On Friday, Ron Gardenhire officially disbanded the closer-by-committee. KARE 11’s Dave Schwatz relayed the decision on Twitter, noting that the manager had anointed Jon Rauch his closer to at least begin the 2010 season. Rauch’s resume, which has closer experience listed, gave him the edge over the other internal applicants. At the same time, Rauch’s work history is not without its warts.
On Saturday, Darren Wolfson inquired with baseball analytical guru Jonah Keri what his preference would be: Committee or moving forward with Rauch? Keri told Wolfson that he favored the committee in theory but went on to say that “the challenge of that approach is that requires all pitchers to be ready to go at any time, as opposed to now where everyone can have a set routine, not only for the closer but also the designated 7th and 8th inning guys.”
The decision to entrust one pitcher versus the committee approach gives the Twins a stabilized bullpen routine and limits the need for management at the end of the game but at the same time, using just one might not be the most optimal use of the resources, particularly if none of them are of Nathan’s caliber. Unlike Nathan, all of the other four candidates listed (Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain) have various flaws in their game in different situations. For example, Guerrier has been crushed by the heart of the order whereas Rauch has been very effective in retiring the three-four-five hitters the past two seasons. Meanwhile, when runners are on base, Rauch has been smacked around at a higher clip while Mijares and Guerrier have been able to work out of those types of jams with relative ease.
The follow is a cheat sheet of six scenarios that Ron Gardenhire can print out and post in the dugout based on the past two seasons worth of data to traverse the 8th or 9th inning in 2010 that will ensure the most favorable matchups:
What if the heart of the order – the opposing team’s three, four and five hitters – were due up?
When facing theoretically the three best hitters in an opponent’s lineup, Matt Guerrier has been the one subjected to the most punishment. In addition to holding the highest OPS among the four the past two years, he’s also allowed 13 home runs, 11 doubles and a triple. Mijares on the other hand, has had the least amount of battle damage, yet his 96 matchups are by far the fewest bringing sample size into question. Still, he’s struck out the highest percentage (24%) but five if his 19 hits allowed were of the very long ball variety. At the same time, Rauch has almost duplicated Mijares’s OPS in twice the matchups while allowing just three home runs leading to the lowest slugging percentage against (.376).
Use: Jon Rauch. In the past two seasons, Rauch has been one of the best when facing the opposing team’s best hitters. He may not have the strikeout capability that Nathan or Mijares have but he’s very effective at getting outs.
A left-handed heavy portion of the lineup is due up in the ninth, who do you call on?
Naturally, Mijares is the guy if you have not already spent him in the 7th or 8th inning. Portside opponents have hit just .153 off of him while touching him for just four extra base hits since 2008. Perhaps a little surprising, the next best alternative is Matt Guerrier. Guerrier allows a high amount of contact but it mostly results in harmless groundballs (54.7%) off of the bat. Rauch, meanwhile, gives up far too many fly balls leading to a .409 slugging percentage against as they drift into the bleachers.
Use: Jose Mijares/Matt Guerrier. Mijares might be another interesting closer option later in the year if the Twins are willing to give Ron Mahay some LOOGY responsibilities freeing Mijares up for save situations. Guerrier incites plenty of groundballs off of left-handed bats – a perfect use for the new and improved middle infield as well as giving Mijares a night off.
A righty-heavy portion of the lineup is due up in the ninth, who do you call on?
At first blush, Rauch appears ideal – he’s retired 75% of right-handed opponents faced since ’08 – however, righties have shown that they can tag him pretty hard too. In that time, they have hit nine home runs and another 15 for extra bases. With a one or two-run lead, that could become a problem. Guerrier’s another choice but, once again, susceptible to the occasional home run.
Use: Surprisingly, Crain is the best use of resources – assuming the righties are not in the heart-of-the-order (which is Rauch territory), consider deploying Crain. In addition to the miserly home run allowed totals, performing well against same-sided opponents is about the one thing Crain had working for him.
Who is going to navigate out of trouble once runners are on base?
Mijares is the best option if runners end up on base. He’s allowed just three home runs with a total of six extra base hits resulting in a slugging percentage of .279. This is nearly .100 points lower than Crain and Guerrier who both turned in a .371 slugging percentage allowed. Furthermore, Guerrier is a front-runner for Mr. Idaho because he was chock full o’ taters. With runners on base, he’s allowed 10 home runs since ‘08. Likewise, Rauch, who was tightfisted with the dingers when facing the heart of the order, allowed seven home runs in a total of 21 extra base hits for a .445 slugging percentage allowed. Still, if you are looking to get a groundball for that all-important double play, Guerrier leads the pack with a 43.7% groundball rate.
Use: If you find yourself in a predicament with either Rauch or Crain on the mound, quickly break glass and bring in Jose Mijares. Short of that, Matt Guerrier’s the next in line.
Runner on third, less than two outs. Who will keep the hitter from lofting that sacrifice fly and keep the tying/go-ahead run stranded?
Clearly within this small sample Guerrier is the superior pitcher. His ability to keep opponents from getting any elevation has led to a good 76.7% left-on-base rate since 2008. Mijares’s is just the opposite of Guerrier – no, that zero is not a typo – he’s not induced any groundball contact. Similar to his experience with runners on base above, Rauch has struggled in this scenario. Not only does he hold a .360 average (9-for-25), 13 of the 27 balls in play were considered “well hit”. Crain too was another victim of abuse, carrying a 71.2% left-on-base rate the past two seasons, because of a .450 average (9-for-20) with a runner on third.
Use: Matt Guerrier. His ability to keep the ball on the ground and retire hitters works well in this circumstance.
Alex Rodriguez is up representing the tying run. Who do you call in?
HR, 2B, BB
In the most miniscule of sample sizes, Crain holds an advantage by not allowing a hit at all in the past two seasons. Over his career, Crain has tangled with the Yankee superstar 13 times and allowed just one hit (a single). You almost have to keep calling his number until Rodriguez proves he can get to him too.
Use: Jesse Crain. Then pray to the gods of small sample size this works.