This Week’s Topic: Which signing was more important? Braden Looper or Trevor Hoffman?
While the Hoffman signing was more sexy because…well…it's Trevor Hoffman, I think the signing of Braden Looper is more significant and important.
While it’s important to have a solid closer, I subscribe to the Billy Beane train of thought when it comes to closers—basically that you can take any solid reliever and make them into solid closer.
I also agree with Ken Macha’s thought that the most important inning in a ball game can come at any time. Most people think of the ninth inning as the most important inning of a game, but depending on the situations, the most important, or deciding, inning of a game could very well be in the sixth or seventh inning.
You’re not going to see your closer in those situations.
Sure, Braden Looper isn’t a sexy signing. He’s not a type A free agent. But he adds very important depth to the Brewers biggest question mark going into the ‘09 season: starting pitching.
Looper will eat innings while maintaining a very respectable ERA of around 4.30. I’ll repeat the stat that Jared found the other day. Only 28 MLB starters threw more innings (199) and had a better ERA (4.16) than Looper last year.
Braden Looper is not another Jeff Suppan as a lot of (obviously casual) Brewer fans have been stating. Melvin signed Looper for less than $5 million for one year with a mutual option for a second year. Suppan was given a hefty long-term deal. Besides, Looper is a better pitcher. Period. Good, safe sign by Melvin.
I guess we won’t really know which was the more important signing until the end of the year, but my guess is Hoffman.
While the stats might suggest it’s Looper because he’ll pitch a lot more innings and therefore can have a bigger impact, I think solidifying your ninth inning man creates an important domino effect to straighten out the rest of the bullpen.
Last year’s early season bullpen struggles are a good example.
After Gagne struggled, no relief pitchers had a defined role and it was a battle every game to pick up the innings after the starter exited. Torres brought some relief to that situation, but my hopes for Hoffman are greater than what Torres delivered last year.
If Hoffman can come in and lock down most of his save opportunities, he’ll also instill a lot of confidence in the team. With a young team that’s prone to streaks, that’s especially important. So, I’ll go with Hoffman. In the end though, I hope they’re both key figures in the Brewers return to the playoffs.
Both signings were great, especially when you realize that we signed both of these fine pitchers for a little more than we payed Gagne for, but I’m going to tell you why the Looper signing was more important.
For years, we’ve had a closer at the start of the year and many times that closer has faltered. However, there has been someone else to pick up that important role and pick it up admirably.
In 2003, struggling closer Mike Dejean was traded to the Cardinals. Dan Kolb came in and was dominant the rest of 2003 and for most of 2004. In 2005, Kolb was traded to Atlanta for Cappellan and the Brewers again didn’t have a closer.
The Brewers tried a couple different people, I believe they started with Mike Adams, but eventually found Derrick Turnbow to fill the closer void. In 2006, Turnbow started the year off hot, but by mid-year couldn’t find the strike zone.
The Brewers had to trade Carlos Lee by the deadline, so they added disgraced closer Francisco Cordero to the deal. CoCo came in and dominated in 2006 and 2007. CoCo was then offered a large contract, but chose to take the ever-so-slightly larger deal in Cincinatti.
The Brewers started 2008 with Eric Gagne, but once he was hurt, Salomon Torres stepped up into the closers role and didn’t look back. As you can see, there’s someone who can step up or step into the closer’s role so even if Hoffman struggles, the Brewers already have backups in Jorge Julio and perhaps Carlos Villanueva.
I’m not saying having a good closer is worthless, the opposite in fact, I am saying that your closer is the one reliever on the team who steps up and keeps his head in the game.
Looper, who could close, by the way, gives the Brewers some stability and room to move in the starting rotation. As much as I like McClung, I do not believe he is able to be a starter the entire year. He is a solid reliever and an above average injury replacement.
Now, if there is an injury, the Brewers don’t have to go to Villa (who is not a starter like we thought he would be, but he is an outstanding relief pitcher) or to the minors right away. Looper was also an underrated arm in the free agent market and the Brewers got a steal of a deal for him.
The rotation might not have CC and Sheets at the top anymore, but one has to admit that the rotation looks at least solid once again, all because of a couple young budding stars and one signing.