Confused yet? Maybe just discouraged.
We’re less than a week into 2017, and already the closer landscape is changing.
The “early closer confusion” column is one I could write the first week of most any season and the reason most of us analyst types are careful not to invest too much in closers. The role is insanely volatile, to the point that a retention rate of more than one-half is considered a good year. Rest assured, the turnover we’re seeing now is only going to increase in the weeks and months to come.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Truth is we haven’t seen a closer officially lose his job yet. No manager’s leash is that short. But a couple are on the verge of it, and a couple of already murky situations have become all the murkier.
Here’s to clarity (or something like it)!
Two appearances, eight runs. Full-scale meltdowns happen sometimes to even the best of pitchers, so one is certainly forgivable. But two in consecutive appearances -- and the first two in a new season at that -- is hard to live down, especially when the offender isn’t even thought to be the most talented pitcher in his own bullpen.
Sam Dyson struck me as one of the more vulnerable closers coming into the year since he relies on inducing contact, exposing himself to bad luck, but I didn’t see it going down this way, not with his impressive track record. He just pitched six perfect innings in the World Baseball Classic, for crying out loud.
The Rangers apparently haven’t lost sight of his 2.45 ERA the past three years, because they’re giving him at least one more chance, but Matt Bush is looking like a must-add in any league where saves are scarce. The worst-case scenario would be the Rangers turning to Jeremy Jeffress instead. He’s like a Sam Dyson lite and would be vulnerable for all the same reasons.
Perhaps the most surprising bullpen-related announcement coming into the season was that the Angels wouldn’t have a designated closer to begin the year. Or never mind surprising. It was plain stupid, and I don’t believe it even now.
Cam Bedrosian was their most effective reliever last year, compiling a 1.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He was actually named the closer before suffering a season-ending injury and then came back this spring to allow no runs on four hits with 11 strikeouts in nine innings. Sure enough, he came in to convert the Angels’ first save Tuesday, striking out one in a perfect inning of work.
So if manager Mike Scioscia was intending to go with the pitcher we all suspected anyway, why not just name Bedrosian the closer? My guess is he doesn’t want to have undo the decision when longtime closer Huston Street returns from a lat strain. But seeing as Street already lost the job to Bedrosian once (last August, I mean), it’s more a matter of Scioscia keeping his options open than Bedrosian not having a chance. He does what he did last year, and he’ll clear up the confusion right quick.
So to recap, Santiago Casilla got the save on opening night, making him the obvious front-runner in the Athletics’ by-committee approach to the bullpen. But then in a similar situation the following night, Casilla didn’t pitch at all. The Athletics instead turned to Ryan Dull, who served up three runs and the lead.
Such are the perils of the by-committee approach. When a manager doesn’t go back to the pitcher who got the job done last time and it backfires, he has some tough questions to answer. And eventually, he just gets tired of answering them.
I suspect the Athletics’ closer-by-committee will end like they all do, with them settling on just one member of that committee, but I can only guess who it might be. I suspect Dull severely hurt his chances Tuesday, which is a shame since he might be the best pitcher of the bunch. Ryan Madson has worked the higher-leverage situations so far, albeit in the eighth inning, and was the leading save-getter of the bunch last year. I suspect it’ll come down to either him or Casilla, but how long before we get there?
This one doesn’t have to be complicated. Roberto Osuna began the year on the DL because of some back soreness from a bad night’s sleep. I have a feeling it had a little something to do with the DL being reduced from 15 games to 10 this year. He should be ready to return when he’s first eligible Tuesday, and it’ll end up being less than 10 days because of backdating.
If you’re adding Jason Grilli or Joe Biagini – because it’s not even clear who the fill-in would be – it should be because you’re in the desperate situation of needing an Osuna setback. If your league sets lineups only once a week, you won’t even get a chance to use the fill-in.
I should think you can do better than that. If you haven’t checked to see if Matt Bush or the next in line for the Phillies is available yet, you’re doing it wrong.
No one is surprised that Jeanmar Gomez struggled in his first save opportunity. He has no business filling that role after putting together an 8.33 ERA in the second half last year just as he had no business filling it when the Phillies first offered it to him at the start of last year. The difference now is they have a rightful heir. Hector Neris put together a 2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year and is everything a team would want in a closer.
What took this situation to another level, though, was manager Pete Mackanin’s failure to back Gomez after the near-blown save. Gomez technically did his job -- he converted the save -- and yet he still got this reaction:
“I’m concerned,” Mackanin told MLB.com. “ He’s just not getting the ball down the way he did when he was successful. I want to make sure that he gets opportunities, but at the same time, I don’t want to let games slip away. He has to execute. Like I said, for me, he’s earned the right to be the closer for right now. But he’s got to get the ball down.”
Pretty frosty, but also deserved. Still, if Mackanin is willing to call him out that quickly, it makes you wonder why he went with him in the first place and if maybe the front office is intervening to keep Neris’ eventual arbitration cost down. It’s why Joaquin Benoit may get the next chance as sort of a compromise between long- and short-term thinking.
One day after Raisel Iglesias records his first save, with Michael Lorenzen working the eighth inning in what would seem like a traditional setup role, manager Bryan Price threw a wrench in the whole thing, bringing in Drew Storen (remember him?) to preserve a three-run lead Thursday.
Storen did fine, allowing one hit and striking out two, but that’s not the point. We want to know who gets the next one and the one after that.
The Reds have hinted since the offseason that they might take a less than traditional approach to the closer role, though. One idea Price mentioned is that Iglesias and Lorenzen might alternate multi-inning saves, but that’s clearly not what happened here. Each only worked an inning Tuesday. And just how did Storen enter the discussion? Isn’t his velocity way, way down?
I’m guessing Price isn’t ready to unleash Iglesias on back-to-back days yet after hip and elbow injuries sidelined him for the second half of spring training, and Lorenzen had already appeared as a pinch-hitter(?) and homered(!) Thursday. Iglesias is still the one to own here, but the lack of clarity makes him a bottom-of-the-barrel option.