Who Will Close in Pittsburgh? (Trade Deadline Ed.)

We first talked about who might replace Octavio Dotel three months ago, during a tough stretch for the closer. Now that Buster Olney is reporting that teams feel that the Pirates will trade Dotel and install Joel Hanrahan as the closer, we have to revisit the situation.

First, Dotel probably won’t close wherever he goes. He has a 4.06 FIP, and despite owning a nice strikeout rate (10.95 K/9), he has a mediocre walk rate (4.14 BB/9) and a poor groundball rate (30.4%), so it’s hard to see which contending team would consider him an upgrade at closer. So enjoy the saves you have in the bank, and if you are in H2H, start looking for a replacement like pronto.

Second, is it crazy to think Hanrahan is the best Buc option at closer? He has the mythical closer experience, at least. This year, he’s paired that experience with his career-best strikeout rate (12.53 K/9, 9.93 K/9 career) and walk rate (3.02 BB/9, 4.78 BB/9 career). His groundball rate is passable – 37.2% – and therefore his FIP (2.80) and xFIP (2.96) are both very nice.

Let’s not forget Evan Meek, who is having a nice year of his own. His strikeout race is at his conventional level (8.22 K/9, 7.76 career K/9), but it’s the reigned-in walk rate that has made his year so special (2.35 BB/9, 4.35 career BB/9). Given his groundball rate (52.9%), it would not be crazy to label him the better pitcher despite his slightly higher FIP (2.85) and xFIP (3.19). If anyone’s HR/9 is going to move quickly in the second half, it would probably be Hanrahan’s, judging from their respective fly ball rates.

In the end, the report says Hanrahan, so that’s the way we should lean when we flock to the waiver wires today. He makes for a perfectly fine addition, and save for a couple rough stretches and the odd home run, will probably make his new owners happy.

As an aside, I did wonder if some ‘gaming the system’ was going on here. As mostly malcontent Murray Chass pointed out in an article on integrity, teams are becoming more savvy about manipulating arbitration times. While I don’t agree that this is a shortcoming – if you want different rules, change em – it’s true that teams like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Florida probably delayed their prospects in order to keep them from achieving “Super Two” status.

Could Pittsburgh be doing something similar by keeping the (possibly) better pitcher (Meek) cheaper by keeping him out of the closer’s role? Arbitration committees would most certainly award a player with saves more money, even if that idea is silly. If Hanrahan was closer to free agency, this theory might make sense. Pump Hanrahan’s value up by installing him as closer, watch his salary escalate, and then trade him and turn to the cheaper Meek later – that was the theory. Too bad for the theory, Meek is only under control for a year longer than Hanrahan, so if this report is true, they must think that his gaudier strikeout rates make him a better fit at closer than Meek, straight up.

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

12 Responses to “Who Will Close in Pittsburgh? (Trade Deadline Ed.)”

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  1. Pat says:

    They probably feel Meek also has more value to come in to close games and can sometimes pitch multiple innings. Hanrahan has the gaudy strikeout rates that teams like in a closer and seems like a slightly more natural fit. Meek has stated many times that he wants an opportunity to close though, so this can get interesting. I just want to see both of these guys in Pittsburgh for many more years because they are an exciting duo.

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  2. John says:

    What percentage chance do you put on Dotel being traded? Is there really that much interest?

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    • Patoman says:

      I own Meek and just traded for Hanrahan based on Olney’s t(w)eet yesterday. I, too, am curious of Dotel’s chances of being traded. Huntington has said he doesn’t feel the need to trade all that badly, and isn’t looking for more prospects. I mean, what is he looking to get for a mediocre arm like Dotel? Is there even motivation to trade Dotel with his decent veteran salary option for 2011?

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  3. DonCoburleone says:

    Your forgetting Rule #385B in the Manager RuleBook that MLB forces every manager in the game to adhere to:

    “When choosing between 2 or more relievers to be your team’s new closer the first, second and third things to take into consideration are 1)Prior closing experience 2)Prior closing experience 3)Prior closing experience.”

    Well there you go. Hanrahan has what, 20 career saves? He’s the ONLY choice Pittsburgh has!!!

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  4. KY says:

    If teams aren’t yet doing this they are being dumb, no? You should always keep your young relievers away from the closer role. The 8th is worth as much as the 9th most of the time and if they are going to pay for the special 9th in arbitration why would you put an arbitration eligible guy there and needlessly raise his cost? You can also hope some team believes in the mythical closer and but your Joe Borowski’s in the closer role, hope they have a good year, and trade them at “closer” value.

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  5. ms says:

    It is possible Pittsburgh is being smart here…if they feel Meek is the superior pitcher they probably WANT to make Hanrahan the closer so that they are free to use Meek in the highest leverage situations outside of the 9th inning when they have a 1-3 run lead, in addition to the trade strategy mentioned in the article.

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    • Andrew says:


      Higher leverage situations……better pitchers.

      Or, you can take the ‘bash the Pirates stance’ and call it being cheap.

      Maybe, just maybe, NH knows what he is doing……

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  6. Toby says:

    It’s just not relevant which Pirate pitches what inning or who gets how much in arbitration. The eighth and ninth inning of Pirates games haven’t mattered in decades. It has literally been DECADES. This whole string cracks me up – really, the slotting of Pittsburgh’s relievers is so esoteric compared to the colossal problems that have savaged the franchise for the last quarter century. But I love the idea that Meek is going to have the 8th inning b/c the puppetmasters in Pittsburgh’s front office like the tactical flexibility they have with Meek when someone else is the closer. Hilarious.

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    • Andrew says:

      So, because past regimes have made too many errors to count, it is irrelevant for the current regime to slot their closers in the most effective way to win games?

      Brilliant post……can I have another?

      I come to this site for detailed analysis and thoughtful discussion. Needless to say, you left me wanting in both areas in your latest foray at attempting to be ‘cool’……

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    • ms says:

      So, because it has been “decades” since Pitt was on top they should probably just find Jose Mesa, sign him and make him the closer and to hell with both Hanrahan and Meek. I mean it has been DECADES, why even bother trying to extract the most value from the commodities you do have? Just throw someone, anyone, out there because “it’s just not relevant”. Which leads me to wonder why your dumb ass is wasting your time commenting on it then?

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  7. Mark says:

    Good point about the gaming the system possibility, and this gaming may be double-faceted. Not only do you come out ahead in terms of arbitration value if you keep the saves away from the guy you want to retain more long-term, you also may gain in terms of free-agent compensation if you pump UP the value of the other guy who is less in your long-term plans.

    Thus if Meek is the guy they want on the next *cough cough* contending Pirates team, giving the saves to Hanrahan keeps Meek’s arbitration salary lower, and gives them a shot at a compensation pick if/when Hanrahan eventually leaves. (Not sure how soon that is for JH, but this double-whammy must be in play for a number of situations on rebuilding teams.)

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  8. Stu says:

    Mets are very interested in Dotel–where he started

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