I’ve been getting some questions on a few closer battles as pitchers and catchers are beginning to report to spring training. So, the first team I want to look at is the Baltimore Orioles. A recent article from MLB.com stated that they fully expect Hunter to be the Orioles closer. Of course, this comes after the organization stated multiple times this fall that they would look outside to acquire a closer. This sentiment seemed to change after failing to sign Grant Balfour as their closer.
At Bat: Tommy Hunter
At 6′3″ and 248 lbs, Hunter not only has the bulldog attitude you like in a closer, he also looks the part. The hard-throwing righty is capable of hitting triple digits with a fastball that has subtle arch to it. Since Hunter is a converted starter, he is capable of sprinkling in some off-speed stuff to keep batters honest though he lacks the slider that many late-inning relievers possess. Instead, he mostly teams his fastball with a cutter, but his bread and butter is his heater. The good news is that Hunter eats up righties and gave up no homers to them last season. Hunter’s main problem is that lefties see his pitches very well and dominate him. Also, even though he has a good fastball, his career-best 7.1 K/9 in 2013 is lackluster amongst other closers. He might be the first option, but I wouldn’t invest too much.
On Deck: Darren O’Day
Like Hunter, O’Day looks the part at 6′4″ and 220 lbs but doesn’t throw nearly as hard, being a trick pitcher. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that submariners or sidearmers are usually best used as situational relievers rather than everyday closers. The reason they are so valuable is that they provide change of pace situations, while prolonged use allows MLB hitters to catch up with the funk. O’Day pitched 62 innings and faced 247 batters compared to Hunter’s 86 innings and 336 batters, and though O’Day’s 8.6 K/9 was better than Hunter’s, it was his worst in three years. This isn’t an endorsement of Hunter but rather a reality to check to O’Day believers as to how he’s been used.
In The Hole: Ryan Webb
With former Orioles closer Jim Johnson now slated to close for the A’s, the pitcher most comparable to Johnson is also the new kid on the block, Ryan Webb. Webb has an identical 6′6″, 240-pound athletic frame to Johnson and has an almost mirror fastball velocity as well as groundball rate based on their propensity to throw sinkers, which plays very well in Camden Yards. Webb is two years younger than Johnson, and at the same time in their careers, Webb has been the better pitcher with a better K/9 rate. Webb also doesn’t have the extreme split against lefties and righties that Hunter has faced. One caveat is the the Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair is no longer with the team and has been replaced Dave Wallace, which could impact Baltimore arms. Like Johnson, if Webb gets the job he won’t be an elite closer due to lack of strikeouts, but he could get a lot of saves as Johnson has led the majors the last two years. Taking a flyer could payoff big time here.
In the Rotation: Bud Norris
Starter Bud Norris cannot stay healthy despite having a power arm. He has had major difficulties with his back and elbow, which has cost him many starts over the past few seasons. Morris has been a roller coaster in the rotation. When he’s on, he has a dynamite arm that would play anywhere on a pitching staff. At 6′0″, 220 lbs and age 28, if Norris continues to have problems being consistent and staying healthy, you have to think he’ll be tried in the pen somewhere to limit his wear and tear and continue to take advantage of his arm.
On the Mend: Dylan Bundy
To be honest, when healthy Dylan Bundy was one of the best arms I’ve ever seen and it was disappointing his career was postponed by Tommy John surgery. As Bundy is recovering from injury and stretching out to start in future seasons, it is not without precedent for an ailing ace to close, and close well, prior to returning to the rotation like John Smoltz and Adam Wainwright. Unlike those guys, Bundy is not a big guy at 6′1″ and 195 lbs, and this would be a definite gamble.
From The Sun: Suk-min Yoon
With the signing of Korea’s Suk-min Yoon, the Orioles are getting a 27-year-old righty with a low-90s fastball, biting slider, and a decent change-up. Before the Yoon signing, the Orioles rotation likely included a combination of Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Norris, Charles Tillman, Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman, but he may force one of these guys to the pen or Gausman to the minors. At 6′0″ and 190 lbs, Yoon isn’t the biggest guy and hasn’t experienced a full MLB season, something countryman Ryu suffered from late last season, so him starting is still up in the air. It is almost impossible to reference this signing without mentioning Koji Uehara, another Baltimore signing out of Asia that the Orioles wish they still had. In 2009, Uehara was signed by the Orioles and started 12 games with less than desired results. He was then moved to the pen and is now the closer of the World Champion Red Sox. It is still questionable where Yoon will pitch, but like Uehara, he could be a candidate to close.
Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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