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Ah… Predictions, Predictions

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Ah… Predictions, Predictions

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

There is no true off-season in baseball. It is simply some down time to make adjustments to rosters, to reflect on past stats, and make predictions for the future. Baseball is never over in the heart of the fans, and now it is almost time again for the first pitch of the regular season.


2013 is going to be interesting. Numerous changes have been made to many Major League rosters. Some seemingly revamping their whole team. I think this season, teams that may not have been thought of as strong have made themselves good contenders to snag that division title. And other clubs that are expected to always be the leader, might suffer.

AL East
The Toronto Blue Jays gained a lot of solid veteran players over the off-season making them seem unapproachable for the rest of the AL East. As long as they can handle the pressure and do not burn themselves from the stress, they will be dangerous. They just need to stay focused, and not get swept away by all the talk of high hopes swirling around them. If they can pull this off, the Red Sox, the Rays, and the Orioles will have a hard time keeping up with the Blue Jays this year.

The Yankees… Oh the Yankees… They seem to be on a steady decline with the injuries they are facing. Healthy Yankees have always been a threat, but right now they seem to be scrambling. If they can pass the injury issues, they can once again be capable of making it to the playoffs.

AL Central
The Twins lost both Denard Span and Ben Revere over the off-season which will slow the team down considerably. They both have tremendous hustle and now Minnesota is lacking in that category. They made some much needed upgrades to their pitching, and they do have a little bit of pop in their line up, but I do not think it will be enough to replace the loss of these outfielders. They will likely fall to the retooled Cleveland Indians and the up and down Chicago White Sox. Even the Royals will be a stronger competitor than the Twins, with the improvements they made this season.

I expect the Detroit Tigers to be as impressive as last year. Adding leader and weathered outfielder Torii Hunter to the team will increase the power in their already dominant line up. And if Victor Martinez can stay off the disabled list, they could be unstoppable. And not to mention Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez in their starting rotations. As long as having no dedicated closer does not make this team crumble, I think the Tigers will be in the post-season.

AL West
The Astros will not make a smooth transition over to the American League. They will be a fish out of water this season. Once they get acclimated, they may increase their skills, but for now it will just be a learning period.

The Angels and the Rangers will, as usual, be tough to beat this season. They both have well-rounded teams with some scary defensive talent. The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton to the Angels which might not be that big of a blow, as the rest of the team is capable of picking up the slack. And now the Halos have that added power to their roster. These two teams are comparable.

The Oakland Athletics are a favorite for being the scrappy underdogs, but they will have to rely heavily on their pitching to defend their division crown. Newcomers, Chris Young and John Jaso will not be enough to put fear into their rivals.

The Mariners will once again try to build around their ace Felix Hernandez. However, I feel that they will not be a serious contender for the division title. They might get a little more adrenaline after facing the Astros, but there will not be much change for Seattle this year.

NL East
The Atlanta Braves have a fierce line up with the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward, but I think they might not excel as much as expected. Justin Upton has major potential to win an MVP award in his career and still has yet to show everything he is capable of, but the initial excitement of playing with B.J. Upton might be more of a distraction than a motivator. Eventually, these two will tear up the NL East, maybe even toward the end of this season in a push for the playoffs. But I think they might be too amped in the beginning to reach the standards that everyone is anticipating. The Braves do have some bullpen talent that can rescue them in any inevitable jams. This team will certainly make their name known this year.

I am not sure what the Marlins were doing over the off-season. It seems that most clubs were making improvements and Miami had a different plan. This will not be their year. They may put up a fight… or perhaps a squabble. But I do not think they will make much of a dent in opposing teams. The Mets will surly dominate them with Shaun Marcum in their starting rotation.

Between the Nationals and the Phillies, both teams could give a strong push to the playoffs. Both have offensive depth, but the Nationals will have an edge over the Phillies with their strong pitching rotation. With Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg as starters, the Nationals could take the division title.

NL Central
With young stars like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, there is reason to be excited about the Chicago Cubs. Having said that, I feel they will not make much of an impact yet in their division, especially competing against Andrew McCutchen and the upstart Pirates.

The Brewers could be a worthy contender for the playoffs if they were not facing the Reds. Milwaukee has some dependable bats, but their pitching is lacking. And the Reds have too much offensive ammunition for the Brewers to tame.

