Monday, March 28, 2005

The closer situation

A little blurb from today's MJS:

Even before Adams' ugly inning, Yost said he was not ready to designate the second-year pitcher as his closer to begin the season.

"I'm just not there yet," Yost said. "I'm looking at the total package and seeing who's best suited for it.

"The thing that made (former closer) Dan Kolb so valuable is he would have nine- and 10-pitch innings and be available to pitch again the next day. If you throw 19 or 20 pitches, you can't do that. We're having too many 19- and 20-pitch innings (from candidates for closer)."

Of the other candidates to pitch the ninth inning, Derrick Turnbow has shown the most potential. Turnbow throws his fastball in the mid-90-mph range and has been getting his breaking pitches over for strikes more consistently than in the past.

"Your eyes pop out a little at his stuff," Yost said. "I see some good signs. I've still got to see him some more."

This is a little surprising, I guess. Though I despise the term "closer", as well as "save", I do think a bullpen functions at it's peak when the pitchers have defined roles. I'm sure this situation will be cleared up soon, and hopefully Adams gets the job. He earned it with his performance last season, as well as over the course of his minor league career. The odd thing about last season was his .90 GF/FB ratio, yet his HR rate being less than one per 9 IP. This could simply be due to small sample size, and will go unanswered as I can't find a GB/FB from his minor league time. His HR rate was only .73/9 IP in the minors, though, so it seems he may have simply given up an inordinate amount of flyballs last season.

Kolb was an aberration last season, in my opinion. A pitcher simply has to miss more bats than he did in order to sustain such a high performance level. He was a groundball machine, but when you strike out only 21 men in 57 1/3 IP, something is bound to go wrong. It appears that said something will be 3B Chipper Jones and his butcher-like fielding ability. Also, he actually had a much better season for the Brewers in 2003, is 30, and has a history of arm troubles. Seemed like the right move at the right time to me. He can take his "closer mentality" and sweet facial hair and Godsmack entrance south, where he will likely decline sharply and rapidly.

Of the other options, Turnbow is most intriguing. The guy brings gas, and K's a decent amount of batters, and also holds the title of first known positive steroid tester. His ERA's were less than stellar, but his H/9 , HR, etc. were very good. He has a chance to be very good this season. It'd be hard to justify Bottalico being included in the closer "battle", though not just because of his spring numbers. He's usually an extreme flyball pitcher, yet gave up very few HR last season pitching in a pitcher's park (Shea). He should be able to post an ERA around league average, which isn't bad, but probably isn't worth the million he's going to get. He's one of my biggest candidates to be traded at or before the deadline.

Here's how I see/hope the pen shaking out:

LR - Matt Wise (R)
LR/MR - Wes Obermueller (R)
MR - Justin Lehr (R)
MR - Jorge de la Rosa (L)
7th - Bottalico (R)
8th - Turnbow (R)
9th - Adams (R)

This is, of course, dependent on the Brewers not stupidly keeping 13 pitchers. This seems much less likely due to the DFA of Kieschnick. Obermueller has had a strong spring and, seemingly ignoring past performance, will likely make the team. However, he has been rumored to be sought after in trades. The man has thrown nearly 600 innings of professional baseball, showing next to nothing, yet will likely make the team. A better pitcher is bound to come available via waivers or trade, and I think Melvin would be wise to take advantage of it at the expense of Obermueller, who has options left.

I think we're destined for a year-long debate about the Brewers bullpen, Brett. While it may hve worked for the Yankees and the Astros to use specific relievers in defined situations, I think there is a strong case to be made for breaking those rules. For example, sometimes when you're losing you want to bring in your top strikeout guy to change the momentum. Sometimes when you've been through three long nights in a row you want any old arm to give you 3 innings.

given the choices, I'd actually like to see Bottalico start the season as the closer, if only to show Adams and Turnbow how it's done, and then turn over the reins in June (when we're bound to trade him anyway).

Of course, I'm from the school that says "the closer should get the most important outs, not necessarily the last ones." But the players' union doesn't love people like me.
Well, I kind of agree with you. I like closer-by-committee, but it simply gets a bad rap in the media. The reason the teams go to that approach is because there is no clearly defined best reliever on the team. What I really meant by "defined roles" is that certain guys getting the bulk of the pitching, and regular work.

I'm also of the opinion that every out has the same value. That's why I don't care for closers or saves, because I'd rather have the guys that get the team the first 21 outs than overpay for a guy (like Kolb) to get 3.
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