by Joe Giglio
The news of Mariano Rivera’s ACL injury hit baseball late last night. With the greatest closer of all-time on the shelf for the first time since ’03, the only constant at the position has been removed from the game. As most fans have come to realize, relief pitching is the most volatile aspect of a roster. From year-to-year – sometimes month-to-month – identifying the most effective relievers can be an exercise in futility. Between injuries, attrition, and lack of understanding how to manage high-leverage situations, fans are often left in the dark on who the current and future closer of their team will be. Here are 10 candidates to eventually ascend into the hierarchy of top-notch closers. Buy these stocks low, but make sure to sell high. After all, there’s only one Mariano Rivera.
David Robertson, 27, Yankees: The obvious choice to replace Rivera in the short-term, Robertson – nicknamed ‘Houdini’ – has become one of the top strikeout men in the game. Although he only throws in the low to mid-90’s, his deceptive delivery has allowed him post a 12.2 K/9 mark throughout his career, including a staggering 13.7 mark since the start of the ’11 season.
Aroldis Chapman, 24, Reds: The dynamic lefty is in the midst of an outrageous start to the season (13.1 IP, 23 K, 0 R) as a multiple inning reliever for Dusty Baker. He could move off the list if Cincy moves him to the rotation – as Peter Gammons has suggested, they could limit his innings and transition him to the staff this summer – but has the potential (15.5 K/9) to be the best closer in the sport.
Jonny Venters, 27, Braves: There’s a case to be made that the star closer in Atlanta – Craig Kimbrel – is the second best reliever on the staff. Venters, the left-handed set-up man, has begun his career by posting ridiculous numbers over his first 181.1 big-league innings (1.89 ERA, 209 K). As good as his stuff and results have been, they look mediocre to the strikeout rate he’s posted so far this season. At 17.4 K/9 through 10.1 innings this year, Venters is generating nearly two of every three outs without the ball being put into play. As you may have guessed, his xFIP is a microscopic 0.81.
Vinnie Pestano, 27, Indians: While Chris Perez was a 2011 All-Star and seems to have a solid grip on the closer job in Cleveland, it might only be a matter of time before Manny Acta sees the light with his best set-up man. The ‘Bullpen Mafia’ has some quality arms, but Pestano would blow them all away in a scouting contest. His 12.7 K/9 rate is wild, but it’s another stat that makes him so valuable putting fires out that other pitchers create: A 97.8 LOB (left on-base) percentage. You load the bases; Vinnie will get you out of it.
David Hernandez, 26, Diamondbacks: The failed former Orioles starter has found a home in the Arizona bullpen. In 87 appearances in the desert since being shipped in a package for Mark Reynolds, Hernandez has struck out 10.6 batters per nine and saved eleven games as a substitute for J.J. Putz. Considering the incumbents’ age and injury history, Kirk Gibson might be signaling for Hernandez in the 9th inning soon.
Bobby Parnell, 27, Mets: Considering Sandy Alderson’s off-season moves to acquire Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and Ramon Ramirez, the case can be made that New York has lost faith in their ex-closer. If he continues to strikeout 12.7 batters per nine innings, it’s safe to assume someone will give him another shot. His walk rate and “mentality” are issues, but there’s no questioning the stuff.
|Cook has 12.1 scoreless IP and 7 holds in 2012|
Picture courtesy of US Presswire
Ryan Cook, 24, Athletics: The “other” pitcher in the Trevor Cahill for Jarrod Parker deal this winter, Cook (pictured) has been lights out for the underrated Athletics bullpen. 13 K’s in 12.1 innings has the Bay Area excited about his potential. His zero runs allowed thus far doesn’t hurt, either.
Andrew Cashner, 25, Padres: While the big right-hander still may have a future in the starting rotation, he’s currently making a name for himself in the bullpen. San Diego’s return in the latest Anthony Rizzo deal has the size and stuff to eventually take over for Huston Street in Petco Park.
Rex Brothers, 24, Rockies: The fire-balling left-hander represents a great future arm for the backend of the Rockies bullpen. His walk rate (4.3 per 9) must come down in order to take advantage of his strikeout dominance (13K/9IP) and solid groundball rate (45.8%).
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WNST in Baltimore, co-host of the Just a Bit Outside podcast on iTUNES, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.