J.P. Howell: Good Fit for Closing Role?

Daniel CarmichaelContributor IAugust 29, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 19:  J.P. Howell #39 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch against the New York Mets on June 19, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It is has been said that a team cannot reach the World Series with J.P. Howell pitching the ninth inning.

Since becoming a full-time relief pitcher in 2008, Howell has amassed a pretty impressive resume. In 150 innings, he has struck out 164 batters while only walking 65which equates to a 2.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 9.84 strikouts-per-nine-innings ratio. In those 150 innings, he has also recorded an impressive 2.34 ERA.

Since becoming the Rays' full-time closer, he has converted 13 of 15 save opportunities. His fastball velocity is not impressive, as he averages 85.8 miles per hour, but the results are obviously there.

Brad Lidge has had an awful season for the Phillies. His 7.17 ERA is the highest among all qualifying relief pitchers, and he has blown nine saves in 2009 after not blowing a single save in 2008.

But the Phillies remain strong favorites to reach the World Series again in 2009. Nobody says a team cannot win with Lidge. 

Another team with a shot at reaching the World Series is the St. Louis Cardinals. Their closer, Ryan Franklin, is in his first full season with the closing job. While his numbers are impressive, he lacks the dominance normally associated with a ninth-inning guy. He averages a pedestrian 5.9 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Can the Cardinals win with Franklin closing games? Yes, that is proven. Can they win a World Series? Most likely.

When Troy Percival went down, giving the closer's job to Howell was a no-brainer for manager Joe Maddon. There was no other pitcher in his bullpen that could match the success Howell has provided.

As the non-waiver trade deadline loomed, all eyes seemed to be on whether Tampa Bay would land a proven closer. The cost-conscious Rays didn't want to shell out proven closer money, however. They preferred to go with Howell.

So, my question is: Where is the love for Howell? Despite a meltdown in Toronto, he has done a nice job saving games for his starting rotation.

If the Rays make the playoffs, can they win with Howell pitching the ninth? Yes they can.

Sticking with Howell in the ninth seems to be a good choice.