Houston, We Have a (9th Inning) Problem

So Mark Melancon is gone and now fantasy owners are left with a mess in the Astros ‘pen. Who’s the closer? Is Brandon Lyon still playing baseball? What, he’s still in consideration for the role? Should we care? Are the ‘Stros going to win more than 10 games all year? The names of the candidates are some of the most “who the heck is he?” group of characters I have seen fighting for the role of closer in years. This should be one exciting battle, so let’s get to the analyzation…

First, new general manager Jeff Luhnow reminds us that yes, Brandon Lyon is indeed still active and gosh, a possibility for the all-important role of stopper:

“We need to have a strong bullpen,” Luhnow said. “Lyon has experience and a lot of the closer role really is about having experience in those pressure situations. No matter what, whether it’s the ninth, eighth or seventh inning, he will play an important role because of his veteran presence.”

That vital veteran presence and closer role experience rearing its ugly head once again! Who cares if you are actually any good, as long as you are a veteran and have closed in the past, that is enough for the Astros front office. As you may recall, Lyon’s right biceps detached from his body and his labrum was torn as both parts flew off chasing the fourth home run he allowed in just 13.1 innings. It is still to be determined whether these parts eventually caught up with the ball, but rumor is that Lyon does now have them back on his body. Phew, now he can close!

Okay, so before last season’s injury-shortened season, Lyon had posted some decent results in the past, though his skills were never more than mediocre. Only twice was his SIERA even below 4.00 and his xFIP never dipped below that mark. Given the major surgeries he is recovering from, it is highly unlikely he would be successful enough in the role to keep it for very long.

We then move on to our next candidate, Wilton Lopez. Lopez is not your prototypical closer option, as he doesn’t even average 92.0 miles per hour with his fastball. Of course, Lyon isn’t either so clearly the Astros don’t require a fireballer in the ninth. Lopez, though, has been pretty darn good the last two seasons, exhibiting sterling control and inducing ground balls as if he wanted every worm that calls the infield home to die. Last year, Lopez ranked below only Lyon and Melancon in gmLI (Leverage Index when the pitcher enters the game), so Brad Mills trusted him in pretty tight ball games. If given the opportunity, I think he could be good enough to hold the job all year.

Moving on, we find Fernando Rodriguez, a starter for some of his minor league career, but now a full-time bullpenner. He has shown some excellent strikeout rates in the past, though those rates have been inconsistent, but control has been an issue. He was also a fly ball pitcher last year, and fly balls and walks don’t mix well in the ninth unless you’re Carlos Marmol and strike out 11+ per 9 each season (and even he has had his share of problems). I doubt he is first or even second in line.

Next is David Carpenter. He has only thrown 33.0 innings above the High-A level, but has posted a 38/9 K:BB ratio in those innings at least. He did manage to pitch 27.2 innings of solid ball for the Astros last season, but it would be a surprise if he was given a closing opportunity with such little experience. And it’s not like his skills are so elite that he may force his way into the role either.

Rotoworld mentioned a couple more candidates that don’t make much sense, such as Henry Sosa and Rhiner Cruz, while MLBDepthCharts.com oddly lists Juan Abreu as the closer. I don’t see how any of these pitchers have a shot ahead of those mentioned above, so throw them to the bottom of the pecking order.

If I were drafting today, I would put my money on Lopez, though it is possible we get the dreaded spring-training competition. Of course, that is sometimes welcome news for us savvy fantasy players, as we know who the most highly skilled pitcher is, so all the competition does is lower his cost and increase his profit potential.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

5 Responses to “Houston, We Have a (9th Inning) Problem”

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  1. Robert58 says:

    To bad Houston traded Meloncan. They had a fine core in the pen of Mark,Lopez and Rodriguez. If Lyon bounces back, that’s four. If the Stroes could enter the seventh inning with a lead, they might have actually won some games for their fans. They might have even snuck into the new playoff spot. Unfortunatly, they have given away their best players in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn.They let a smooth swinging 2nd baseman walk in jeff Keppinger. Looks like they gave up a bit to soon with Lance Berkman,as well. This was a guy who should have never worn another uniform. Rememer the Killer Bees? He was one of them. This team had a decent core of players to build around. What did they do? They used the oldest baseball hustle in the books. They cried poor mouth, and unloaded their best players to enbark on one baseballs favorite hustles. “Rebuilding”. To read more about this scam,see: The 2012 Oakand A’s.

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  2. Brad Johnson says:

    Moral of the story – avoid Houston relievers unless you’re absolutely desperate for saves. None of them are likely to be friendly to your other stats, nor are they the least bit secure in their jobs.

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  3. Super Shredder says:

    I think Carp should get serious consideration after Lyon. For skipping AAA, Carp showed some pretty impressive poise and ability. Though he appears to be too much of a flyball pitcher for my liking, unlike Melancon (high 50’s GB%). That’s what I loved so much about Marky Mark. Sad to see him go.

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    • SKob says:

      I’m a Carpenter fan also and think this article is selling him short. He has consistently the best K rate of Astros relievers and his sub-3 ERA was only hurt by BABIP. He had a higher walk rate in his limited MLB debut than in the minors, but 7 of his 13 walks were intentional and he was able to pitch out of jams often.

      He is the only Astros reliever who fits the mold and has proven effective. Lyon might start with the gig, but my money’s on this kid to get the most saves.

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      • Mike Podhorzer says:

        I was mostly concerned with his limited experience above High-A ball, but I’ll admit pitchers are different than hitters and can make the jump more easily, while still being effective.

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