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A New Mets Closer?

Yesterday afternoon, Frank Francisco blew his third save of the season for the Mets. After allowing a lead-off triple, a walk and then a single, he was pulled from the game without recording an out. Then Manny Acosta was called in and not surprisingly blew the game in spectacular fashion. Manager Terry Collins announced “We’ll address it”, referring to the closing situation in Queens. So which reliever will be enjoying a trip on the 7 train into the closer station?

Collins also mentioned that they have “eight options” to close, which technically they do counting all their relievers as possibilities. But unless he truly plans to go with a closer-by-committee for the time being, let’s assume he will settle on one guy and try to figure out who that may be. Below compares what appears to be the most obvious options, along with Francisco. All stats exclude yesterday’s game.

Bobby Parnell 9.0 1.7 20.4% 53.1% 26.5% 0.353 77.7% 7.7% 0.96 2.25 2.48
Frank Francisco 9.9 4.0 25.0% 27.3% 47.7% 0.372 61.3% 9.5% 1.72 6.59 3.52
Jon Rauch 3.8 1.9 25.0% 35.4% 39.6% 0.245 66.7% 0.0% 1.21 3.14 4.52
Ramon Ramirez 7.4 4.9 11.3% 49.1% 39.6% 0.327 67.9% 0.0% 1.33 3.93 4.20

Speculation right now is that Jon Rauch will be promoted into the closer role. He is a Proven Closerâ„¢, having saved 59 games in his career and he currently sports a decent 3.14 ERA. Terry Collins is an old school manager and so I would be somewhat surprised if Rauch wasn’t his first choice solely because of the experience and the good looking ERA. If given the opportunity though, can he succeed and run away with the job? Doubtful. Rauch has just 6 strikeouts in 14.1 innings this season, supported by a pathetic 5.1% SwStk% and an average fastball velocity that sits barely above 89.0 miles per hour. He has also posted the worst SIERA since his first year in the Majors, when he was primarily a starter. Last, he has been an extreme fly ball pitcher throughout his career, leaving strong control his only real asset.

So we have a fly ball pitcher with mediocre strikeout ability at best. Is this a guy you want pitching in high leverage situations? I certainly wouldn’t. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet this year and his BABIP sits at just .245, which has helped his ERA to significantly outperform his SIERA. If he is named Francisco’s replacement, there is going to be a rush to add him to fantasy teams. Don’t waste your FAAB, though by all means pick him up if your free agent system is first come first served. Just don’t expect his grasp on the role to last.

Bobby Parnell is another option in the Mets bullpen. His control has been all over the place over the years, but this year his F-Strike% has jumped above 60% for the first time. He is a ground ball pitcher, has always displayed strong strikeout ability and his highest SIERA since 2010 has been just 3.18. From a skills perspective, he is clearly superior to Rauch, though gmLI tells us that for whatever reason, Collins doesn’t trust him as much as Rauch. Since Parnell should come much cheaper in FAAB, he makes for a much better target.

Last of the replacement candidates is Ramon Ramirez. He is likely third in the pecking order, as his skills are inferior to Parnell’s and he has less closer experience than Rauch. However, he inexplicably ranks second on the team in gmLI, so for whatever reason Collins has used him in situations with higher leverage than everyone not named Francisco. His SwStk% this year and in prior seasons do suggest much higher strikeout rates. However, since the K/9 has never matched those impressive SwStk% marks, I am guessing that there is something I’m missing that would explain the discrepancy and so I would not necessarily chalk it up to bad luck.

Then we have Francisco himself. It’s hard to look at his stat line and not think he has suffered from terrible fortune. This happens all the time to closers without strong job security. They get BABIP unlucky over a small sample, lose their jobs temporarily, then the hits stop falling over a couple of innings in middle relief and they get their jobs back and are fine the rest of the way. Francisco has never had the best control and has always been a fly ball pitcher. Yet, his SIERA has been around the 3.00 mark since 2008, though this year it is a bit higher than that of course. He has had major trouble throwing first pitch strikes this season, but his other numbers look normal. Yes, I do own Francisco in two of my four leagues, so I am a little biased. But, ignoring the ERA for a moment and the drama of his blown saves, the skills point to a pitcher who should get his job back (assuming he loses it in the first place) and keep it if he simply enjoys some better fortune.

On a last note, you might point to Francisco’s high line drive rate as a reason for concern. This would be partially true and provides some justification for the high BABIP. But LD% itself is very flukey in a small sample and for his career, his BABIP has been right around league average. So I wouldn’t expect that line drive rate to continue at such a high level.