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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I'm an avid sports and movie fan, and I love statistical analysis of almost anything.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who Should be the Jays' Closer?

Sergio Santos trip to the doctor went about as well as he and the Jays could’ve hoped. Inflammation will keep him sidelined for an estimated 10-15 days, at which point he’ll likely be able to begin rehab.

Assuming he’s going to be out for at least 10 games, who should be on the mound in the 9th inning in his stead?

I agree with most of the recent literature on the subject of saves and how overrated they are (here, here, here).  It is important to have a guy earmarked for the 9th inning who is reliably capable of recording 3 outs, but it’s far more important that your best pitcher is on the mound when the game is on the line. So far this season, the Jays best relief pitcher has been Luis Perez.

Can this be expected moving forward?

As a minor league starter, Perez put up less than stellar numbers at all three levels. His FIP was below his ERA at AAA, which should come as no surprise given the run environment that the Jays AAA affiliate plays in, however his FIP was still above 4.50 over 130+ innings, which isn’t good. In 65 innings for the Blue Jays (including 4 starts) in 2011 he put up a 4.64 FIP vs. a 5.12 ERA (3.79xFIP). Not terrible, but not high-leverage situations stuff.

Or is it?

As a starter, Perez has struggled to strike batters out. But as a reliever, he’s been much better. In 46.1 relief innings in 2011, he struck out 39. If you remove games in which he went longer than 3 innings, he struck out 33 in 34.2 innings. I know that’s not a perfect approach to analysis, but it does go along with the notion that when becoming a relief pitcher, a player should have a higher strikeout rate than he did as a starter if he has “good stuff”. Perez has “good stuff”. His fastball and slider both grade out well, and when he isn’t forced to go through the lineup more than once, and he doesn’t have to pound the strike-zone in order to limit pitch counts and go deeper into games, he can be very effective.

So far, in 2012, he has been among the best RP in MLB. Beyond the 0.00 ERA, his 2.14 FIP and 2.96 xFIP support the belief that he has pitched very well. Even more telling are his 9.53 K/9 and 12.1% swinging strike rate (good for 15th in MLB among pitchers with more than 10IP). We’re not at the point where you can draw firm conclusions regarding pitcher strikeout rates, but even with strong regression he’ll be a good strikeout guy.

So Perez should be the closer, right?

Not necessarily. As I mentioned earlier, your best reliever ought to enter when the need is greatest. Typically, a pitcher only comes in during an inning because he has to bail someone out. With his swing-and-miss stuff, Perez is ideal for pitching out of these jams. Also, because of his starter upbringing, Perez can throw 30+ pitches without tiring (he has already thrown 11.1 innings in 7 appearances this season, averaging 22 pitches per appearance and going 4 innings against Cleveland on April 5). That makes him the ideal candidate to enter games during innings, and means he can ably return to the mound to start the following frame. The only time Perez should be closing games is if he’s called to service in the 8th and sticks around for the 9th (assuming his pitch count isn’t too high). If a lead is taken suddenly (bottom of the 8th, top of the 9th), that would also be an ideal time to use him.  

Otherwise, right now the closer should be Francisco Cordero. First, the old idioms—he has closer experience, he still throws hard, he’s a savvy veteran. His current 4.50/4.18/3.73 ERA/FIP/xFIP isn’t exactly confidence-inducing, but it’s passable over a 15-20 day period. He has managed to record an ERA significantly lower than his xFIP through his career, and in Cincinnati no less (a notorious hitters’ park). The Jays are paying him $5million this season, so they may as well try to get maximum value out of him.

The other candidates aren’t exactly inspiring. I don’t dislike Jason Frasor or Casey Janssen or Darren Oliver, but I don’t trust any of them with the game on the line any more than F-Cord.

This Jays team is good, not great. If they want a chance at the playoffs, they need to fire on all cylinders, make good coaching/personnel decisions, avoid injury, and get lucky. Using their bullpen as effectively as possible will go a long way towards enabling their success.

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