Closer Openings: Seattle and Tampa Bay

Instead of talking about established closers, or fresh faces being handed the closer role,  today we’re going to touch on two situations where the back end bullpen situation is unclear.

The Seattle Mariners are not going to win many games this year. That much is clear. What isn’t clear is who is going to be racking up the saves in the games they do happen to win now that incumbent closer David Aardsma will not be fully recovered from hip surgery to start the season. Spring training had just started so nothing is set in stone just yet, but the leader in the clubhouse looks to be Brandon League. According to USA Today that is who Manager Eric Wedge is learning toward. The soon to be 28-year-old League filled in for Aardsma at the end of last season to middling success. He has mostly been a set up man in his career, lacking the swing and miss stuff and most closers thrive on. While League’s possesses a fastball in the mid 90’s  his career K/9 is just 6.72. His main skill is inducing ground balls (career 62.2%) thanks in large part to an excellent circle-change up and cutter. David Aardsma will likely regain the closers role when he returns from the DL so that the Mariners can showcase him for a potential trade at the deadline. Until then – and likely after – League should garner a majority of the save opportunities, albeit without the strikeouts you’d prefer.

As opposed to the Mariners, the Tampa Bay Rays figure to win their share of games in the 2011 season. Unfortunately for them, and any fan of the team, they’ll have to do so without Rafael Soriano. Last season Soriano lead the American League with 45 saves, or just eight less than main contenders for Tampa Bay’s bullpen (Farnsworth, McGee, Cruz, Howell, Sonnanstine, Peralta, Russell) have combined in their careers. The youngest member of that group, and owner of zeros career saves, is left hander Jake McGee, and he’s the one who seems to be the favorite to land the role of closer. Rays’ Manager Joe Maddon certainly isn’t opposed to the closer-by-committee approach, but as much of a free thinker as he is, he would certainly prefer some structure. McGee wants to close for the Rays and has made his feelings known publicly. 2009 saves leader J.P. Howell will be sidelined for at least the first month, and Maddon prefers to use him as a rover anyway. That just leaves Kyle Farnsworth for McGee to beat out, which shouldn’t be hard considering his struggles against lefties and fly ball tendencies.

McGee can handle both left handed and right handed batters due to his excellent control of his fastball. Unlike League, he’s going to strike out hitters as evidenced by him having K/9 of  less than 10.00 only one time at any professional level. Of the 81 pitches McGee threw at the major league level last season 73 were fastballs, yet he garnered a 39% whiff rate on the pitch. The Rays have a soft schedule to open the season, which should provide McGee with plenty of opportunities to lock down the closers job for the rest of the season.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

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