5 Replacements for J.J. Putz the Diamondbacks Need to Consider ASAP at Closer
2012 has been a terrible year for NL West closers.
San Francisco's Brian Wilson sputtered before succumbing to season-ending Tommy John surgery in April and Javy Guerra of the Dodgers was removed from the closer's role after blowing consecutive games to go along with a 1-3, 5.84 ERA record.
Now, the virus of the catastrophic closer has reached the desert and the arm of Diamondbacks sandman J.J. Putz. The 6'5" righty has already blown 2-of-9 saves, earning two losses and a 7.50 ERA before loading the bases Thursday and escaping from Colorado thanks to a perfectly-timed double play that broadcaster Darron Sutton described as "winning ugly."
Nonetheless, with Putz clearly stuggling with his command, it is time for Arizona to take a page from the division-leading Dodgers and replace their capricious closer with a promising internal candidate.
The Youngster: Bryan Shaw
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Youngster Bryan Shaw is already 2-for-2 in saves this season, though he has earned two losses while appearing in 16 non-save situations. The win-loss record is anything but an end-all statistic, but there is something symbolic in regards to the striking contrast between Shaw's save opportunity performance vs. his standard performance in relief.
In save situations, Shaw has pitched 2.1 innings, allowing one hit and holding his opponents to a combined 0.63 WHIP. With a save-related opposing batting average below the Mendoza line versus a 2012 OBA of .214, Shaw has clearly communicated his ability to come in and save the day.
With former NL saves leader Jeff Shaw having been out of the game for 11 years—he led the NL in 1997 with 42 saves—perhaps it is time for another Shaw to rise to prominence as a premiere closer in the senior circuit.
Enter Bryan Shaw.
The Veteran: Brad Ziegler
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Here is an interesting note about Brad Ziegler: Ziegler's 2012 ERA of 1.06 is identical to the 1.06 ERA he recorded during his rookie season with Oakland in 2008, a rookie season that saw Ziegler save 11 games in 13 opportunities for the Athletics. With an opposing batting average eight points lower than his 2008 figure of .236, Ziegler just may be back to rookie form.
Ziegler has tremendous experience working out of the pen and closing is no exception. In his career as a professional ballplayer, Ziegler has saved 29-of-44 games—which is not the best of records, but with J.J. Putz continuing to give opposing teams great cause for ninth inning optimism, perhaps it is time to consider the veteran for the pressure-filled role.
The Surprise Rookie: Patrick Corbin
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Many of baseball's best all-time closers started off as, well, starters, before finding their way to the back-end of the bullpen.
Take the case of Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne, who saved an MLB-high 55 games in 2003, earning a league-high 6.6 WPA to finish the season. Gagne began his professional career with minor league baseball in 1996, starting 21 games for Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats, a minor league affiliate of the Dodgers. By the time Gagne reached the major leagues, he had started 72 games, ultimately sputtering as a starter by his second full season on the big league squad.
In Gagne's first season as a closer, he turned his numbers around dramatically—a 4.75 ERA in 2001, his final season as a starter, became 1.97 in 2002, his first season as a closer. Instead of a 1.25 WHIP, Gagne piched to the tune of 0.862, followed by a 0.692 WHIP in 2003. He cut his HR-to-nine innings ratio in half, increased his strikeouts-to-walk ratio from 2.83 to 7.13 and turned a 0.1 WAR into a 2.9 WAR.
Simply put, some young starters are not meant to be starters—with Putz on the ropes, the D-Backs should consider throwing Patrick Corbin into the role.
The Poetic Justice: Craig Breslow
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2011 Oakland Athletics starter Trevor Cahill and 2011 Athletics reliever Craig Breslow combine to open and shut the door for Arizona against Oakland when the A's come to town in early June.
With a 1.37 ERA this season and a WHIP under one for the first time in his MLB career—including his 2005 and '06 years with San Diego and Boston—Breslow may finally be coming into elite form, thanks to a relocation to the desert and a far cry from his cool hometown of New Haven and collegiate experience at Yale.
As long as former D-Backs prospect Jarrod Parker doesn't turn up to spoil the fun, poetic justice candidate Breslow might just be the closer Arizona is looking for.
The Proven Choice: David Hernandez
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So what if reliever David Hernandez has blown all three save opportunities he's been given in 2012?
With an opposing batting average of .206 and 24 strikeouts over 18 innings pitched this year, Hernandez has pitched well, on the average, and not withstanding those glaring three blown saves. Nonetheless, with Putz as the primary closer, Hernandez has largely been relegated to the eighth inning's set-up role.
Hernandez has been Arizona's choice before—in 2011, Hernandez saved 11 games for the Snakes, mostly in July and August, pitching well enough to earn the description of "dominant." Therefore, if Putz is removed from the closer's spot, Hernandez would be the natural choice for replacement, with the remainder of the D-Backs bullpen shifting into place accordingly.