It wasn't long ago that the Chicago Cubs locked up their long-term closer solution to a lucrative three-year deal in Carlos Marmol.
As is the case for every other long-term closer not named Mariano, it didn't seem to last very long.
For now, Rafael Dolis is getting the ball in save opportunities that are scattered few and far between.
Is he the reincarnation of Lee Smith walking through the door? Probably not. That's a lot to live up to. But as long as it isn't Joe Borowski, the Cubs have reason to believe he's prepared to be the next "guy".
Dolis is just 4-of-6 in save chances this season with a 3.75 ERA. The cause for concern is his 11:9 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Walks were the problem with the previous "guy".
But grasping a larger sample size than 4 innings, Dolis averages 1.54 strikeouts-per-walk in five years in the minors.
While Marmol relied heavily on a big slider to strike out batters, Dolis brings a different approach to the mound that makes him a safer alternative to Marmol.
Marmol often found himself walking himself into jams, and the only escape route he had was a strikeout.
Dolis features a heavy sinker as his go-to pitch. As a result, he gets himself out of jams by forcing double play balls. Instead of the heavy stress of striking out the side, he relies on his defense to do its job.
Dolis is third in MLB in double plays forced by a reliever with five. This strategy fares well for the long term. He's throwing less pitches, and he gives himself a better opportunity of getting out of jams.
Of the top-10 strikeout leaders among relievers in 2010, only one (Joel Hanrahan) is currently a closer. Marmol, the leader, was recently relieved of his duties. Brian Wilson blew out his arm. Tyler Clippard blew seven saves that season. Sean Marshall and Heath Bell were each removed recently as well.
Strikeouts are sexy, but they aren't always the most effective way of getting a batter out.
Dolis has plenty to improve on. At 24, he is in his first season at the big league level. Just because the Cubs are in last place doesn't make the ninth inning any easier in a save situation. In fact, it may make it tougher. With wins coming few-and-far between, Dolis has even more pressure to save those precious few opportunities.
That kind of experience this year will pay dividends down the road.
He recorded 17 saves last year in Iowa, so he isn't in unfamiliar territory. However, adjusting to men being paid millions to hit a baseball will be tougher than those riding the bus to and from games.
That's what this season is for though. And with a little development, Dolis will be the "guy" who keeps the Borowski's of the world someone else's problem to watch.
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