Who Will Close for the Twins This Year?

The news came down the pipe this morning that Joe Nathan has a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament and is, in all likelihood, headed for Tommy John surgery. No pitchers in recent memory have rehabbed through a torn UCL. A moment of silence for Nathan’s 2010 season, and for all of the keeper league owners that were happy with their elite closer.

Now let’s have some fun with rampant closer speculation. The front-runner has to be Jon Rauch because of his mythical ‘experience in the role.’ Yes, because he closed for 40 innings in the National League, he’ll probably be the front runner to assume the mantle in Minnesota. Then again, one has to be concerned with his strikeout rate, which peaked in 2006 (8.47), recovered in 2008 (8.29) and dropped off a table last year in Arizona (6.30 overall). In general, he offers some nice strikeout ability (though not plus for a closer) and an above-average walk rate (2.89 career, 3.46 ’09 ML average).

On the other hand, there’s been some change in his mix as he’s aged, and it doesn’t seem to be good news. He’s using his fastball less every year (down to 52.8% from 67.9% in 2006) and replacing it with his curveball (up from 3.3% to 15.5% last year). The problem? His fastball has been worth 17.1 runs by linear weights over his career, His curveball? -1.3. Yeah, where is that fastball going?

Could the Twins instead turn to a man with a funky delivery that has his own blog and a penchant for juicing? What about Pat Neshek? He owns a sparkling 10.56 K/9 for his career, a decent 2.76 BB/9, and despite slight gopherball problems (1.12 HR/9 career), has a sparkling WHIP (0.96). He’s coming off TJ surgery of his own, but has pitched live ball in Spring Training (2 innings, 2 Ks and 1 hit if you must know). There is a whiff of Brad Ziegler about him, but here are his splits against lefties, from our very own splits pages: 8.59 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 1.16 WHIP (good), 55.9% FB, 12.1% HR/FB, 1.64 HR/9, 4.70 xFIP (bad). This is all against 185 total lefty batters faced… this sample is not big enough to say definitively that he cannot handle lefties. This book is not closed. And since it is such a fun read, there’s at least one fantasy analyst that is banging the drum for Neshek to take over the closer’s role for the year.

What about Matt Guerrier? What about him? With a below-average 6.01 career K/9, and no corresponding excellent ground ball rate (45.5% career) he’s squarely third on this list. His .222 BABIP last year will surely regress and the Twins will once again have the okay guy they’ve always had. No closer here, despite last year’s seemingly excellent numbers.

One last note – the possibility that the closer comes from outside the organization is reasonably high. The Cubs inquired with the Jays about Jason Frasor, and because that team is rebuilding, it seems that maybe also Scott Downs might be available. Anthony Castrovince, the Cleveland Indians reporter for MLB.com, speculated on Twitter about Kerry Wood being moved to the Twinkies. These options may all be more palatable to a Twins team that wants to compete in their new stadium. Hey, they all have ‘experience in the role.’




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


26 Responses to “Who Will Close for the Twins This Year?”

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  1. Highly doubtful the twins make a move to acquire a closer from the outside, it’s going to end up Rauch (due to his experience) or Guerrier with the much improved Twinkie defense the ground ball ratio will be a huge plus.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I hope it’s not Guerrier because he doesn’t really have a good ground ball rate. They also used Neshek in holds situations in 2008, so they like him on some level.

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  2. Roc says:

    Smoltz? hes got to have 1 inning in him right?

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    • Nah Smoltz has already proven he cant handle middle of the order AL lineups.

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      • Roc says:

        Ok, how about Chad Cordero? I don’t know if the M’s will need him that much with David Aardsma, and I don’t know if Cordero would mind being a set up man. Nor do i know how he has been throwing lately.

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      • R M says:

        Beantown, that was as a starter. Being a reliever is a completely different story.

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  3. I like Neshek to but mostly in an inning with little possibility of a lefty hitter, a lot of this side armers get lit up by opposite side hitters.

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  4. David says:

    Could Joe Mauer close and catch himself also? That would be what the real Superman would do

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  5. Eno Sarris says:

    Jose Mijares is the best Twins pitcher not named above. He’s only in his second season, though, and a bit of a flyballer. I don’t think Gardenhire will trust him yet.

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  6. Kampfer says:

    Smoltz is a good solution.
    His AL stint is more a sample size problem than anything.

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  7. I think it will be Neshek or Guerrier

    Depends if they want strikeouts or groundouts

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  8. MikeS says:

    As a White Sox fan, I heartily endorse the Kerry Wood idea. If they are interested in ex-Cubs with live arms who can’t find the plate with a map, maybe they can pick up Kyle Farnsworth while they’re at it.

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  9. LTinOC says:

    Jesse Crain or Anthony Slama, the Twinkies’ former and current closer(s) of the future. Could they be in the mix as well?

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  10. Cwhit says:

    Mijares.

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  11. Choo says:

    Rob Delaney is another name worth tucking away.

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  12. R M says:

    Rich Garces?

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  13. Paul says:

    No on Mijares. He’s below average against righties.

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  14. alskor says:

    “No pitchers in recent memory have rehabbed through a torn UCL.”

    Eno, I’m not sure this is true. Will Carrol noted here (http://twitter.com/injuryexpert/status/10224287759) that two pitchers have done so recently: Ervin Santana and Takashi Saito.Those are the only two successful attempts I can recall, too.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      That’s funny.. I’m no injury expert and I was going off my own memory and thought that what I believed was actually confirmed by Will himself said on twitter earlier than that tweet..

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  15. Matt Weiters could close for the Twins and catch for the Orioles

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  16. Will says:

    Liriano? Why not?

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  17. yankeeins says:

    Jose Mijares is the only option here. Closers are extremely overrated and overpaid. Take your next best bullpen arm, which in this case is Mijares and give him the job. You have half the season to figure out if he can handle the role. Worst case you flip a prospect for another overpriced Closer at midterms if he’s not getting the job done.

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