Alfredo Aceves: Closer, But For How Long?

When it was announced earlier this week that Boston closer Andrew Bailey would miss several months thanks to thumb surgery, most assumed that fellow newcomer Mark Melancon would slide into the role, given that he was relatively effective in saving 20 games for a lousy Houston squad in 2011. If not Melancon, perhaps Daniel Bard, presumed to be Jonathan Papelbon‘s heir apparent before attempting to move into the rotation, would return to the bullpen to help fill the need. After all, most clubs can get by without their fifth starter to start the season, and Boston also took longtime starter Vicente Padilla north with them as bullpen depth.

But it wouldn’t be Bobby Valentine if he did things the easy way, would it? Despite the availability of these two viable options, Valentine threw everyone a curveball and announced that he’d be starting the season with 30-year-old Alfredo Aceves as his closer. Aceves was in contention for a rotation spot as well and was reportedly unhappy when he learned he’d lost out to Bard & Felix Doubront and would be returning to the bullpen. Three days later, with all of four career saves under his belt (three of which saw him pitch at least 3.2 innings) he’s now apparently going to be the first choice in the ninth inning.

If the move seems odd, it’s not just because Valentine had other potential choices; it’s because Aceves is coming off a season in which he was quite valuable to the Red Sox as a multiple-inning reliever, putting up a 2.61 ERA (though only a 4.03 FIP) in 114 innings across 55 appearances, including four starts. Considering how uncertain the back end of the Sox rotation might be with the untested Bard & Doubront pulling up the rear, having Aceves available to act as safety net capable of pitching multiple innings at a time would have seemed to make sense.

So can Aceves be an effective closer? There’s no reason to think he can’t be. Closers are made, not born, and Aceves has nice 143/50 K/BB and 3.87 FIP across 192.2 career innings out of the bullpen; while he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher, he does a good job of keeping the ball in the yard and limiting free passes. Besides, he’s 24-3 lifetime, which is only the best winning percentage of all time, so he has to be good, right?

(It’s here where I’m hoping that I don’t need to point out the complete lack of seriousness in the preceding sentence. But hey, I’m new here.)

If Aceves were to become a traditional closer, he’d probably be solid enough in the role, even though that is arguably not the best use of resources for Boston since he’d be throwing far fewer innings being pigeonholed into the ninth inning than he would be otherwise. Simply being the designated closer for the Boston Red Sox brings value, so he’s an obvious and immediate add in all fantasy formats.

Of course, “Valentine” and “traditional” are two words that are rarely used in the same sentence, so there’s a bit more to this situation. Valentine has already noted that he’d be willing to use Aceves for multiple-inning saves and that Melancon will get his share of opportunities when Aceves is unavailable, raising some concern of a bullpen-by-committee. Bailey will be back at some point in the second half of the season, and there’s always the chance that issues arise in the rotation, whether that’s Josh Beckett‘s own thumb issues, Clay Buchholz‘ return from back problems, or Bard & Doubront attempting to be full-time starters for the first time.

It’s not hard to see the Sox needing another starter before Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to return later this year, and if it’s Bard who falls out, that would not only open up a spot in the rotation but could also add another competitor in relief. Aceves may be an adequate substitute for Bailey, but the circumstances, competition, and his own good-but-not-great performance make it exceedingly unlikely that he’s actually going to hang onto the job all season long. That makes him a good short-term buy, though someone who is potentially worth trading at his peak if he is able to rack up some early saves.

Still, Aceves does have something else going for him, at least in certain leagues – his eligibility as a starter. Few things in fantasy baseball give me more joy than being able to find a starter-eligible reliever who I can stash in a SP spot every day, essentially gaining a free reliever by avoiding the waste that comes with at least one rotation spot every day. (Brett Myers is another good example of that this year; Jose Contreras was a great use of that role last year.) He appears to be eligible as a starter in Yahoo! leagues, though not in ESPN or CBS. Keep that in mind when deciding how much of your FAAB budget or waiver claim position to throw at him.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


12 Responses to “Alfredo Aceves: Closer, But For How Long?”

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  1. Mr. Thell says:

    An important note for those in Yahoo leagues: Aceves carries the always-useful SP designation and can help you game the system for a healthy amount of bonus saves in that slot for as long as he lasts in the role.

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    • Mr. Thell says:

      My mistake, I somehow missed that last paragraph.

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    • Jonathan says:

      I picked up Aceves with my last pick for nothing more than the vulture wins I expected out of him and now people are telling me he might get me saves too?

      Score.

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    • mcbrown says:

      I have never found the SP/RP eligibility to be nearly as useful as multi-position eligibility for a hitter… don’t most leagues have 3-4 “P” slots to go along with 2-3 SP and 2-3 RP slots? If so, are you really going to carry more than 5 relievers in anything but the deepest of leagues, or leagues with massive benches?

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      • Ralph says:

        There are some strategies that involve grabbing $1 or low-pick starters and using a top shelf middle relievers with ridiculously low ERAs and WHIP to essential turn Colby Lewis into Cole Hamels. An extra good SP/RP just makes that strategy better with extra saves as a bonus. Another benefit comes in leagues that count holds (a not uncommon occurrence these days) where you might have 5 relief spots, all filled. If you can plug a 6th guy into SP slot that gives you a definite advantage in either saves or holds depending on how things line up. I’ve also played in a few leagues that only have 2 RP slots, mostly 15-20 team affairs but some smaller, and if you can get a 3rd closer crammed into a SP slot, you’ll almost certainly win the save category.

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  2. Theo Epstein says:

    LMFAO

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  3. dkmin says:

    Agree with the general tenor of this article. Aceves should be a fine closer (I’d also expect his K rate and K/BB ratio to improve as a closer vs. a long reliever), but it seems like a terrible allocation of talent. Bard has not shown any evidence that he can be a successful starting pitcher (or even last a full season as a starter in professional baseball), while Aceves has given some indication that he could be passable in this role. Conversely, Bard has shown that he can be an outstanding short reliever in high pressure situations.

    The simple answer would seem to be: Bard as the closer, Aceves as the 4/5 starter. But I guess we’re going to keep trying this Bard-as-starter experiment, perhaps in an attempt to make people forget about Lackey 2011.

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  4. strategy ace says:

    dkmin is on target…Bard should go to closer and Aceves into the rotation. Is it possible the Sox are worried over Bard’s loss of command from late August on last season?

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  5. Saul T. Load says:

    Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

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  6. JoeC says:

    Bobby Valentine is a joke. He’ll be fired before the 2013 season is through.

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  7. AJ says:

    People need to realize that Aceves has a career .235 babip, so his .231 from last year is more sustainable than you would think. If his baseline babip is below league average, his FIP/xFIP will always be worse than his actual era.

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