The question is: can the Cardinals take on the Reds? The Cardinals play hard, always come hungry, and seem to excel at the most important times. They are healthy competition for the Reds. Both teams have offensive talent and their pitching matches up fairly evenly.

NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to rely too much on big names to carry them through the season. Chemistry is important. Big names are not everything. If these guys can figure out how to work together, they can be merciless to their opposing teams. But everything has to click seamlessly. And I am not sure the Dodgers are quite there yet. They have ample pitching with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and a powerful offense. They look good on paper, but may need a year to get more settled.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a proficient pitching rotation with Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy starting. And their bullpen is jam packed with solid relief options. They made many adjustments to their positional players as well, to create a unique team. They were average last season, but this time around they might have the formula to increase their game. Competing against the Colorado Rockies, who are an average team, and the San Diego Padres, who will actually put up a fight this year, the Dbacks have a chance at making their team stand out.

The Giants have kept most of their team intact from last year. The World Series Champions will likely still be a strong competitor in their division, and now they have Tim Lincecum back on the mound which can increase their pitching depth considerably. They will be the team to beat in the NL West.

So what will actually happen this season? Every one has an opinion, but we all know anything can happen in baseball. That is the beauty of the sport. And it is almost time, once again, to play ball.

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The Triumphant Return of John Lackey…Sort Of

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The Triumphant Return of John Lackey…Sort Of

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Will Emerson

There is talk, as there so often is around Spring Training camps, of John Lackey being in the best shape of his life (I am being a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point) and ready to return to his old self.


The bulldog, big game winning, innings eating, ace-like pitcher of yore. Obviously the Red Sox would love that. Well, sort of. I mean, they would be glad take anything better than Lackey’s 2011. To say John Lackey’s 2011 was atrocious would be, well, pretty accurate. In 28 starts with the BoSox, Lackey was 12-12 with an ERA of 6.41. Although, managing 12 wins with an ERA like that is impressive, even if it was mainly due to having a very good offense behind him. His FIP of 4.71 was also, well, terrible, but it does show that he was tad better than the ERA would indicate. Would be hard to be worse, wouldn’t it? Once you close in on an ERA around five or higher though, the difference is somewhat negligible, in my mind. Now, if Lackey was making the league minimum in 2011, the Red Sox could just be like, “Oh well, moving on”, but Lackey was not making the league minimum in 2o11, was he? No, he was not, in case you were actually unawares of his salary. Lackey made $15.95 million in 2011 or exactly $15.95 million more than what I will make writing about him in this little post. Now the Red Sox won’t have to pay him nearly as much as that in 2013, so rest easy Red Sox fans. No, no, he is only due $15.25 million in 2013 or roughly $15.2498 more than I have in my savings account. So, needless to say, the Red Sox are hoping to get something out of that chunk of change, preferably what they thought they were paying for. But what exactly did the Rouge Hose pay for?

The Sox backed up a Brinks trunk to get Lackey in a Boston uniform, shelling out loads of cash for a pitcher who was one of the big names on the free market back in ought nine. (It may have technically happened in 2010, but I just wanted to type ought nine.) Lackey certainly had an aura around him. Big game pitcher? Check. Yankee killer? Check. The latter being the biggest reason the Sox would pursue him…that and not letting the Yankees get their greasy mitts on him. You see, back in the olden days of the early 21st century the Red Sox and Yankees would play the free agent market like a game of poker at Teddy KGB’s. If one showed interest in a big-ish name free agent, the other would as well. The team to show initial interest may not have even wanted the player, but they knew they could bluff the other into making a move. So if the Yankees showed interest in John Lackey the Red Sox would do the same, even though the Yankees may not have really wanted him in the first place, but rather wanted the Red Sox to throw money at him, when the Yanks really only had mild interest. Got all that? Sort of, maybe? (That is not the proposed sequel to the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Definitely, Maybe…yet) Well, anywho, the Sox went out and threw money at Lackey. Lackey was considered to be a workhorse, innings eater as well a previous mentioned big game pitcher and Yankee killer. Or so everyone thought.

