Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Everyone Wants to Close... So Let's Have Everyone Close!

The last week or so we've heard about how Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, and even Once-a-Week Eddie all want to be the Nationals' closer. So what do we do with this bounty of unqualified aspirants? I say, let them all close. Yes, I said it. Go for the dreaded "closer-by-committee."

Before we go on, let's be clear. None of these guys should be counted on to perform in high-leverage situations.

First, Capps, who I think many fans are wrongly thinking is a bounce-back all-star ready to happen. But there's a reason no one else wanted him to close (including the Pirates). As I mentioned before, he's been pounded by lefties, but I probably understated the case. Last year, lefties hit .342 / .373 / .641 off of him. No, that's not a typo. There have only been 118 seasons in all of MLB history in which hitters slugged .641 or better. Yeah, sample size, bad luck with BABIP, all that, but that's godawful however you slice it.

The main problem is that he's become essentially a two-pitch pitcher--four-seam fastball and a slider. He also throws a change, but it's only about five miles per hour slower than his fastball, and that's not enough to fool anyone. Sliders don't work against opposite-handed hitters, and his fastball doesn't have enough velocity or movement to overpower guys. So lefties work the count, lay off the sliders in the dirt (or hit them if they're in the zone), and wait for a belt-high fastball when Capps needs a get-me-over pitch. At his worst, think latter-day Luis Ayala.

There are also real questions about his make-up. People in Pittsburgh say he went into a year-long pout when the team didn't offer him a long-term deal last year. And throughout his career he's struggled in higher pressure situations. In mop-up situations, he's given up a .260 OBP and .380 SLG. In high-pressure situations, those numbers jump to .311 and .458. Last year, in high-leverage situations he gave up a .377 OBP and .594 SLG. Just 'cuz he's built like a linebacker doesn't mean he's "fearless."

Bottom line, if Capps is handed the ninth inning, get ready for lots of this.

Brian Bruney throws pretty hard, but his command is Cabrera-esque--he's walked 15.4% of hitters faced over his career, while Cabrera's walked "just" 12.9%. Even last year, D-Cab's worst, he walked "only" 16.3%--more than Bruney, but not much more. He'll have his moments, but overall, think Joel Hanrahan.

And Guardado's just old and tired. He hasn't averaged more than an inning per appearance since 2005, and he threw just 38.1 innings last year. That, and he can't miss bats anymore and gives up too many homers. He's kind of like a left-handed Livan Hernandez with a burned out arm.

For the Nationals, you have you have two guys in Matt Capps and Jason Bergmann who are reasonably effective against righties, and Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard who are pretty good against lefties. Bruney's also better against righties, but frankly I'd want to see him hit the strike-zone with some regularity before letting him do anything but mop up.

Especially given that the Nationals aren't going have very many late leads to protect anyway, why not plan on using all four of these guys to get through the eighth and ninth innings and play match-ups? If Werth, Ibanez, Feliz, and Ruiz are due up in the eighth, use Capps there, and let Burnett pitch to Howard and Utley in the ninth. If this is the group we bring to opening day, I certainly think that's the best bet.

I still would like to see t
hem bring in a couple more arms, maybe bring back Joe Beimel and also add a guy like Joe Nelson or even let's say Tim Redding as a reliever. (I kind of like that idea, come to think of it.) I also think it might make sense to carry a 13th pitcher at times, taking advantage of the flexibility that Willie Harris and Eric Bruntlett provide.

Regardless, barring the emergence of Juan Jaime, Marco Estrada, and Victor Garate as the second coming of Gary Majewski, Saul Rivera, and Jon Rauch, the Nationals' bullpen will still would be among if not the worst in the National League, and Riggleman will need to think outside the box to get by.


Deacon Drake said...

Jim Riggleman does know this of which you speak.

Being the incumbent, Clippard probably should get a shot to close at some point. He added a slider to help out against righties (though the good one can beat him senseless), and his fastball/change deception is lethal.

Right now, he may not be far and away the best out of the bunch, but he was the only one who had a remotely useful 2008 and showed the ability to adapt and improve. He should get the "job" if there is one.

Steven J. Berke said...

You didn't mention Drew Storen. I assume that's because you believe Storen will, or should, open the 2010 season in Syracuse. I wouldn't necessarily disagree wity you, though it also wouldn't surprise me if he started the season at the back of the Nats bullpen. Your analysis seems to lead to the conclusion that the Nats closer of the future is either Storen or someone not presently in the Nats organization.

dale said...

Nice analysis. I agree with the situational approach to closer in the present case. I actually like it a whole lot better than Acta's approach of naming Hanrahan as the closer prior to the season and having to watch the consequences of that ill-fated move. Spring training and the first 3 series of the new season will tell the tale on this team.

Steven said...

Yes, I assume Storen is out of the picture for ML closer for at least the first part of 2010. It's a bad idea to develop a player under the harsh bright lights. Give the poor kid some time!

Sec314 said...

I kind of figure they're going to give Capps, Bruney etc. their shots to see if anyone can emerge as the closer while Storen percolates in Syracuse. And if no one grabs the brass ring by June, bring Storen up and give him a chance (barring detours in his development of course). No reason to open the season with Storen on the 25 man roster.

Based upon my limited understanding of MLB contracts, just as with J. Zimmermann, it makes sense contract wise to hold Storen (and Strasburg) in the minor leagues for a month or so, if not longer.

Deacon Drake said...

If Huston Street can roll out of the minors and close, Storen should be be able to contribute in June. The A's also got fairly immediate value from Andrew Bailey, too, but he did have some time being groomed as starter in the minors, though.

Steven said...

Those are two good anecdotal examples to back up the case, but even those two guys didn't start as the closer. Street didn't close for 2 months, Bailey for one.

And of course we could start offering counter-examples of places it didn't work out. In fact, I'm not sure that Street really "worked out" in the long run. He's a max effort guy, and with all his injury issues, I wonder if a little more time in the minors to refine his delivery wouldn't have done him good. Bailey's too early to say.