Sure, this goggled sinker-lover isn’t the most attractive reliever on your waiver wire, at least when weighed in terms of physical looks or strikeout rate. And he fails most of the few tests that we have for future closers. But there’s something to love here. Especially with current closer Matt Lindstrom hobbled by an ankle injury (and on the DL).
We have very few tools at our disposal when it comes to closer prognostication. 1) Does the candidate have velocity and strikeouts? New closers had more velocity and strikeouts than the ones they replaced. 2) Does the throw with his right hand? Managers prefer righties about twice as much as they should, given the population. 3) What inning is he pitching in now? There’s no link for this one, but your candidate has to be coming from 7th or 8th inning usage or it would have to be considered a coup.
Ronald Belisario fails a few of these. Well, sure, he’s back up to about 93.4 mph, and that’s more than Lindstrom (93.2), but it’s not more than Daniel Webb (94.8). And it looks like Webb has Belisario beat on strikeouts, too — if you use strikeouts per nine. But Webb is walking more people than Belisario, and his 18.1% strikeout percentage is actually lower than Belisario’s 18.2%. The tide is turning. Belisario is a righty, and that gives him preference over Scott Downs, who actually wins the strikeout rate battle.
Where Belisario starts to turn this into a rout is when you look at usage. His five holds are two more than anyone on the team currently. Webb doesn’t have one in the last two weeks. And here’s their usage the last three times out:
May 19 — 2IP, 2K, 0BB, HLD, pitching the 7th and 8th in 7-6 win
May 16 — 1IP, 1K, 0BB, pitching the 8th in 7-2 win
May 14 — 1.1 IP, 1K, 0BB, WIN, pitching the four outs before 9th
May 18 — 1.1 IP, 1K, 1BB, pitching in the 5th in 6th in 8-2 loss
May 17 — 1.2 IP, 2K, 1BB, pitching in the 7th and 8th in 6-5 loss
May 12 — 1 IP, 1K, 4BB, pitching in the 7th in 5-4 loss
Belisario is being used in high-leverage situations in wins. Even if Webb is pitching late in some close games, he’s being used in losses, for the most part. Webb is younger and may have more upside, but it’s Belisario that looks like the setup man.
And on that last point. Zach Putnam is hanging around some, too, but even if the youngster doesn’t have the gas or strikeouts to be a closer, his age may count against him on this team. The White Sox are near .500, which should count as a small victory for a rebuilding team, but they are projected to finish 20 victories short of the Tigers. Since they are looking to the future, it doesn’t make much sense to push a young pitcher into a role that will give him saves and make him expensive in arbitration. That might have been the whole point of buying Matt Lindstrom anyway.
Belisario’s sinker is getting 77% ground balls right now, which is line with the numbers he got in better years, and would have led baseball’s sinkers last year. His slider is also getting 15% whiffs, and though that’s average, it’s also one of his better numbers in the category. Dude’s gotten close to two out of every three balls in play to travel on the ground, which is elite. This year, he’s also finding the zone at a career-high rate, and the control is working for him. He’s also cheap and under contract and pitching in the 8th inning in close games. He’s your Matt Lindstrom handcuff.
Hunter Pence once told me that Ronald Belisario was the nastiest pitcher he’d ever faced. I don’t think he meant the look, or this, but even if he did, you want your closers nasty. Belisario could net some saves this year.