There has been much ado about the status of the Washington Nationals closer role as of late, with the resurgence of Drew Storen, post-AAA assignment and mechanical tweak, and the concomitant tanking of Rafael Soriano, he of the 11.37 ERA, .435 BABIP, and 3 home runs given up in the past six appearances.
While is has been hotly debated as to whether Storen should become re-acquainted with the ninth inning closer’s role that he was so accustomed to and successful in back in 2011 in lieu of the apparently out of gas Soriano, whose efforts thus far in the closer’s role have him tied for second place in the National League for saves, the ultimate answer is sure to conjure up Abraham Lincoln’s quote about not pleasing everyone, every time (I’m paraphrasing here).
The Nationals are a team with an embarrassment of bullpen riches and in reality, they have easily three players who can and have successfully closed games. However, the third member of this trifecta — Tyler Clippard — has been quasi-relegated to setup man duties, so the showdown for the ninth inning comes to these aforementioned flawed fellows. While Storen has shown gumption and some nasty stuff upon his return to DC, his body of work hasn’t impressed in general, and has apparently made manager Davey Johnson a bit gun-shy when it comes to letting him work out of jams. Soriano, while accumulating nice save stats, does not have the fastball/cutter/splitter combo as sharp as has been seen in previous years; overall, Soriano’s repertoire has looked flat in the last few appearances, much to the chagrin of the Nats side of the scoreboard and to the delight of hitters looking for a pitch to drive.
So who wins this arms race? Should there be a changing of the guard? Should things stay as is? Some very emotional and vocal Twitter cries had me thinking about the predicament and I thought this situation is ripe for a poll. Teams have closers by committee, let’s have a closer by poll, yes?
First, let me lay down the groundwork and throw a curve or two just so it doesn’t become a ‘Coke vs. Pepsi’ type of endeavour. I have selected four pitchers — three of them have had seasons with 30+ saves, two of them have been All-Star selections. Two are currently their team’s closer, while two of them toil in the later, non-ninth innings. Who, in your mind, should close? Who, by virtue of their stats, makes you think, ‘yes, this guy can shut things down in the ninth inning’?
On to the stats!
Here, we look at each player’s outcome relevant stats — while they each do things differently in terms of their pitch types and velocities, we can get a good view of where things end up once they release their pitches. Players 1 and 4 strike out a ton of folks. Players 2 and 4 seem a bit unlucky judged by their 2013 BABIP’s. Player 2 gets a LOT of groundballs (GB/FB), but also a lot of home runs (HR/FB%), and Player 4 seems to give up a big, run scoring hit more frequently than he would like, judged by his left on base percentage (LOB%). OK, that’s a nice start, let’s look at some more numbers:
I will reveal ERAs once I get some poll results as they can possibly reveal who each player is (and what’s the fun in that?), so for now, let’s look at their fielding independent pitching (FIP and xFIP) numbers; xFIP is expected fielding independent pitching, which you can read more about here, if you so desire. In general, pitchers whose FIP is less than their xFIP are outperforming what was expected of them, with the converse being true with their xFIP being less than their FIP. Cool. So Players 1 and 3 are doing better than what FIP expects them to, while 2 and 4 are underperforming. We can take that knowledge and compare it to ERA (once revealed) to look at how much of an effect the pitcher (or defense) has on their performances — typically, if FIP and xFIP are less than ERA, you tend to believe that the defense behind a guy is hurting him a tad. If ERA is lower than both FIP and xFIP, it leads you to possibly think that a pitcher is outperforming his stats, and that the defense behind him has bailed him out a few times. Still with me? Thanks! A couple more tables:
Here we are looking at how well each pitcher is pitching, with respect to the batters results — are they throwing strikes? Are they good strikes? Do they have a great pitch that generates swings and misses? — and overall, we see Player 1 and 4 are getting swings and misses (SwStr%), typically a hallmark of a good pitch (or pitches). All four players throw pitches in the strike zone less than 50% of the time (Zone%). By the looks of it, Players 2 and 3 generate a lot of contact (Contact%), while 3 and 4 get batters to swing quite a bit (Swing%). When you look at these data compared to the first table, we see a trend — players 1 and 4 have a good bit in common as far as their approaches, while Players 2 and 3 seem to be a comparable pair. Overall, the 1/4 combo have more swing and miss stuff, while the 2/3 combo look to get more hitters out by inducing contact and letting their defense help them out.
…and last, the shutdown (SD)/meltdown (MD) table. I will leave you to your own devices to read up on what each means (which you can find here); for those click averse, here is the Fangraphs breakdown of the stat:
So, fellow budding managers, who closes? If you had a choice of one of these players, who would it be for the Nats?
Please note, not all of these players are currently on the Nats, but were chosen for their similarities in terms of bullpen role, success, and fan perception of their success in their given roles.
Once I get a few results, I will update the post.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs