||1.20||3.1|
|John Axford||Milwaukee Brewers||37||10.86||3.32||2.26||2.36||1.7|
|Jose Valverde||Detroit Tigers||37||8.31||4.79||2.72||4.08||0.2|
|Brian Wilson||San Francisco Giants||35||8.72||5.20||3.19||3.40||0.7|
|Heath Bell||San Diego Padres||35||6.79||3.23||2.55||3.07||0.7|
|Drew Storen||Washington Nationals||34||8.03||2.19||2.77||3.48||0.6|
|Mariano Rivera||New York Yankees||33||8.45||0.92||2.20||2.23||1.8|
|Leo Nunez||Florida Marlins||33||8.31||2.88||4.63||4.02||0.1|
|Joel Hanrahan||Pittsburgh Pirates||32||7.85||2.04||1.73||2.17||1.8|
|JJ Putz||Arizona Diamondbacks||32||8.28||2.17||2.76||3.10||1.0|
I look at this list and a few things come to mind:
1) Craig Kimbrel is absolutely filthy.
2) Mariano Rivera is still one of the very best.
3) Closers are more overrated than I originally expected.
4) A lot of saves does not equal success.
5) Craig Kimbrel. Wow.
Craig Kimbrel is having the best year ever for a rookie closer. It isn’t even September and he has 40 saves. Not only that, but he is striking out more than 14 batters per 9 innings. His FIP is a ridiculous 1.20, and his WAR is at 3.1, which is 1.3 higher than any other closer in the Major Leagues. His ground ball rate is 43.7% and has only given up 1 home run in 63 2/3 innings. If the Braves end up winning the Wild Card and have a lead late in games, the shutdown duo of Johnny Venters and Kimbrel should be able to save the game for the Braves in most instances.
John Axford has had a strange way to becoming one of the premier closers in all of baseball. It took him many years to get there, but under the tutelage of Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, whom Axford took his job from, he has flourished. In 2010, Axford had 24 saves after taking over for Hoffman mid-season, and this year’s 37 so far are tied for 2nd in the big leagues. Axford gets over 50% ground balls, and keeps the ball in the yard, two main factors for his success.
Jose Valverde is one of the closers whom I find to be overrated. Part of his success can be attributed to a lucky .250 BABIP. He also walks close to 5 batters per 9 innings, which is extremely high, especially when he does not strike out a very high number of batters. Valverde may appear to be very good with 37 saves, but his 0.2 WAR suggests that he is basically a replacement level pitcher. Surely he is not worth the $7M he is being paid.
Brian Wilson is loved by many in the game. He is funny, has a strange personality, (which seems to be perfectly suited for the bullpen) and he has an outrageous beard. Since 2008, he has accumulated 162 saves, so he is very valuable at the back-end of the Giants’ bullpen. He keeps the ball on the ground, with a career 50% ground ball rate, but he walks a ton of batters (5.20/9IP). He gets a lot of save opportunities because the starting rotation is very good, and his team doesn’t score many runs, so there are a lot of close games.
Heath Bell has put up some ridiculous numbers over the last few years, but these numbers come with half of his games played in the cavernous PETCO Park. While his last two seasons had his K rate over 10, he sits at 6.79 for this season. His ground ball rate is also down 5% to 43. Although his ERA is a good 2.55, his xFIP is 3.89, and like Wilson, gets saves because of an anaemic offense that results in his team often being in close games.
Drew Storen is another of the Washington Nationals’ young phenoms. He moved up the ranks, throwing only 53 2/3 innings in the minor leagues before making his debut in 2010. He has been a tad lucky as his BABIP is .241, but he gets a lot of ground balls, so the hits will even out. He also gives up a higher than average home run per fly ball rate at 11.1%. Storen doesn’t walk many, and as he matures, should probably strike out a higher number. When Washington starts winning more games, he will have even more opportunities for saves.
Mariano Rivera is up to his usual tricks. Even at 41 years old, he is carving up hitters with his signature cut fastball. Rivera has a ridiculous 9:1 K:BB ratio, as well as getting ground balls 47% of the time. His WAR sits at 1.8, tied for second best for closers. The only question is when will this guy ever slow down?
Leo Nunez of the Florida Marlins may be the most overrated closer in baseball. Nunez doesn’t get a lot of ground balls, nor does he strike out a ton, as he gives up a ton of fly balls (49%) and home runs (8 in 56 IP). Nunez’s ERA of 4.63 actually looks worse than his 4.02 FIP, so he has been a little unlucky, but still not very good.
Joel Hanrahan has found a home at the back-end up the Pirates’ bullpen, and is thriving there. While his K rate has dropped to 7.85/9 IP from almost 13 last year, he has walked less batters. Hanrahan has been able to induce ground balls on over half of his plate appearances, and only given up 1 home run in 57 1/3 innings. His stellar numbers have allowed him to tie Rivera for 2nd in closer’s WAR this year.
JJ Putz’s resurgence as a closer this year comes as no surprise to many. Last year as a setup man for Bobby Jenks with the Chicago White Sox, Putz’s K rate was just below 11/9IP, while he walked only 2.5 per 9 innings. He hasn’t put up the same strikeout numbers this year, but he is walking less batters. Putz’s WAR of 1.0 puts him towards the top of the list of closers.
Out of the top 30 relievers in WAR, only 9 are full-time closers. Francisco Rodriguez is among those pitchers, but since he does not close games since traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he was not counted. Although this doesn’t mean that just ANYONE can close games and earn saves, it does show that many pitchers who have not been given the opportunity probably could get the job done.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland. 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 Rob on Twitter.***
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