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The Rockies’ Backup Closer

We know that Huston Street will close for the Rockies in 2011 assuming he’s healthy, but that’s not the safest of assumptions to make. The former AL Rookie of the Year missed just about the first three months of the 2010 season with a shoulder issue, then battled an oblique strain as Colorado was making a last gasp run at a postseason berth in late September. Should Street go down for an extended period of time next season, manager Jim Tracy will have his pick of several top notch setup men to use in the ninth inning. Let’s take a look at each, sorted by 2010 gmLI (average LI when the player enters the game).

Rafael Betancourt (1.50 gmLI)

The former Indian was a late game beast this past season, striking out 12.85 batters per nine while unintentionally walking just six in 62.1 innings (0.87 uIBB/9). He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher (50.3% FB career, and it’s been north of 52% in the last few seasons) and is a little homer happy, serving up a long ball for every ~7 IP (2.05 HR/9 at Coors, 0.57 elsewhere in 2010). At least he mitigates the homer damage by limiting balls in play and walks. Betancourt did a lot of fireman work in the middle of the summer, coming into a game in the middle of an inning to clean up someone else’s mess, which is exactly the kind of role you’d want a guy with those peripherals filling.

Matt Lindstrom (1.33 gmLI)

Acquired late last week for a pair of minor leaguers, Lindstrom was a Capital-C closer for the Astros this past season. His strikeout rate (7.26 K/9) wasn’t great for a guy throwing that hard, and his walk rate (3.21 uIBB/9) doesn’t stand out either. Lindstrom does make up for it some by generating ground balls (48.9% in 2010, 47.0% career), and Colorado’s infield defense (assuming they don’t trade for Michael Young and play him at second) should help lower the .340+ BABIP’s he’s worked with the last two years (.370 in 2010). As with the rest of his career, Lindstrom figures to be more promise than actual results next season.

Matt Belisle (1.20 gmLI)

Belisle was Jim Tracy’s go-to guy in 2010, throwing an MLB-leading 92 relief innings. They were high quality innings too. Belisle struck out 8.90 batters per nine and walked just 1.08 unintentionally during the same time frame. He’s always been a ground ball guy (46.3% in 2010, 45.5% career) though he did benefit from some HR/FB luck this past year (8.5% after never being below 11.1%). It’s entirely possible that his new role as a full-time reliever means the low homer rate is here to stay, or it could very easily be a fluke. At 2.2 WAR, the 2010 season was basically the best season of Belisle’s career, for all intents and purposes matching his 2007 campaign as a starter for the Reds (2.3 WAR).

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When Street was out this past season, former closer Manny Corpas handled most of the closing duties. Not only will he miss most (if not all) of the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery, but the Rockies also released him. He’s not option next year. Jim Tracy is pretty old school, so I would expect to see Lindstrom get the first crack at save opportunities should Street wind up on the shelf next season simply because he’s got that prove closer tag. The good news is that both Betancourt and Belisle are worth carrying anyway (especially in deep or NL-only leagues) because of their high strikeout, extremely low WHIP ways. Save opportunities aren’t that out of reach either.