The Texas Rangers’ bullpen was the catalyst in a very disappointing 2017 season. The Rangers aren’t expected to pay retail for a free agent closer. There are some internal candidates to become the Rangers’ closer in 2018, but which candidate would be the most successful?
It’s no secret the Texas Rangers were abysmal at closing out games in 2017. If they would have been just league average, they would have finished four games better and finished 82-80. Minnesota, the second wildcard team, was 85-77. If the Rangers had a bit more luck and were a bit more healthy, the playoffs would have been very realistic.
Having a good closer has become more crucial in today’s MLB, which is why free agent closers are demanding so high of a price on the market. The Rangers need to sure up the rotation, the bullpen, and the outfield, so paying such a high price for a closer doesn’t seem likely.
The Rangers ended the Sam Dyson regime at closer after Dyson had blown all four save opportunities and had a horrid 10.80 ERA in 17 appearances. Matt Bush took over the role and did better, but was wildly inconsistent. He converted 10 out of 15 save opportunities. Manager Jeff Banister thought Bush better suited the 8th inning, so in turn, he filled the closer role by committee. Alex Claudio had the most success but still wasn’t that much more of an improvement over Bush, converting 11 out of 15 opportunities.
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So, with no clear front-runner internally, how can we see who best suits the closer role? There are three stats we are going to look at, in order of importance, to help sort out who might be the best option: WHIP, strikeouts-per-nine, and ERA.
The lower the WHIP (Walks+Hits per Inning Pitched), the lower the number of baserunners they surrender. It goes without saying that if there aren’t baserunners on, it helps with the pressure of closing a game out. It also lowers the potential for runners scoring.
Then taking strikeouts-per-nine into account, this shows how much the pitcher avoids contact. Lesser contact means lesser chances for batters to reach on an error, move runners up, or convert sacrifice-flies.
Ultimately, ERA is an important stat. A pitcher can have a low WHIP and high K/9, but high ERA. That usually means they allow a lot of home runs. What we’re looking for here is a pitcher who has the potential to be good in all three categories.
Let’s take a look at Bush’s and Claudio’s numbers from last season, along with Keone Kela‘s numbers, who has also been rumored as being a candidate to close:
Out of these three, Kela fits the mold of what we’re looking at above. His WHIP is under 1.00, which is phenomenal. His strikeouts-per-nine is in the double-digits, which is also fantastic. Kela’s ERA was under 3.00, which is another plus.
Kela and Bush have the “stuff” that typical closers have. They have a fastball in the upper-90’s with a good breaking ball as a compliment. Claudio is not a stereotypical closer. His fastball doesn’t exceed 90 mph, but his pitches have great movement. He has also shown better command than Kela and Bush.
One thing to consider if Claudio becomes the closer is if he can sustain success. Closers that don’t have great “stuff” tend to not last. While he was the most successful closer last season, that doesn’t mean he should be handed the job. He didn’t run away with the job in 2017. He also didn’t have much competition from a bullpen that was not good.
Bush showed huge differences between how he was in the games he closed versus the games he appeared in non-save opportunities. He may not have the ability to handle the pressure of closing. He has the stuff to do it, but some guys just can’t get everything to click.
Kela needs to get a serious look at Spring Training for the closer’s spot. He has performed up to standards, but health has been his biggest issue. If Kela is healthy in 2018, he has a good chance to not just win the job, but be successful at it.
The Texas Rangers have viewed Kela as potentially being the closer when he was first brought up in 2015. After the experience he has gained in the bullpen from 2015-2017, the closer’s spot may be where Kela ends up in 2018.