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Is J.J. Hoover The Favorite For Cincinnati Saves?

Posted By Mike Petriello On March 21, 2014 @ 8:15 am In Closers,Featured | 16 Comments

I have to be honest: talking about the fantasy baseball impact of the Salvador Perez line drive that hit Aroldis Chapman in the face, requiring surgery to insert a metal plate above his left eyebrow, seems like nothing less than the least important thing in the world. As if we haven’t seen this enough in recent years, from J.A. Happ to Alex Cobb to Brandon McCarthy, the added sight of Chapman’s father sprinting to the mound and the game simply being called off added an extra element of terror.

Fortunately, however, Chapman is being referred to as “a very lucky guy,” talking and joking in the hospital, and is expected to be okay, or as okay as one can be after such an experience. So since the march towards the season continues, and the Reds will need to do without their elite closer for most of the next two months, we may as well talk about what they’re going to do about it. Chapman is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks, and then with some expected rehab time after that, we’re probably looking at a return near late May or early June. But even then, being physically healthy isn’t the entire story; Chapman will need to be mentally ready to get back in the path of liners too. Maybe that happens right away, but maybe it doesn’t.

About six weeks ago, Blake Murphy looked at the Cincinnati bullpen in a post titled “Chapman Leads Impressive Baker-Free Reds Bullpen,” so at least we’re not starting from nowhere here. Or at least we wouldn’t be, if the primary options weren’t various combinations of injured, struggling, or both. If the Reds had the 2010-12 version of Sean Marshall, often one of the most underrated relievers in the game, he’d be squarely in the mix. But he pitched only 10.1 innings last year due to shoulder woes, has yet to appear this spring, and is going to miss at least the first week or two of the season. So, not him, at least not soon, or probably not ever. Sam LeCure and Logan Ondrusek are probably not options, either, and although Alfredo Simon does have closing experience, he may very well start the season in the rotation due to the various woes of Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto.

So realistically, we’re left with three options:

1) J.J. Hoover. Hoover’s first full season was a success, despite being a somewhat nontraditional late-inning type — he doesn’t limit walks or homers with any particular skill, and he doesn’t generate an especially high rate of grounders. He does make up for it by missing bats (98 strikeouts in 96.2 major league innings) and, oddly, destroying left-handed batters, who have a .146 /.226/.232 line against him in 159 opportunities. Whether or not that normalizes as his sample size increases remains to be seen, but since it’s practically illegal to have a post without a GIF or a chart these days, here’s Hoover whiffing lefty Matt Carpenter — who, as you may have heard, is quite good at the game of baseball — last September:

hoover_whiffs_carpenter_2013-09-04

Formerly a starter in the Atlanta system, Hoover is almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher these days, relying on a fastball and a curveball. Although righties haven’t exactly hit him hard either (.208/.303/.382) one may envision Bryan Price preferring to use a modified platoon team, using Hoover against lefty-heavy portions of the opposing lineup. For entertainment purposes only, there’s this: Hoover has pitched in the ninth inning 16 times, and he’s never allowed an earned run. Lest you put too much importance on that, however, he’s pitched in extra innings 12 times… and allowed 12 earned runs.

Not in Hoover’s favor: he hasn’t exactly demanded consideration this spring, walking five in four innings against a single strikeout.

2) Jonathan Broxton. I think because of the whole Matt Stairs incident and Joe Torre‘s never-ending mission to murder his arm, people forget just how great Broxton was with the Dodgers. From 2007-09, no reliever had a better K/9 rate; by WAR, only Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera were superior. With 111 career saves, he’s clearly got the experience.

But it’s of course not as simple as that, because 2007-09 was not only a long time ago, it was two elbow surgeries ago, and a fastball that used to sit at 97-98 is now more in the 93-94 MPH range. He also only made his Cactus League debut on Monday, throwing a mere 8 fastballs to get through an inning against Cleveland. There’s also the fact that he simply wasn’t very good last year — 4.68 FIP, 4.50 xFIP — though it’s hard to say how much of that is due to the arm trouble. Simply given the fact that he’s not 100 percent certain to be active for Opening Day, it’s tough to count on him, but I wouldn’t rule it out for later in April.

3) Manny Parra. More of a dark horse than anything, Parra had one of the quietest very good 2013 seasons around, especially if you remember him, as I do, as a failed Milwaukee starter who had a 5.12 ERA across parts of five seasons with the Brewers. As a Red, Parra has largely limited his splitter in favor of a slider, and as most pitchers do, seen an increase in velocity as a reliever. Parra struck out 56 in just 46 innings, pairing that with a good-enough 2.93 walk rate to get to a 3.07 FIP and 2.79 xFIP.

Ultimately, I see him as more of a valuable guy for the Reds to have to take additional setup innings from whomever moves into the ninth than I do seeing him as the actual closer, but he’s worth noting, if only because of how good he really was last year.

Best guess: This starts off as something like a 70/20/10 Hoover/Broxton/Parra mixture until one proves that he can (or cannot) handle the job. That makes Hoover the get in most leagues where he’s still available, and he’ll be tested early. In April alone (including the March 31 season opener), the Reds play the Cardinals six times, the Pirates six times, the Rays three times and the Braves three times.


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