First Pitch: More On Closer Values and Roles

After yesterday’s first pitch article, I was given the link to this similar article by Tom Verducci on the usage of closers, and the injury rates of pitchers in general. It’s a great article, and I recommend you take a moment to read it. My thoughts on the article:

**There seemed to be a theme that injuries to pitchers are inevitable, so teams shouldn’t stick to the limitations, such as 100 pitches for starters. I agree with the idea that injuries to pitchers can be inevitable, but I think that’s because the arm wasn’t made to rotate at the speed it needs to rotate in order to throw 90 MPH. I think there’s something to be said for the pitch counts. Look at the Pirates. How many major injuries have their pitching prospects had the last few years? Compare that to ten years ago when every single pitching prospect went down with a major injury. The Pirates are very strict with pitch counts in the minors. Injuries will happen, but you can’t deny that they have been greatly reduced in this case.

**I do think that some pitchers should be able to go over 100 pitches. The problem is, how do you determine which pitchers? Typically it should be the type of guys who have an easy, low-effort throwing motion. The problem is, when do you cross that line beyond 100 pitches? You’ve got to do it once to prove the guy can handle it.

**As for closers, I absolutely agree with the stance that closers don’t last. The whole “he can handle the 9th inning” has nothing to do with the pitcher. It is all about confidence in the pitcher. And that confidence disappears in a hurry. You can go from a good closer to being released in no time at all. Then you can go from being seen as a failed closer to being a trusted closer in the same amount of time. It’s the most volatile market in baseball, and the best approach is to buy low, sell high, and make sure you’ve got a deal done before the clock runs out and the closer sees his value drop.

**After thinking about this for the last two days (and much longer than that, since I’ve been talking about trading Hanrahan for almost a year now), here is how I would run a bullpen if it were my call. When the first high leverage situation came up, I’d call on Hanrahan. Let him get through the inning. Depending on the lead, maybe let him pitch a second inning. We let guys like Daniel McCutchen pitch multiple innings, but that’s too much for the highest paid and most talented reliever in the bullpen?

**If I suggested that the Pirates trade Hanrahan, and go with Jason Grilli as the closer, I’d hear about how Grilli couldn’t handle it, and how he’s a big downgrade, etc. But take a look at these numbers:

Hanrahan: .214/.260/.248 in 128 PA

Grilli: .189/.317/.208 in 64 PA

Both lines are from last year, Hanrahan’s over the course of the season, and Grilli in the final two months. They are the lines in high leverage situations. Hanrahan was slightly better, with a .508 OPS, while Grilli had a .525 OPS. I also think it’s ridiculous that Grilli, in two months as a middle reliever, had half as many high leverage plate appearances as Hanrahan did in an entire season as a closer.

**Finally, the article touched on something that I firmly believe in: don’t pay for closers. As good as Hanrahan is, the idea of paying him $7.5 M next year is absurd. For a few million more you can try to get a starting pitcher who can throw three times the amount of innings that Hanrahan would throw as a reliever. Plus, you can easily find a cheaper option to replace Hanrahan. The Pirates have been finding cheap bullpen options for the last few years. Take a look at how the current bullpen was assembled:

Joel Hanrahan – Acquired in a swap for Sean Burnett

Juan Cruz – Minor League Free Agent

Chris Resop – Waiver claim

Jason Grilli – Minor League Free Agent

Tony Watson – Drafted, stalled as a starter in Double-A, converted to relief and moved from Double-A to the majors in one year

Jared Hughes – SEE: Watson, Tony.

Evan Meek –  Rule 5 Draft

Chris Leroux – Waiver claim

Even some of the top guys who were traded away came cheap. Jose Veras was signed as a minor league free agent. After one year the Pirates flipped him for Casey McGehee. Octavio Dotel was signed for $3.5 M, and then traded for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo. D.J. Carrasco was a minor league free agent, and was then traded for Chris Snyder.

The system is kind of ridiculous, but the Pirates are in a situation where they can go against the system, have their “closer” pitch earlier than the ninth inning, and lose some value. Or they could go with the system, and keep trading closers when their value is high. I’m not sure the latter would be a bad idea, as long as they find a few other guys in the bullpen, like Grilli, who can handle the high leverage situations in the earlier innings.

Links and Notes

**Today is the final day to join the DraftStreet.com fantasy baseball contest, which has a $200 prize pool. The contest is a one-day league, starting at 7:05 PM EST tonight, and paying out to the winners by the end of the evening. It’s free, you get a chance to win money, and you help the site out in the process. CLICK HERE to sign up for the contest.

**The Pirates were off today. They take on the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend. The Cardinals just placed Lance Berkman on the disabled list, which is good timing for the Pirates.

**Prospect Watch: Another dominant start for Jameson Taillon, and Alen Hanson extends his hitting streak.

**Alen Hanson has had a hot start to the year. I asked around for opinions on the young infield prospect in a Prospect Roundtable.

**The Pirates made some minor moves today, returning Stetson Allie to the West Virginia roster, and promoting Tim Alderson to Triple-A. Alderson made his Triple-A debut, throwing three shutout innings. He was 91-94 MPH with his fastball. Click the link for the rest of today’s transactions.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Lee Young

    Good article in SI about how Jerome Holtzman, who invented the save rule, would be appalled at how it is used today.

     

  • Lee Young

    Tim……I’m old enough to remember when Giusti, Teke, Face, etc, all pitched multiple innings.

    They seemed to hold up quite well. 

    • gonfalon

       agreed :thu:

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Why don’t the Pirates use some real outside the box thinking and hire Mike Marshall?  There is no reason to keep on doing it like everyone else, when guys STILL get injured.  Pitchers careers are short, use them up and spit them out, or try to find a competitive advantage like Marshall and keep YOUR pitchers healthy.  It won’t last long if it works, because then everyone will do it.  Fewer pitchers should be the goal, the norm used to be a 10 man pitching staff.  More bench players give more options for platoons, and making a weaker team like the Pirates more competitive.

  • leadoff

    I agree with trading Hanrahan, I don’t think he is going to have the same year this year as last and I think they could have landed some decent talent for him, they still have pitchers in the minor league system that are not going to make it as starters and will be converted to relievers before long anyway. I trust Grilli more than I trust Hanrahan even though Grilli has given up a couple of long balls.

  • gonfalon

    “Look at the Pirates. How many major injuries have their pitching prospects had the last few years?”

    *no jinx no jinx no jinx*

  • Lee Young

    From last night’s Curve game:
    “Reliever Duke Welker stranded the tying run at third to end the eighth, then pitched the ninth for his first save.”

    Now THERE YOU GO!! That’s how we should do it!

  • dropkickmurphys

    Good follow up.  As I’ve written, all managers use their best relievers completely backwards.  Using them in the first, late inning/high leverage situation is how they should be used.  Using until their turn in the lineup come up, also makes sense.  One inning relievers (and less) are a complete wast of resources. 

    The Pirates absolutely should trade Hanrahan.  In fact, as a small market team, they should deal every successful closer every two years or so.

  • salempirate

    What would it take to get the save stat changed? As you point out, if a reliever enters in a crucial situation then turns the game over to the closer, who is basically just a mop-up man for the 9th, shouldn’t the 1st pitcher get a save and the closer get a hold?