The Tigers claimed Chad Qualls on revocable waivers, and so there might be a new closing job open soon. Condolences to people with deep league teams, like my AL-LABR squad, who are looking at losing their only closer. It might not yet happen — the Astros own Qualls for $3.5 million next year, and that’s very reasonable, even for a below-average closer. At some point, this team needs to think about keeping their assets.
But for now, let’s assume Qualls goes. Who would close behind him?
The toolbox has solidified this year, and it’s an easy four-ish-step process.
1) Who’s pitching the eighth in tight games now?
Over the last thirty days, there have been seven holds put forth by the Astros bullpen. That’s pretty bad. It’s an indictment of the team, but in particular, also of the bullpen itself, which has the worst ERA in baseball this year. Two things were decently correlated with team save opportunities: bullpen strength and team runs scored. This version of the Astros is not set up to produce many save opportunities. In any case, Josh Fields (3) and Tony Sipp (2) have five of those seven holds. Despite owning ERAs over five, they’ve both pitched in tight situations in the past couple weeks, too.
2) Which hand do they pitch with?
Tony Sipp throws with his left hand, but has a killer splitfinger (check out the grip below and wince as your knuckles ache) that means he doesn’t have crazy platoon splits. Josh Fields throws with his right hand, which makes him more likely to close. Managers pick lefty closers about half as often as they should, given the population of lefty pitchers. Even without platoon splits as an issue, managers don’t want to lose their lefty late-inning guy unless they have another ready to go. Kevin Chapman throws hard but can’t find the plate right now… not sure they want to throw him in the eighth inning.
3) Who’s got the best strikeout rate?
Easy. Josh Fields has two more strikeouts per nine. Oh. Not easy. They’re both striking out exactly as many batters when seen as a percentage (30.8%). Huh.
4) Who’s got the most gas?
Josh Fields averages 94.3 with his fastball, while Tony Sipp averages 92.5. More often than not, new closers have better strikeout rates and more gas than the guy they replace. Qualls throws 92.7 mph.
5) Are there any financial concerns?
This may have gotten too much attention in the past, as some teams have finally gone to good young closers despite the fact that arbitration will make them more expensive. Look at Cody Allen and Jake McGee, both closers now, despite the money it will cost. But with the Astros, the financial concerns are not necessarily about arbitration. It’s about years of team control in this case. Tony Sipp has more than four years of MLB experience, meaning last year is the last year before he becomes a free agent. Josh Fields doesn’t even enter arbitration until 2016. Yes, he might get expensive if he’s still closing then, but by then the team may be nearing a competitive state, and willing to pay for those saves.
In any case, it makes more sense for a team like the Astros to see if the guy they own longer, who has more velocity and throws from the right side, can hack it as a closer. Josh Fields is the pick here.
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