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.