Who is Closing in Arizona?

In lieu of a Waiver Wire piece today, we’ll take a look at the worst bullpen in the major leagues. Because saves are saves, that’s why. And no fantasy owner is looking for All-Stars on the waiver wire (or no sane fantasy owner).

In the second-to-last game before the break, interim manager Kirk Gibson, who has not yet named a closer, was finally faced with a save situation. Who would he pick? Let’s run down the list of his available ‘talent:’

Aaron Heilman
With a strikeout-to-walk ratio that’s been under two for three years in a row, and an FIP that’s been closer to five than four over that same stretch, Heilman has shown us who he is, and it’s not good. It’s hard not to go over the top here, but this is the bare truth: under no circumstances should a decent team consider Heilman as their closer. Of course, this is not a decent team. But even a rebuilding team shouldn’t really consider for their closer position a pitcher with a 4.94 xFIP and 31 years in his rear view mirror. So let’s hope that Gibson had sense enough to move on… which he did, sort of.

Esmerling Vazquez
Vazquez is striking people out (9.79 K/9), and has a decent-enough xFIP (4.11), and is also young (27). But Vazquez also walks too many (4.75 BB/9), has a poor groundball percentage (34.2% this year, 40% career), and isn’t being used in high-leverage situations (0.94 gmLI). Of course, maybe this team isn’t creating enough high-leverage situations, so Vazquez actually looks like a decent option given the putridity of this bullpen. But no, in this game, on July 10th, Vazquez actually recorded his first hold since May 22nd by pitching his seventh-straight scoreless and fifth-straight walk-less appearance in the eighth inning. Vazquez is moving up the depth chart, but he’s not there yet. He’s worth watching, though.

Chad Qualls
The veteran had been pitching better since losing the closer title earlier in the month. That is to say, he had put together a string of four scoreless appearances from June 29th to July 5th. He had only walked two batters since June 9th. He had given up one home run since May. Of course, Qualls also had given up 13 earned runs since the beginning of June, so the record was spotty. Then there’s also the fact that he’s in the last year of his contract on a team going nowhere. There’s no real reason to play him for the future, especially when the luck is really not going his way (.468 BABIP! 50.5% LOB%!). Qualls is still a good pitcher, but does Arizona care?

Sam Demel
Demel is the dark horse. He came over in the Conor Jackson trade, and has been dealing ever since, on a level that seems commensurate with his minor league performances. He was the Triple-A closer in the A’s organization, and had been sporting an 8.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in Sacramento. Well, now in Arizona, he’s got a 8.25 K/9 and 1.50 BB/9 (and therefore a nice 3.03 xFIP). If he can continue exhibiting that control, he could be a great closer, but that’s no given, as you can see from his 4.5 BB/9 in the minors. On the other hand, he’s the only reliever in Arizona with a good groundball rate (52.9%). The problem is, he’s being rewarded with mop-up time in bad games (0.69 gmLI, and his past six appearances have come in games decided by an average of 6.33 runs). This meat is grabbing pine. Maybe Gibson will notice him eventually, but he didn’t on July 10th.

Juan Gutierrez
Not to ruin the ‘surprise,’ but Gutierrez was the winner, after Heilman came on in the top of the ninth and got two outs but left two on for Qualls, who came in and gave up two runs without recording an out. So Gibson actually reached for two guys before he got to Gutierrez, and not without reason. Gutierrez is not striking out a ton of batters this year (7.52 K/9) or career (7.87 K/9), walks a bit too much (3.62 BB/9), and has a major Achilles’ heal when it comes to groundballs (29% this year, 36% career). If the team goes young, Vazquez and Demel are better options. If the team goes with ‘experience,’ Qualls is a better option (if they can see past the bloated ERA).

In the end, the problem is that Gibson has no real solid options to go to. That makes it hard to predict what will happen. If a dynasty-leaguer is looking at the situation, it has to be Demel as the pickup, and he does look like the best pitcher in the pen right now. If a redraft manager thinks that Gibson will be forward-looking and can see past a bad ERA, it’s Qualls. If they want to go by Gibson’s first attempt, it’s Heilman. IF it’s who succeeded last, it’s Gutierrez. Good luck hunting!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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I think you’re probably better off picking up someone like Madson who might get a handful of saves and likely will post better peripherals or Kuo who will help lower your ERA, WHIP and add K/9 than guessing which one of these clowns might get the call to blow..er..save the game.

Jason B
Jason B

I totally agree. After owning Qualls, Heilman, and/or Gutierrez in various leagues, I’m tired of chasing what few saves may be available in Arizona at the expense of ERA and WHIP.