Aug 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jim Johnson (53) delivers a pitch to a San Diego Padres batter in the ninth inning of their game at Turner Field. The Braves won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
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Which MLB closers could be on the hot seat this season? Here are a few that could be facing competition.
The closer role is one of the most mentally taxing jobs in MLB. If they close the game, they don’t get the praise they deserve. Their main stat doesn’t get them a surefire Hall of Fame slot. They also get burned for not pitching a whole lot. But when things go bad, they don’t get better very easily. They take all of the blame. All Star closers have faded fast after a small amount of struggles. Players like J.J. Putz, Brian Fuentes and Eric Gagne all had quick falls from their dominant levels. It seems to happen every year.
The closer role seems to be ever changing from team to team. Besides a select few greats who have played for long stretches as a team’s closer, most of the time its a revolving door. Guys are in and out within a few seasons, whether they are traded or lose their mojo. This season will be no different. We are bound to see a few closers lose their spots in 2017, whether it is right away or down the stretch. Some will be surprises, like perennial All Stars and fantasy studs. Others will be fringe guys who barely made it and are on a short leash.
With that combination, it is hard to predict who exactly will no longer be the man in the ninth inning. Some closer situations, on paper, look incredibly solid. Others look weak. Some weak ones will pan out, and some solid ones won’t. Here are four closers who are most likely to lose their jobs in 2017.
The Angels had a horrendous bullpen last season, and that bullpen was led by Huston Street. Street has been closing games for the Angels since 2014 when he came over from San Diego. While Street isn’t the only closer the Angels will be using, he may be the first to leave their closer by committee group. Last season, Street struggled mightily. In 26 games, he had nine saves, 14 strikeouts and a 6.45 earned run average in 22.1 innings pitched. His nine saves led the team.
This season, the Angels will have Andrew Bailey and Cam Bedrosian closing out games. If one or both of them shines, then Street will be the first one out. Bailey’s Angels numbers last season were much better than Street’s. After being traded to the Angels from Philadelphia, he pitched in 12 games, posting a 2.38 earned run average, six saves and eight strikeouts in 11.1 innings. If he keeps that pace, he will take away ninth innings from Street.
Bedrosian may be more likely to take on the closer role full time. Last season he pitched well, racking up 51 strikeouts in 40.1 innings, while maintaining a 1.12 earned run average in 45 appearances. His closing experience is limited, with only one save last season. Experience aside, he may be the best bullpen arm they have and he has a chance at being their full time closer over street.
Feb 23, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher David Robertson (30) poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Day at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
David Robertson has been a good closer the past three seasons. He was the man who replaced the great Mariano Rivera in New York, and he did a pretty good job putting up 39 saves and a 3.09 earned run average, along with 96 strikeouts in 64.1 innings. Last season for the White Sox, he struck out 75 batters in 62.1 innings, while saving 37 games and posting a 3.47 earned run average. Those numbers are pretty good.
With such numbers, it is hard to think Robertson will lose his job this season. The problem is, he could be on the decline. He has pitched almost the same number of innings each of the past three seasons, but his earned run average has gone up each season, and his strikeouts have gone down. In fact, his strikeout totals went from 96 in 2014, to 86 in 2015, all the way down to 75 in 2016. His innings pitched those seasons: 64.1, 63.1 and 62.1 respectively. Not to mention, there is a reliable arm in the form of Nate Jones.
Jones pitched in 71 games for the White Sox last season, striking out 80 batters in 70.2 innings. His 2.29 earned run average was much better than Robertson’s. His 18 total earned runs was better than Robertson’s 24, and Jones pitched in 8.1 more innings. If Robertson starts to look shaky, the White Sox can confidently look to Jones as a replacement option.
Feb 15, 2017; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Jim Johnson (53) throws the ball during MLB spring training workouts at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports. MLB.
The Atlanta Braves have a bunch of questions throughout their roster heading into 2017, and the closer spot is one of them. To start the season, 33 year old Jim Johnson is the projected closer. Johnson has been a productive closer during his career, putting up at least 50 saves in back-to-back seasons in Baltimore for a team that competed in a tough American League East. Last season with the Braves, Johnson pitched 64.2 innings, saving 20 games, striking out 68 batters and putting up a 3.06 earned run average. While those numbers aren’t bad, they are a far cry from his peak numbers with the Orioles.
While Johnson had his best season since 2013 last year, he has some competition waiting in the wings. That competition is 25 year old Arodys Vizcaino. Vizcaino, last season, converted 10 saves while striking out 50 batters in 38.2 innings of work. He did, however, post a bloated 4.42 earned run average. Vizcaino is still young, so he has some time to grow and improve.
If Johnson struggles early, the Braves may look at giving Vizcaino a chance to be their ninth inning guy. While baseball is hard to predict, it isn’t likely the Braves will contend with the current roster. With their mindset of looking toward the future, they may have Johnson on a shorter leash so they can give Vizcaino some innings to build up his experience as their closer. With Vizcaino’s age and contract sitution, he could be replacing Johnson sooner rather than later.
Oct 14, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Cody Allen throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 9th inning in game one of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
It may be a stretch to say the closer for the defending American League champions could lose his job this season. Allen has been reliable for the Tribe the past three seasons. He has put up 90 saves and 277 strikeouts in 207 innings of work since becoming the Indians closer in 2014. He is only 28, which is also on his side. Will he be able to stay consistent and be the closer the Indians need?
The Tribe is not going to be hurting, if Allen starts to struggle. If they struggle early, they will be proactive in correcting the problem. If that problem is Allen, he can easily be replaced by Andrew Miller. Miller has shown he is reliable in the closer role. In 2015, he was the closer for the Yankees and converted 36 saves while striking out 100 batters in 61.2 innings. He also posted a 2.04 earned run average. Last season, he split the season between New York and Cleveland and had a 1.45 earned run average, converted 12 saves and struck out 123 batters in 74.1 innings. He mostly pitched in a setup role, as he was in the same bullpen as Aroldis Chapman in New York and Allen in Cleveland.
The Indians have not followed up successful years very well, as they haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since their run of playoff appearances from 1995 to 1999. If that trend keeps true, Allen needs to be in top form. If he isn’t, the Tribe has a stellar arm waiting to take over.