I weighed in yesterday on the recent struggles of the greatest Closer of all time, which I think have been greatly overblown. I’ve read various articles arguing that the cutter isn’t as sharp, but Fangraphs begs to differ. What those charts show me is that he’s made some bad mistakes on location, which we all knew already. In my view the annual decline in numbers against Lefties is more likely due to adjustments made by opposing hitters, since everyone knows what’s coming. Avoiding mistakes and mixing in a few more 4 seamers may be all Mo needs to keep opposing hitters off balance.
(Side note-For a terrific read on what’s its like being in the batter’s box facing Mo, check out Doug Glanville’s latest piece on ESPN.)
With all of that being said, the day will come when Mariano will no longer be effective. Its difficult for Yankee fans to imagine, because he’s been such a fixture for the past 16 seasons. As good as he’s been in the post season, what truly separates Mariano from other Closers has been his longevity. Many have been as dominant for a while, but no one else has had his longevity. Most Closers, even the great ones, have a much shorter run at the top of their game. Dennis Eckersley’s peak was from 1988-1992 (though he was a starter until age 32). Bruce Sutter’s peak was from 1977-1984, with an off year in 1983 mixed in. The best years for Goose Gossage were between 1977-1985. Mariano been one of the best relievers in baseball since 1996, a run that spans three decades. He hasn’t had one of those down years like Sutter, or lost his stuff in his late 30′s like Goose and Eck did. He’s been automatic, year in and year out except for the occasional bad week here and there. He’s lulled us to sleep with how good he’s been, but the day will come when he loses it. It may happen slowly, it may seemingly happen overnight. When it does, who will take his place?
The easy answer is no one will ever take Mo’s place, but someone’s going to get the ball handed to him for the 9th inning. On the current 40 man roster we have a bevy of candidates, I’ll go through each of them individually:
Rafael Soriano-The obvious successor. He has experience closing, is getting acclimated to pitching in the Bronx and is enjoying success. The downside is he’s been on the DL a lot, so you’ll need a reliable setup man behind him.
David Robertson-Has all the tools to be a wonderful setup man, but could be exposed as a closer. Walks too many batters (career 4.8/9) and has a tendency to make his own mess at times. Also has Houdini qualities, with his off the charts strikeout rates (2011-13.7 SO/9) and solid groundball rates for someone who misses as many bats as he does. He’s be a high wire act, get out the Maalox.
Joba Chamberlain-Coming off TJS he’s not even in the discussion until the middle of next year, but we all saw what Joba is capable of back in 07. Has a long way to go and a lot to prove before he’s closing for a contender. If he comes back and is throwing in the high 90s, he’ll be in the mix.
Phil Hughes-A dark horse candidate who’s much more valuable as a starter, but after his stellar bullpen work in 2009 he has to be in the discussion. I have no doubt he could handle it, but would be a waste of his talent unless there was an excess in the rotation and a dire need.
Dellin Betances-Many scouts and prospects analysts have long felt his best role in the big leagues is in the bullpen due to his injury history and mechanical issues. His plus size and plus fastball make him very tough to hit when he’s on, but his tendency to lose his mechanics mean the wheels can come off in a hurry. Better as a setup man than Closer.
I want to ask our readers, who do you envision as the next Yankee closer?
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