As I usually do, I was checking through the headlines on mlb.com and I happened to notice that Kirk Gibson has not made a decision for who will be closing for his team. This should be one of the bigger questions leading up to the regular season as the Diamondbacks have several options when it comes to closers.
Honorable Mention: Josh Collmenter
He is a pitcher who has quietly been one of the best relief pitchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks of late. He is a three pitch pitcher with an 88 mph fastball, a 70 mph curveball, and a 78 mph changeup. With that slow speed, one would expect him to be a more pitch to contact kind of pitcher and let the defense take care of him. But he posted a career low 32.7% groundball rate which is low for many pitchers. However, he also does not give up that many homers, giving up an average of .78 HR/9 last season. He struck out 8.32 batters per nine innings last season while walking 3.23 batters per nine last year.
Where Collmenter’s value is on the Diamondbacks is as a long relief, spot starter pitcher for them. He pitched in 49 games last season and threw a total of 92 innings meaning that he threw nearly 2 innings per appearance. In his career in the minors, he pitched all of his outings as a starter with the exception of 2 games in his first year in low A ball in 2007. Closer could be a good spot for him with the strikeout rate but I would like to keep him in the bullpen for if the starter can only throw 2 innings or less.
3. Brad Ziegler
It is no secret that Brad Ziegler is very good at getting groundball outs, that is what makes him successful. He doesn’t really throw an actual sinker per se, but his fastball essentially plays the role as sinker. The submarine arm action that Ziegler throws with has the pitch rising up briefly before dipping down just before it gets to the plate (as shown in the gif below).
By using this heavy sinking action on the fastball, he has produced a career 66.1% ground ball rate (which has been raised to a 72.9% rate since the start of the 2012 season) and in front of a great fielding team like the Diamondbacks (team UZR/150 of 8.1, good for second highest in the Majors), that leads to success. But this is why he should be used more of as a relief ace as opposed to closer. If the starter leaves the game in the seventh inning with people on base, I want a pitcher to come in who can get the ground ball double play. Neither Putz nor Reed are as good at getting groundball outs and only Putz has a higher LOB% (90.9% for Putz as opposed to Ziegler’s 80.7). If Ziegler is put into the role of closer, then he would be less likely to be put into a situation where a groundball is needed as the manager would want to hold on to him until the ninth inning.
2. J.J. Putz
J.J. Putz has a very realistic chance of claiming the role of closer at the start of the season. If not for injuries, Putz would have maintained the role of closer last year but an elbow and finger injury during the season limited his playing time to only 34.1 innings and when he returned from them he was more of a situational right handed pitcher. But since the start of the 2012 season, no pitcher on the Diamondbacks has more saves than Putz’s 38 saves leading many to believe that he could be a front runner for the closer spot based on experience alone. He’s been solid for them in the past, but a steady decrease in pitch velocity and an increase in home run rate over the past 3 years should be somewhat concerning for the Diamondbacks. His fastball velocity is still above 90 mph (91.7 mph in 2013 and 92.8 mph in 2012) and the home run to fly ball rate is still not too high (having been only about 14.8% in 2013 and 8.7% in 2012 but that is a concerning increase from the 6.0% HR/FB rate in 2011).
One thing interesting to think about with regards to J.J. Putz is what effect his injuries had on his performance last year. In most areas, Putz experienced a dramatic increase in essentially all statistics but one of the more significant increases occurring in SIERA where he went from 2.29 in 2012 to 3.24 in 2013 and his walk rate increased from 1.82 BB/9 to 4.46 BB/9. It is tough to tell whether or not these inflated statistics are just as a result of injuries or if they are as a result of just wearing down from age. After all, we can’t forget that Putz is now 37 so he does not have age on his side any more. I don’t see him being as bad as his stats from 2013 indicate but it is certainly something to think about.
1. Addison Reed
One pitcher who definitely has age on his side is Addison Reed; the pitcher who I believe should be given the role of closer without question. He proved that he is one of the best young pitchers in the game and he showed this while playing for a terrible defensive team like the White Sox. I believe that his ERA is definitely misleading as a 3.79 ERA makes him seem worse than he is. Reed strikes out 9.08 batters per nine innings, limits the walks with only a 2.90 BB/9, and a HR/9 of .76 which is comfortable in the closer’s role. Those are the kind of numbers that someone in the position of closer should have and with his young age of 25, there is definitely room for improvement. His other numbers like his xFIP of 3.77 in 2013 and his SIERA of 3.19 in 2013 would indicate that he is definitely going to get better.
There are other things to like about Reed aside from his statistics and potential. Last year, he threw the four seam fastball for 92.7 mph, the two seam fastball 93.5 mph, the slider at 83.8 mph, and the changeup at 83.7 mph. The 8.9 mph difference between his fastball and slider are very deceiving to a right handed batter because of the movement away from the batter and the 8.8 mph difference between his fastball and changeup creates a devastating effect on left handed batters as is evidenced by the .266 wOBA vs. L last season with the 37 strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks are in an enviable position with having multiple options that they could plug into closer. With the young and fragile rotation (Corbin has already shown that young starters are good but not invincible) that the Diamondbacks have, I think that Collmenter will have to avoid getting locked into the closer spot as he may be needed to make a few starts. Ziegler was good for the Diamondbacks last season but don’t expect to see him in the closer’s role as a pitcher of his caliber needs to be free to pitch at any time during the course of a game. But honestly when it comes down to the choice, the gap between Reed and the other options is substantial enough that there really should not be much debate.
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