Roy Oswalt has the goods to go the way of John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley before him, by resurrecting his career as a closer.
...If he wants to. And that, naturally, is the iffy part.
According to Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog.com, the New York Mets have considered the idea of using Oswalt as their closer. Points for creativity, if nothing else, and goodness knows they could use a creative solution following a 2012 season that saw too many of their ninth innings turn into adventures.
However, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has heard that the Mets visited with Oswalt and made their pitch to no avail. He is apparently uninterested in becoming a closer.
It's something he should be interested in, though. Oswalt's body has been through some tough times, but he's still a little young to be retiring at the age of 35. Starting didn't pan out so well in 2012, so becoming a closer may be the only way he's going to significantly extend his career.
Oswalt would need his old velocity to cut it as a closer, which seems to be long lost. He used to throw in the mid-90s, but PITCHf/x shows that his average fastball velocity in 2012 as a member of the Texas Rangers was 91.5 miles per hour. That's right about where he was in 2011 as well.
However, Oswalt was able to put a little extra pepper on his fastball when he needed to in 2012, as PITCHf/x shows that he got his heater up to roughly 95 miles per hour. Conceivably, he may be able to maintain velocity like that to get three quick outs in the ninth.
Such velocity would certainly help Oswalt improve the effectiveness of his fastball, which was entirely ineffective in 2012. Opponents hit it at a .383 clip after hitting it at a mere .270 clip in 2011.
Improved fastball velocity would also create a larger velocity disparity between Oswalt's heater and changeup, which became his primary offspeed pitch in 2011 and 2012. His changeup, however, hasn't been fooling anyone, as opponents hit .363 off it in 2011 and .305 off it in 2012.
As a closer, Oswalt would be better off going with his curveball as his primary offspeed pitch. He's always had one of the league's better 12-to-6 curveballs—curveball master Bert Blyleven gave it his approval—and it was his most effective pitch in 2012. Opponents hit just .195 against Oswalt's hook.
If Oswalt were to make a 95-MPH fastball and a hammer curve his two primary weapons as a closer, he would resemble Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen. Per PITCHf/x, Wilhelmsen gets by with a fastball that averages about 96 miles per hour and a beautiful curve that Alexei Ramirez can vouch for.
It wouldn't have to be all fastballs and curveballs for Oswalt if he were to give the closer's role a spin. He could occasionally bust out one of his other pitches like his changeup or slider just to give hitters something else to think about.
This is something Smoltz took to doing when he was serving as Atlanta's closer from 2002 to 2004. He stuck mainly to his fastball and slider, but FanGraphs' records show that he took to using his split-finger fastball more and more in '03 and '04 as a second swing-and-miss pitch.
Fellow converted starter Eric Gagne did things a little differently in his glory days as the closer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He stuck mainly to his fastball and changeup, but he didn't shy away from mixing in his curveball, slider or splitter.
Your typical closer doesn't tend to feature that much variety, as even greats like Craig Kimbrel and Fernando Rodney stick to two pitches. The variety that Smoltz and Gagne had as closers was a big reason why they were so successful, and it's something Oswalt could duplicate.
If there's a hang-up to the idea of Oswalt extending his career as a closer, it has to do with what's between his ears rather than his arsenal of pitches. With a few exceptions—such as Mariano Rivera—the best closers tend to have a few screws loose and allow themselves to run on adrenaline when they're on the mound. By their nature, they're excitable creatures.
Oswalt may not have it in him to be an excitable creature at this stage of his career. In fact, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe wrote last month that he had been hearing that "the vibe is that [Oswalt] just doesn’t want it bad enough."
Would Roy Oswalt make a good closer?
That's understandable given how many injuries Oswalt has dealt with in recent years. He may indeed be perfectly willing to call it a career rather than put his body through the gauntlet again.
If Oswalt is going to be convinced to come back as a closer, it may take an appeal to his legacy. He may need to be convinced that extending his career as a closer could be what he needs to get in the Hall of Fame down the road.
Oswalt would go into the books as one of the best pitchers of his era if he were to retire right now, as he ranks behind only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana in bWAR since 2001. He's also tied for 16th among right-handers with an ERA+ of 130.
However, Oswalt's Hall of Fame resume is lacking in traditional Hall of Fame-worthy stats. By far the biggest hurdle for him to overcome is the fact that he only has 169 wins to his name. He also only ranks 91st all time in strikeouts.
Oswalt could put himself in select company by reaching 100 saves, certainly an attainable number for three seasons or so of work. Only Smoltz and Eckersley have won as many as 150 games and saved as many as 100 games. One of them is in the Hall of Fame. The other will (probably...hopefully) be there soon.
If Oswalt were to be convinced that closing could be his ticket to Cooperstown, his competitive juices could get going again. Then it would just be a matter of him loosening some screws in his head and allowing himself to run on adrenaline when on the mound.
And who knows? If Oswalt were to give closing a shot, he may even find himself having fun again. It sounds like he could do with some.
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