7 Miserable Starting Pitchers Who Would Make Great Closers
Several teams this season have had their fair share of issues with their pitching, whether it be the starters or the relievers.
There are plenty of starting pitchers who have had miserable seasons through the first two months. They have had issues with either keeping runners off the bases, keeping the ball in the park, going deep into games or all of the above.
Some of them need a change of scenery, and others might just need to take on new roles with their current teams. These new roles could mean moving out of the rotation and into the bullpen; possibly even into the closer role.
Here are seven starting pitchers who have struggled this year who would make interesting and potentially great closers.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
2012 Statistics: 0-5 (9 Games), 8.31 ERA, 30.1 IP, 25 K
Francisco Liriano might be one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball and has struggled throughout his career. After going 12-3 in 2006, his second season with the Minnesota Twins, he missed all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He hasn't been close to good since recovering, going 5-13 in 29 games in 2009, 14-10 in 31 games in 2010 and 9-10 in 26 games last season.
This season was the breaking point between Liriano and the Twins after he again started on the wrong foot. He took home losses in five of his first six starts and was removed from the starting rotation. In those six starts he allowed five runs in four of them and four runs in the remaining two.
It seems to be the first through third innings that have given the left-hander the most trouble this season, allowing 21 of his 28 earned runs during those innings. Even though he's pitched in only three-and-two-thirds innings over the seventh through ninth innings, opponents are hitting .167 off of him then.
In his career when the game is late and close, batters are hitting only .197 against him, making him what could be a suitable closer. The Twins are terrible in general, and it's neither Liriano nor current closer Matt Capps' fault. A switch could come in the future if the Twins decide to ship Capps to a contender later in the season.
Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
2012 Statistics: 3-5 (8 Games), 5.23 ERA, 41.1 IP, 39 K
Here's an interesting case. The New York Yankees use Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher throughout his entire ride in the minor leagues. They use him as a starter in his first two seasons but misses extended periods of time with injuries. In 2009, they decide to use him as a reliever, appearing in 51 games.
Then the next year, a starter again. Then last season they again start him but he gets hurt and misses most of the season. This year they've given him one more shot at being a starting pitcher but has gotten hit hard through eight starts.
The Yankees have issues in their bullpen with regular closer Mariano Rivera out for the year and fill-in closer David Robertson in the disabled list. New York isn't too deep in its starting rotation but it could be useful to have Hughes pitching toward the end of games again.
Despite having less time as a reliever, his numbers are far better than those when he was starting. Looking at his clutch statistics over the course of his career, he's best late in the game when it's close. If the bullpen continues to get hurt and struggle, it might be a smart move to make Hughes the Yankees' closer.
Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox
2012 Statistics: 3-5 (8 Games), 4.85 ERA, 42.2 IP, 26 K
So technically Daniel Bard isn't miserable, but his transition from reliever to starter is still a work in progress. Bard had been a reliever his entire professional career until this season, taking the setup role over the last few seasons. He's never had a good record record over the last three seasons, but his ERA has been relatively low, and his strikeout rate has been high.
This season, he's had his fair share of good and bad starts and is still far from a lock to finish the regular season in the starting rotation. One of the more concerning aspects of his starts is that his strikeouts are way down, and his walks are rising.
In 2009, his K/BB rate was 2.86. It was 2.53 in 2010 and 3.08 in 2011. This year, it's 1.04. Why this is happening I have no idea, but it could be argued that if he could get that number higher, he would have better outings.
The Boston bullpen had its issues early in the season but has been great as of late. Boston could've moved Bard back to the 'pen at the time but decided to stick with him instead. If troubles start to arise again, and if there is someone to take his spot in the rotation, Bard could make a great closer.
Chris Volstad, Chicago Cubs
2012 Statistics: 0-6 (8 Games), 7.46 ERA, 41.0 IP, 24 K
This Chicago Cubs hurler has had a very tough season. After four up-and-down seasons with the Florida Marlins, they dealt him to Chicago for the hostile Carlos Zambrano. Since, Volstad has become a nightmare on the mound.
In eight starts this season, he has taken the loss in six of them, which is tied for the league lead. His season ERA is more than two runs higher than his career ERA, and he currently has a higher WHIP than in any of his other seasons.
Just a few days ago, the Cubs took action with Volstad, sending him down to Triple-A Iowa to work on his game. He's struggled in every inning that he's pitched this season except the third and fifth, and has not gone past the sixth. The Cubs clearly don't think he's going to work out in the starting rotation, so why not try him in the bullpen?
They''ve certainly had their issues with Carlos Marmol as their closer and have recently been using Rafael Dolis and James Russell in the ninth inning. Volstad still has good pitches that should be able to keep batters off balance late in the game.
Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds
2012 Statistics: 0-5 (7 Games), 6.21 ERA, 37.2 IP, 21 K
This young Cincinnati Red had solid success in his first two seasons in the big leagues, going 20-13 in just under 50 starts. He did yield high home run totals in those years but had improving K/BB ratios in each of the years.
2012 has been a completely different story for Mike Leake. He's lost five of his seven starts and has a 6.21 ERA, allowing 26 runs in under 40 innings. He also already has a higher WHIP, H/9 and HR/9 than either of the previous two seasons. Not to mention that his K/BB ratio is at a career-low.
The Reds aren't in dire need to make a move in the rotation, but it could turn out to be a very exciting one. Wouldn't we all love to see the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman in the starting rotation instead of in the bullpen? The answer is yes.
Here's what the Reds should do. Take Chapman and throw him into the rotation, gradually increasing his pitch totals and innings. While doing so, take the struggling Leake and put him into the closer role. It could take some pressure off of him and give him a role that he has new life in. It could potentially change his career sooner rather than later, when it could be too late.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Statistics: 2-5 (8 Games), 5.77 ERA, 43.2 IP, 40 K
Adam Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, finishing in the top three of the NL Cy Young voting in each of them. Then there was last season, when he was sidelined the entire year after having Tommy John surgery.
I'm not completely sure how well the St. Louis Cardinals expected Wainwright to bounce back, but he's certainly not pitching well this season. He's allowed at least four runs in four of his eight starts this year and has yet to have a scoreless outing.
Now, Wainwright was a reliever for the Cardinals back in 2006 when he appeared in 61 games and had a 3.12 ERA in 75 innings. The rest of the St. Louis rotation has been at least average, but Wainwright is clearly bringing them down.
The defending champions do have a reliable closer in Jason Motte, but that doesn't mean Wainwright wouldn't make a good closer if the opportunity was presented to him. His durability may be dropping, and it might be easier on his arm if he didn't have to throw as many innings as he's required to as a starter.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2012 Statistics: 2-4 (9 Games), 6.04 ERA, 47.2 IP, 53 K
Just as a disclaimer for this slide: I am not suggesting that the San Francisco Giants move Tim Lincecum out of the starting rotation, so don't think I'm crazy yet.
We all know that Lincecum is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but for some reason it just isn't working out this year. In past seasons he's won at least 13 games and posted primarily sub-3.00 ERAs. In nine starts this year, his ERA is 6.04, and he has only two wins.
Some other things to look at are his walks and strikeouts. He's struck out at least 220 batters in each of the last four seasons and should reach that mark this year as well, if he starts enough games. The weird thing is that he's been walking many more batters this season. His career-high BB/9 was 4.0, and that was in his rookie season. This year it's nearly a walk higher per nine innings.
Lincecum has some filthy pitches that could be well-utilized late in the game. He's only pitched a combined 45.2 innings in the eighth and ninth innings over his career but should still be able to handle the late-game pressure. Brian Wilson is out for the year, and you never know what could happen.