This is an updated version of a guest article I wrote for Fake Teams last week.
Last week, Joe Maddon was quoted as saying that he was far from having his mind made up about having Seth McClung act as the closer for Tampa Bay to start the season. Well, I’ts about time! Up until then, we’d been hearing that because he throws hard (or something like that) McClung was going to be given the closer’s role. Whoever had decided this apparently was overlooking one important fact…Seth McClung is a terrible pitcher. Last year he walked more batters than he stuck out (68 to 59)! That’s awful. And that was in 103 innings, so its not like he showed signs that he could be a superstar if he just improved his control. McClung hasn’t pitched well at any level above high A ball. Pitching in relief after the All-Star break last year, he wasn’t much better than as a starter in the first half of the season. While his K/9 rate went up substantially, so did his BB/9. You can’t success as a major league pitcher walking a batter every inning.
The amazing thing about how long they’d clung to the idea of using McClung as their starter is that Tampa Bay has a number of superior options.
I’ve talked about Chad Orvella before here. While he’s certainly a high risk choice, he’s got TONS of upside potential (unlike McClung who has very little chance of excelling in the majors despite the speed of his fastball), and the potential downside isn’t much worse than what McClung has done so far in his career.
A safer choice among young, unproven pitchers would be Juan Salas. I have to confess that I didn’t know much about him until recently, when somebody told me he might have a shot at the Tampa Bay closer job. I took a look at his stats, and I like what I saw: Combined 2006 stats at AA, AAA, and 10 major league innings were 93 strikeouts and 28 walks in 73.1 innings. If Salas wins the job, he should do a perfectly adequate job…far, far better than anything they could hope for out of Seth McClung.
An even better choice would be Al Reyes. He’s not young, but he’s been pretty good over the course of his major league career, with a K/9 rate close to 9 and better than a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. And it appears that he’s been getting better over the years as his K/9 and K/BB have been substantially better since 2002. The main question with Reyes is whether he will pitch effectively after missing all of 2006. So far in Spring Training, he looks ok with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk in 6 innings pitched.
Why they would consider handing the closer’s job to a marginal major leaguer like McClung over a proven pitcher like Reyes is beyond me. But given their questionable decision making so far, Tampa Bay fans should be afraid…very afraid. Because one of the alternatives that has been mentioned is to make Ruddy Lugo the closer…and he may be even worse than McClung based on last year’s 48K/37BB in 85IP performance.
One last contender for the role of closer on Tampa Bay has emerged in the past week. Brian Stokes is a 27 year old with unexceptional minor league stats. Maddon has announced that he’ll be moved to the bullpen and is in the mix for the closer job. At AAA last year he had 103K/49BB in 133.2 inning pitched. In 24 major league innings, he had 15K/9BB. The relatively low K/9 and K/BB in AAA (and his limited time in Tampa) suggest performance similar to what I’d expect from McClung or Lugo, but he does have one thing in his favor. He’ll be moving from a role as a starter to being a reliever, and many pitchers are significantly better as relievers.
So far, it seems that only McClung has likely pitched himself out of the role, and even that isn’t definite. If Orvella, Reyes, Salas, or Stokes can win the job, I think they have a reasonable chance of pitching well enough to keep it. If McClung or Lugo win the job, I’d expect them to struggle to hold onto it.