Two tidbits of news today might mean two new closers – about par for the course at baseball’s most volatile position. Let’s take quick look at the (possible) moves and what they mean.
Chicago White Sox Non-Tender Bobby Jenks
Jenks actually put up the second-best strikeout rate and the second-best groundball rate of his career last year, and though he missed some time with injury, he reversed a mini-trend in his velocity when he showed the third-best fastball velocity of his career. All of this, added to some really poor luck on batted balls (.368 BABIP) and moderately bad luck stranding men on the bases (65.4%), and he had one of those seasons where his overall stats (4.44 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) were out of line with better-looking fielding-independent numbers (2.59 FIP, 2.62 xFIP). Hey, it happens a lot in 50-inning stretches out of the bullpen. In any case, though he’s twice crossed the 2.0 WAR threshold, he probably wouldn’t have been worth the $10 million an arbitration panel may have awarded him, so it made sense for the White Sox to let him go.
Or, it makes sense because they already have a better, cheaper option in place. Matt Thornton may only have one pitch, and he may have had a reputation for blowing saves in the past, but he works that one pitch well, did decently when given save chances this past year (three saves, none blown in September), and only costs $3 million this year. Judging from his three straight years with double-digit strikeout rates and walk rates under three per nine, he should make for a solid buy at closer in 2011 drafts. Only health can keep that fastball from booming.
Jenks should also make a fine buy for a team that isn’t forced to pay him $10 million. Perhaps the Rays would like to look at him as their closer on a short-term, low-money, make-good deal? That would make three new closers possibly minted today.
The Angels Close to Signing Hisanori Takahashi
Given the history of the Angels, this one is far from a lock (the deal’s not even done yet). They’ve run through back-end bullpen options like popcorn at a blockbuster over the past few years, and they still own one of those would-be closers, Fernando Rodney. On top of that, Takahashi can start or relieve, and his overall stats are not so overwhelming that they scream ‘closer.’
But that’s not to say he couldn’t easily end up being a great bargain closer in 2011. For one, the Angels starting staff is full. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana are locks, Joel Piniero should be fine, and the number five can easily be (under)manned by Scott Kazmir and Trevor Bell. Also, Takahashi’s numbers were much better in relief. In 57.1 relief innings, he had a 9.42 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 2.59 FIP and 3.54 xFIP. Those numbers actually rivaled those of Francisco Rodriguez and led AmazinAvenue to award Takahashi the title of Best Reliever for the past season. So it looks like the Angels want him as a reliever, which is good, since Tak2 hasn’t always been the most durable of pitchers.
Now the question is if the Angel’s management will have Tak2 close over Rodney. Given that the incumbent hasn’t struck out a batter per inning for a couple years now, and hasn’t ever shown a walk rate better than average, the answer should be easy enough. Then again, he has almost seven miles of fastball velocity on Takahashi, and gas has made better men than Mike Scioscia go a little loopy.