The Closer: Analyzing the Cardinals' Five Best Ninth Inning Options
With all the drama this spring over who will be starting and who is healthy, and all the other mumbo-jumbo going on with the starting rotation, it seems I had forgotten all about the real question: Who's gonna close?
"The process now," said Tony La Russa, "is to give guys appearances, make evaluations, and then sort it out at some point at the end." TLR has told the media he has narrowed his options down to five. That sounds like a lot, but a few months ago there were about a million. I'll break down his options one by one.
1. Ryan Franklin
As an interim closer filling in for an "injured" Izzy last year (I still think that after a few too many blown saves Dunc and Tony roughed him up in the locker room and then put him on the DL), Franklin was far from perfection. But to be given the benefit of the doubt, he was caught off guard. He was thrown into the role after Izzy's "injury" (see: ineffectiveness).
It's a tougher transition from the eighth inning to the ninth. The pressure is much greater. If you blow a lead in the eighth, your team still has an opportunity to bat. In the ninth, you have no margin for error. If he would have had the whole spring to prepare himself for the position, he may have been more successful.
2. Jason Motte
Motte is who I would consider as my leading candidate, mainly because I haven't seen enough of him yet for him to have shaken my confidence. I have seen all of the other candidates struggle at times, and that worries me.
Motte has a blazing fastball and has been developing more offspeed stuff to compliment that heater this spring. Also, La Russa has put him in for the ninth in his last two appearances, which shows he has some faith in the kid.
3. Josh Kinney
After the Cardinals' amazing postseason run in 2006, in which Kinney played a major role out of the pen, going 1-0 without allowing a run in seven games, Kinney discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery during spring training of the following year. He missed all of 2007 recovering, as well as 90 percent of 2008. After being out so long, there is a fear that he will not come back as good as he was when he left.
One reinforcing piece of statistical information is how well Kinney pitched upon his return late last season, throwing seven scoreless innings while striking out eight and walking only one. But as I stated previously, the transition from the late innings to the ninth is a big one. I don't know if Kinney has the stuff to be able to shut down the big bats when their backs are to the wall.
4. Chris Perez
No doubt about it, Chris Perez has the stuff to be able to shut down hitters in the ninth. But does he have the mental readiness? And can he pitch consistently?
Perez received a few chances to close out games for the Cards last season after Izzy and Franklin flopped and John Mozeliak was just about to call me to close. Sometimes he was lights out, but other times he got lit up so bright, you'd think you were on the face of the sun. All said and done, he saved seven out of 11 chances. Not really closer material in my book.
Oh, by the way, that acronym stands for Closer By Committee. The only thing negative I can see about a closer by committee arrangement is that no one pitcher can ever get in a groove. What if Franklin is slamming the door every time out while the other three are throwing the door wide open? Do you give the job full time to Franklin? Will the others get angry? Too many questions up in the air.
These are questions that need to be dealt with during spring training, where the only thing that matters is answering these questions. You don't want to create problems for yourself during the regular season.
These are the five decisions that TLR and Dunc have to weigh on. Whichever decision they make, the Cards will certainly have an interesting year in the ninth.
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