August 1, 2010

The Closer Choice

With Octavio Dotel in Los Angeles and Kent Tekulve unavailable, the choice of closer for the rest of 2010 comes down to two men - Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan. John Russell hasn't named a closer yet so let's take a look at the choices:

Meek is 4-3 with a 1.23 ERA in 48 games. In 58 innings he's allowed 35 hits, 16 walks and struck out 49.

Hanrahan is 2-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 47 games. In 46 innings he's allowed 32 hits, 14 walks and struck out 63.

Meek employs a full four pitch arsenal including a 95 mph fastball, 93 mph cutter, 83 mph slider and 81 mph curveball. Hanrahan is a two pitch guy and both are good, a 96 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider.

There's really not a bad choice here. Both guys have been unhittable for long stretches. They clearly have great stuff; this is visible even from the upper deck.

My choice to close would be Hanrahan. He has classic closer stuff and is flat out unhittable when he's on. He's struck out an unreal 34% of batters this season. His two-pitch stuff plays well in a one-inning role; he's thrown more than one frame only twice this year.

For the setup man, I want a guy who can go two innings. Who out of Steven Jackson, Wil Ledezma, and Sean Gallagher do you want to see protecting a one run lead in the seventh? Meek has pitched more than an inning 13 times already and with his four-pitch arsenal is suited to that role.

I would advocate that Hanrahan closes even conceding that Meek is the better pitcher. When asked if Meek should have his own scoreboard video, 17 out of 18 WFC Blog voters said "Hell yes." He'll probably only get that if he's closing. But a top setup man will pitch in more games, throw more innings, and usually throw in more high-leverage situations than a closer. Whereas the closer faces whoever is due up in the ninth inning, a relief ace/setup man like Meek can be deployed whenever the opposing team's big bats are due up or a rally needs to be stopped.

I have seen some speculation that the two will split the role. This would be by far my least favorite choice. Both guys are great setup men but there are always certain setup men who can't handle a closing role. The Pirates will have somewhere around 12 to 15 save opportunities the rest of the year. That's enough to pick one guy and really evaluate whether he can close in 2011; it's also enough to give two guys an incredibly small sample size of save opportunities and learn nothing.

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