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 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.

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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