Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Candidates: Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, Ryan Web, Bud Norris
All signs may be pointing to Tommy Hunter (pictured right) as the next Baltimore Orioles closer, but one look at his inability to get out left-handed hitters (.857 OPS, 11 HR vs. LHH in 2013) and the team's failure to land a closer this offseason is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Next in line would be side-armer Darren O'Day, who has a 2.23 ERA and 35 holds in two seasons as the Orioles' primary setup man, but he also struggled mightily against left-handed batters in 2013 (.922 OPS, 5 HR).
In a non-closer role, manager Buck Showalter can pick and choose when to use Hunter and O'Day and keep them out of the game in a spot where at least two good left-handed hitters are due to hit. With a ninth-inning lead, however, a manager needs to be able to turn to his closer in any situation and not worry about who is due up or who the opposing team has available to pinch hit.
That doesn't appear to be the case for the O's as long as either Hunter or O'Day are the designated closer.
Free-agent signee Ryan Webb, who posted a 2.91 ERA while with the Miami Marlins last season, has a heavy sinker and a much-improved approach against left-handed batters, as explained by Jason Collette of FanGraphs, that resulted in much more balanced splits in 2013 (.618 OPS vs RHH; .714 OPS vs LHH) than in the past.
The 28-year-old's strong finish (2.41 ERA, 33.2 IP, 25 H, 6 BB, 23 K over last 22 appearances) could be enough to get him consideration as the closer on his new team, although it wasn't enough for the Marlins to offer him a contract, as he was non-tendered after the season.
A dark-horse candidate could be starting pitcher Bud Norris, especially now that the team has added Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon to their pitching staff. If Yoon, who was considered to be one of, if not the best, pitchers out of Korea, can prove that he's good enough for a rotation spot, or if rookie Kevin Gausman is too good to overlook, it would make it much easier to move Norris to the bullpen.
A move from starting pitcher to closer, however, could be a bit too much to ask. Norris may need to be eased in with a lesser role.
Prediction: Hunter wins the job, and Norris takes over by mid-season.