I guess Lackey just has that bulldog mentality and because he pitched well in big games, he was a gem. A gem worth $18.7 million to the Red Sox in 2010. I recall severall pundits and what-have-yous, having their mindholes blown by the contract the Red Sox doled out to this thirtysomething hurler. Why? Lackey was ace like or at the very least a serviceable number two starter, right? In the words of Willy Wonka, “WRONG! Wrong sir!” In ten major league seasons Lackey posted an ERA below 3.44 just once and below 3.66 just thrice! All three of those seasons were in his mid to late 20s. Now of course you should know by now, that ERA is a flawed statistic and should not be the number to completely judge a pitcher at all. So try these numbers on for size. In his career Lackey has posted an xFIP below 3.83, exactly once. Once! In that season he had a 3.59 xFIP. Even his regular ol’ FIP was high, only coming in under 3.50 twice! Surely they advanced stat mavens in the Sox front office looked at these numbers, right? Oh wait a tick! Lackey is a Yankee killer, that’s why the Red Sox gave him the big bucks, right?

In 2009, Lackey had a 2.57 ERA when he pitched against the Bronx Bombers in the regular, posting a K/9 of 7 and a WHIP of 1.29. Well, that’s pretty darned good, isn’t it? It sure is! He dominated the Yankees in that one regular season start. Well obviously the Angels and Yankees did not meet much during the regular season, but it was Lackey’s ’09 postseason performance against the Bombers that basically earned him his 2010 contract. It had to have been, right? In two ALCS starts against the Yankees in 2009, Lackey threw 12 innings, allowing five earned runs on 15 hits, striking out ten, and walking six. That’s an ERA close to four, folks, which I guess against the Yankees could be considered pretty good. But $82.5 million over five years pretty good?  Although conversely, Lackey’s last three postseason starts against the Red Sox for very good. In those starts Johnboy tossed 21 innings allowing four earned runs on 15 hits, stymieing the Sox. So, maybe they just wanted to spend that money to avoid seeing Lackey in the postseason? That’s a lot of money to insure you don’t have to face a certain pitcher in the postseason, but the Sox have deep pockets, so to each their own. I know, I know, all of this is hardly new information and something that could not have been written back in 2009-10, but I am going somewhere with this, I swear. You see, many fantasy players are certainly eyeing Lackey as a possible sleeper, hoping he can return to form. But what form is that and is it really sleeper worthy form?

First off, there is no way in heck (I sometimes look at John Lackey and feel he says “heck” and “shucks” a lot, but that’s neither here nor there) you should expect him to return to the form of his career season in 2007. That 19-9 campaign with a 3.01 ERA was a big anomaly (Big Shucks? I think I just found John Lackey’s new nickname). As in a season not to be repeated by John Derran Lackey. So what is Lackey’s “form”? Well, just for craps and giggles, let us take a look at Lacker’s three best seasons. In those three seasons Lackey averaged a 3.86 xFIP, but a respectable 3.33 FIP. Coincidentally his overall ERA for those three seasons was also 3.33. Of course that season with the 3.01 ERA in there certainly helps. Lackey also posted a K/9 close to eight! Wow, a solid three seasons it seems, even though his overall ERAs were a bit lower than they should have been. So if, if, he were to return to that form he would be a sleeper for sure. Unfortunately in the four seasons Lackey has pitched since then, he has not really quite approached that level of goodness, so the three seasons prior to that disaster of a 2011 season are more likely your best case scenario for Lackey in 2013. That translates into a borderline sleeper at SP, I suppose. You would probably get 12 wins, with an ERA right around four, WHIP of about 1.30 and a K/9 in the mid sixes. That’s sleeperish if not for just the wins, I would think, but remember that is the best case scenario for Lackey in 2013.

What you are more likely to get out of Lackey, still eight to ten wins, sure, but an ERA closer to 4.50, with a WHIP of about, well 1.30-1.40 and very few Ks. Hey, look at that! Not too far from the best case scenario I just laid out for you, huh?! For fantasy purposes though, you are in luck, because unlike the Red Sox, you will not have to pay big bucks for Lackey, so he could very well be worth a late round, or $1 bargain bin auction, pickup.  I don’t foresee myself drafting Lackey in any format, but at the very least, in shallow mixed or AL-only leagues, he could be a viable streaming option from time to time. So keep John Lackey in the back of your mind (and start calling him Big Shucks) as the season progresses, but don’t expect anything ace-like that is for darned sure.

