Baseball HQ: Reliever Gambles

by BaseballHQ.com on March 13, 2013 @ 10:50:37 PDT

 

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Detroit Tigers RP Bruce Rondon
Not really in control

By Doug Dennis

Among closers, who isn't a gamble lately? The truth is, all it takes for a closer to lose his job is a trade, an injury, a bad stretch of five games (in other words, five innings), or other things beyond a closer's control like a misplay with a runner on, or a seeing-eye jam shot.

The gambles that this column focuses on, though, are not those gambles. These are closers who may be a bit skills-challenged. They either lack a strong Dom, a solid Cmd or have problems with hr/9. They are closers where a better skills option lurks just behind them. (All stats 2013 BaseballHQ.com projections.)

American League

Let's start with 2012 saves leader Jim Johnson (RHP, BAL):

                   IP  Dom  Cmd  hr/9  xERA  GB/FB  BPV
==============     ==  ===  ===  ====  ====  =====  ===
Johnson (BAL)      58  5.6  2.4   0.5  3.57  60/24   76

He is projected to lead the AL again in 2013, but that 5.6 Dom is problematic. Johnson got away with it in 2012 due to the extreme GB/FB split at 60/24. But he'll need more strikeouts to survive a second season without a major bump in the road.

Johnson will command dollars at auction, but is a significant risk for failure due to a lack of strikeouts and potential role-threatening slump in 2013.

The Tigers have been hyping Bruce Rondon (RHP, DET) as their 2013 closer. Jim Leyland has not yet made up his mind and Rondon has hurt his cause already with plenty of spring game walks. This isn't a new issue:

                   IP   Dom  Cmd hr/9  xERA  GB/FB  BPV
==============    ===  ==== ==== ====  ====  =====  ===
Rondon (DET)       51   8.1  1.8  0.5  2.84   -/-    84
Benoit (DET)       73   9.9  3.5  1.5  3.37  36/46  115
Dotel (DET)        58  10.1  3.6  0.8  3.36  36/46  120
Alburquerque (DET) 51  10.8  1.9  0.2  3.44  62/33   81
Coke (DET)         58   8.1  2.5  0.9  3.95  44/35   79 (L)

Rondon may be a sexy pick, but that 1.8 Cmd shows plenty of problems. But on the other hand, Joaquin Benoit (RHP, DET) and Octavio Dotel (RHP, DET) give up too many flyballs and the gopheritis that comes with it. It would be easy to select one of them based on Dom and Cmd, but the 46% FB rate is too high to ignore. Dollars will chase all three of these Tigers relievers. The dollars spent might end in disappointment for all three, as saves could be balkanized over the season between them - and perhaps others as well. Even when Leyland finally decides on a closer, it won't be written in stone, especially for a team with World Series aspirations.

Third on the list is Boston closer Joel Hanrahan (RHP, BOS) who comes to the AL East from the relative safety of the NL Central. Hanrahan joins a very strong group of relievers - Andrew Bailey (RHP, BOS), Koji Uehara (RHP, BOS), Junichi Tazawa (RHP, BOS) and Daniel Bard (RHP, BOS) all have shown strong skills, even stronger perhaps than Hanrahan. Let's compare the projections of Hanrahan to Tazawa, for example:

                   IP   Dom  Cmd hr/9  xERA  GB/FB  BPV
==============    ===  ==== ==== ====  ====  =====  ===
Hanrahan (BOS)     58   9.8  2.2  1.1  3.74  43/39   76
Tazawa (BOS)       58   8.8  3.8  0.6  3.11  51/26  125

Hanrahan does have the stronger Dom. But the Cmd is far worse due to a much higher walk rate. The hr/9 is higher, also - too many fly balls. Hanrahan has a 3.74 xERA and 76 BPV compared to Tazawa's 3.11/125. Which of these relievers looks more like a closer to you? That is what makes Hanrahan high risk - his skills are relatively worse than his penmates. One bad week and he could be relegated to set-up. When the dollars are chasing Hanrahan for saves, you will want to consider someone else.

There are plenty of honorable mentions in the AL. Closers like Chris Perez (RHP, CLE), who hangs on to the role despite a 1.1 hr/9 and a stronger skill set in set-up from Vinny Pestano (RHP, BOS), may already be down with injury. Tom Wilhelmsen (RHP, SEA) and his 68 BPV will have to watch out for young guns with electric arms, like Carter Capps (RHP, SEA). Ryan Madson (RHP, LAA) and his iffy elbow can be replaced pretty easily by the Angels stable of arms, if necessary. Glen Perkins (LHP, MIN) has skills, but is a lefty on a team with some solid right-hand help. Grant Balfour (RHP, OAK) and Ryan Cook (RHP, OAK) are an even match set - which one leads the team in saves for 2013 is anyone's guess. Perhaps the most gamblerific of all is Jose Veras (RHP, HOU) - but owners who would chase Veras obviously do not really mind gambling with their auction money anyway.

What about the Senior Circuit?

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