Chicago Cubs: The Time Is Now To Make Angel Guzman The Closer

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IAugust 3, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 04:  Angel Guzman #37 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the New York Yankees during their game on April 4, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

I'm trying to be rational in making my point in this article, but let me first claim the elephant in the room: Kevin Gregg doesn't have what it takes to be a championship closer.

After watching Gregg blow saves in consecutive games, with Sunday's costing the Cubs first place in the National League Central, my firm belief is that the Cubs need to make a change at the end of their bullpen.

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed, and the Cubs weren't able (or willing) to make a deal for a closer like Baltimore's George Sherrill. They were able to add one-time closer BJ Ryan off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays, but he's in Arizona trying to remember how to throw strikes.

No offense to John Grabow, but he's not a closer, either. He'll help take the pressure off Sean Marshall and Lou Piniella by providing a second option on the left side of the Cubs' bullpen moving forward. He's not in Chicago to close games, though.

So who should the Cubs turn to at the end of games to close things out? Is there an option that doesn't require a rosary to be involved?

Carlos Marmol was one of the options coming out of Spring Training, but Piniella selected Gregg. This choice was made for a couple of reasons, one of which was Gregg's legs weren't healthy enough to warm up more than once during a game. Pun intended, but Gregg's health hamstrung Piniella's decision making process.

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But it's August now. Gregg's legs should be healthy enough for him warm up whenever Piniella needs him, whether it's in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. My preference is that it's not the ninth.

Marmol gave up a walk-off home run to eliminate the Dominican Republic from the World Baseball Classic. and I personally think that has been somewhere in the recesses of Marmol's mind to this day. When he throws his breaking ball, it looks sometimes like he's trying to miss the bat more than he's trying to fool hitters like he did last year.

Gregg's numbers are not those of an elite closer. His WHIP is 1.35 and his ERA has climbed to 4.17 this year. He led the majors in blown saves last year, and has five this year in 26 chances. Those numbers are not good.

Of the top ten save leaders in the National League, only three have an ERA over three entering Sunday night. Gregg's ERA is the highest, and he has blown more saves than anyone in the top ten.

Marmol, meanwhile, has a ridiculous WHIP of 1.47 and a 3.53 ERA. Sure, he has struck out 60 batters in 51 innings; but when he's also walked 48 in the same number of outings, his ratio of runners allowed to stikeouts is not efficient enough to be a closer.

If Marmol is the closer, in theory, the Cubs would have burned a couple of their relievers getting to him. He would be the man at the end of the game responsible for coming in and shutting things down. If you're walking a guy (or two or three) every time you come in, you can't keep a guy on second base from scoring.

Here's a name that should be part of, if not the answer, to the conversation regarding the end of the Cubs' bullpen: Angel Guzman.

By comparison, Guzman has numbers that are much more closer-like. His WHIP is just 1.05 with 36 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 45.2 innings this season. His 3:1 inning-to-walk ratio is much more appropriate for the end of a game than Marmol. And his 2.36 ERA is a lot more comfortable than Gregg's, which is closing in on double Guzman's.

Guzman also has 15 holds, which indicates he's been effective in a pinch when called upon. That's an important note when considering the closer is asked to get out of tight situations.

Marmol is the sexy name on the roster because he was lights out last year. Gregg is the guy Hendry put his faith in by trading one of the Cubs' top pitching prospects, Jose Ceda, for him to replace fan-favorite Wood.

But perhaps it's time Piniella looked at Guzman, who was the top pitching prospect in the organization for almost a decade while injuries robbed him of his ability to be the elite starter he showed a glimpse of in the minors.

My vote is that Guzman gets the ball at the end of the game.


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