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Posted on 15 February 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

A little bit about me. I am 28, born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.  Growing up in Chicago, I have had the privilege of having two professional baseball teams right in my backyard to follow all season long. To set the record straight, I am a big supporter of the Chicago Cubs. (The finger pointing and laughing can begin.) Coming from a Cub family, they are the team I grew up with, and they are the team on my credit card. As a side note, it is so much fun using that thing at the South Side park for the in game hot dogs and drinks.

Cubs Wrigley Facelift Baseball

Obviously, I have never seen a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship. Putting it gently, it has been a really long time since they have won one. Instead of looking at 100 plus years without a title, Cub fans need to look at it like celebrating birthdays. We all reach that age where we just do not want to count the numbers anymore. But it will happen eventually, honest. The reason being quite simply is summed up by the word Theology.

I have a t-shirt that reads Theology: The field of study and analysis to build a world championship baseball team at Clark and Addison. It is in honor of the current Team President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. Mr. Epstein is entering his second season on the North Side. Season number one was not always the prettiest on the surface, but the way Theo works, you always have to look deeper. I have followed Theo since his early days in Boston. In the end, he brought the Red Sox two championships, and before he vanishes, he will raise a banner at the Friendly Confines as well, and that is not just crazy talk. Theo is a baseball Jedi ninja.

The 2012 Cub’s season was not the best. They flirted with setting the record for most losses in a season by a Cubs team, and if it were not for the Houston Astros, things could have been a lot worse. Sadly, the Astros are gone now. But the true season was never about wins and losses; it was about building a plan and foundation for the next few years. It was the start of a culture makeover. That type of talk is foreign around these parts. The Cubs have never really had a great farm system. Theo and his crew are changing that. They are using words like develop and growing talent. Jed Hoyer is a good General Manager. Dale Sveum is a good baseball guy, and on down the line the culture is changing.

While the Cubs the last two seasons have not signed the big time Free Agent, like an Albert Pujols, or Josh Hamilton they have made some ninja moves that are helping the process along. Last season they made a trade for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo will be a star, and has a great chance at starting the All-Star game this July. This year, they nearly had Anibal Sanchez, but instead signed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. Having a pitching background myself, Jackson has a make up about him that is solid. Yes, he will have a few stinkers but he will also have games that will make him look awesome. Jackson will be a phenomenal compliment to pitchers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

In addition, Ninja Theo made a great draft pick in outfielder Albert Almora and signed another young outfielder out of Cuba Jorge Soler. The two kids crushed the ball in their first year in the organization. The next division championship the Wrigley faithful will celebrate will have the starting outfield of Soler, Almora, and Brett Jackson which is very promising.

All of a sudden, the Cubs have actual young talent. The prospect list looks very good, and this will all compliment the arguable face of the team, shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro is a young Derek Jeter just scratching the surface of his prime. I just ask that he is in that Cubbie blue for the next decade or more.

I was at the 2012 Cubs Convention when Theo was first introduced. I got goose bumps hearing the overcrowded room chant Theo, Theo. While, Epstein has a history of making head scratching trades and signings, he also gives a city and Cub faithful a bounce in their step and belief. While the product on the field ultimately will decide wins and losses, changes are being made to the ballpark and surroundings as well. Wrigleyville has proposed renovations that will make it seem like the park is actually in the 21st century.

By no means will the Cubs be confused with the 1961 Yankees or even the 2004 Red Sox but they will be better. If healthy, they will be in the hunt for one of the 2013 wild card spots. On the horizon, if the plan continues on course they will be contending for much more. The future is promising on the North Side of Chicago. Theo Epstein is changing a culture one calculated move at a time. It is a very difficult thing to have, but Cub Nation needs to have a few more summers of patients and let Theo work his ninja magic.

Patience is a virtue, and it will pay off soon for the Friendly Confines. Spread the word, within the next few summers, Cub fans will have one heck of a birthday bash!

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“Astro”nomical Silver Linings

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“Astro”nomical Silver Linings

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Will Emerson

Spring Training is right around the corner and with the coming of Spring Training, comes hope.


