2010 Marlin Maniac Preview: Closer
By Michael Jong
Now that the starting staff has been discussed, we move to the other side of the pitching spectrum and cover the guys who fill in the end of the games for the Marlins, the setup men and closer. A lot of importance is placed upon the back of the closer, but it’s not always as difficult as the name implies. Let’s talk about who will be handling the 8th and 9th innings for the Marlins this year.
Closer: Leo Nunez
Setup: Dan Meyer
Setup: Mike MacDougal
I’m convinced that these roles are essentially set barring an absolutely abysmal Spring Training by any player. MacDougal is not guaranteed his spot, but given his status as a 20+ save player last season, I would count on him making the team before other retreads like Derrick Turnbow, Jose Veras, and Seth McClung.
Nunez steps into this season as the heavy favorite for the full-time closer position, but it doesn’t mean he does not come with question marks. Nunez allowed 13 home runs in almost 69 innings and 288 non-IBB batters faced, a huge rate for any pitcher and especially for one given high-leverage innings. His strikeout and walk rates were solid, much better than his 2008 season with the Kansas City Royals, but he still walked a few too many hitters for the type of guy who strikes out around 21% of his batters faced out of the pen. Presumably, the team would want either more K’s (to limit the effect of added baserunners) or less walks (to limit baserunners) from Nunez; if I had money on it, I’d bet on regression of Nunez’ control rather than increased strikeouts.
As for the homers, that may be a specific problem for Nunez. Before 2008, he had allowed 11.9% of fly balls to leave the park, meaning he had his home run tendencies to start. Sure, last season’s 15.1% mark is way high, but if you cut three homers off of that, you get his career marks before his fluky 2008 year when he allowed only two home runs in 48 innings. Applying his career HR/FB% of 10.9% gives you nine homers allowed in 60 innings, to go along with a CHONE-projected 20.1% K% and 8.1% UIBB%. All of that yields a 4.46 FIP in those 60 innings, giving you this modest projection:
Projection: About 60 IP, 0 WAR
All that analysis for nothing. Yes, I believe Nunez could very well be a replacement level pitcher or worse, and the Fans tend to agree, pegging him for 0 WAR as well.
I discussed MacDougal in a bit of length before, but it bears repeating: in his last three big league seasons, he has barely kept his strikeouts and walks even, but he does hold the major tool of keeping the ball on the ground. That may very well be good enough to replace Nunez if he were to struggle. MacDougal is no long-term option at the back end of the pen, but neither is Dan Meyer, one of the scrap heap successes the Marlins picked up last offseason. Meyer can handle lefties quite nicely but is close to a replacement level reliever versus righties. He also has a bad habit of allowing fly balls, though he has somehow kept them in the park at a decent enough rate (career HR/FB% of 8.9%).
Of the Marlins’ remaining pen options, many of them are retreads who are very likely to bust and be released. With Kiko Calero officially signed with the New York Mets, that ship has sailed, though it was no guarantee to be a good ship anyway. Essentially, the club is throwing caution to the wind with the bullpen, which is by no means a bad move. The team has a couple of strong relief arms in the minors it could eventually turn to, and signing a “proven closer” or other reliever in free agency almost always leads to trouble, so the Marlins’ approach may be correct. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent runs, and the team’s bullpen and defense have somehow done that decently. A couple of guys who allowed more ground balls would be nice, but the 2010 Fish will have to do with what they already have.