Yes, that’s right. Spring Training is where hope springs eternal. Everyone is preparing for the upcoming season. Fans can take a look at new players and old and see how they look going into the upcoming season. Every team is at square one, so to speak, and in theory, everyone has a fighting chance. Well that is what everyone likes to believe. True fans, enjoy the Spring Training and early season because, yeah, their respective teams are still in the race. Now while there is still hope, and in the words of Sayid Jarrah, “Hope is a very dangerous thing to lose.”,  there is that part of everyone’s brain that holds that tiny piece of realism in the back of their respective noggins. That part of the brain that tells you that, while hope is nice, realistically your team is not winning the World Series. Or, at least, realistically they should not have a shot at winning the World Series. But it never stops you from clinging to hope and hey, it worked out for Athletics’ and Orioles’ fans last season, right? I am sure there would have been plenty of reasons for those fan bases to have hope, but also those realistic thoughts that sure their team will probably not be in playoff contention down the stretch. So that right there is a good enough reason to keep your hopes up at the start of each season. At the very least, there is always something to look forward to. A big free-agent signing, a hot young phenom, a returning fan favorite, etc. So sure, every fan can find something to look forward to from their squad in the upcoming season, right?  Well, if you’re an Astros fan, it may just be really, really, really hard to find those ”somethings” . But Astros fans, fear not! I am here to help find those “somethings” for you!

Now, this task is not going to be an easy one, that is for sure. After all the Astros were 55- 107, good for the worst record in baseball, albeit by only 6 games. See, Astros fans, silver linings already!  Six or seven more wins and the ’Stros would not have been the worst! And hey! They finished the season on a torrid .390 pace! Sure, that is not what one would consider a good winning percentage, per se, or, at all, but they were at winning at a .322 clip before that, so that is quite an improvement, right? See, things are looking up in Houston! Now sure Houston’s current payroll is listed as $17.5 million, which is quite easily the lowest payroll in baseball, but with many arbitration cases to go, who knows what to expect? Okay, okay, Astros fans, I realize I have really not given you much to look forward to just yet, but be patient, I’m getting there. I mean you’re Astros fans, you’re gonna to need to get used to being  patient. Sorry. Okay, here we go, let’s get down to it. Some glimmers of hope or silver linings or what-have-yous.

First off, there really is not a lot this 2013 Astros team could do to be disappointing. Well, okay, in the grand scheme of things, sure they will be disappointing, so let me rephrase. It will be difficult for them to play below expectations, let’s put it that way. Think about it, they are 200-1 shots to win the World Series, the longest odds of any team. Basically no one is giving them anything resembling a chance to do anything this season, but be the absolute worst, which is great…in a way. Positive spin? They are expected to be the worst team in baseball, so if they are, okay no big deal. If they are not the worst team in baseball, if they are better than just one other team, boom, a successful season. Plus, if they lose a lot they will get a good draft pick and according to John Sickels their farm system is currently the 11th best in the majors, up from 25th last season. See?! Now we’re cookin’, Astros fans! Develop down on the farm and watch those prospects, like Chris Singleton, blossom! Singleton was a key piece in the deal with Philly for Hunter Pence and there’s a chance he is a late season call-up. That’s exciting! Right, Astros fans? No? Still not seeing something to pump you up about 2013? Okay, well what about Carlos Pena?

That’s right Houston fans, the Astros landed the Haverhill Hammer himself, Carlos Felipe Pena! Sure, he won’t hit for average, ever, but he still manages a high OPS, cause he walks a bit and when he does make contact it goes far most of the time. Not as flashy of a signing as say, Josh Hamilton, but he is a name…of sorts. Plus his career OPS of .822 is higher than every Astros hitter, with more than two plate appearances, had last season. Now sure if you are a pessimist you could point out that the he did have a career low OPS last season, but hey that just means he is due to bounce back, right? Let’s assume it does for the purposes of this post, after all we are trying to give the Astros fans something to look forward to. Early projections have Pena hitting over 20 home runs in 2013. You know how many Astros clubbed more than 20 dingers last season? If you guessed zero, you’d be correct! Just glancing at player projections for some Astro regulars, he is expected to lead the team in home runs and be the only one to top 20 dingers! Get excited, Houston! A real, live, slugger at the Juice Box in 2013! Home runs are fun, Astros fans! I know you are on board now and already super pumped for 2013, but wait, there’s more! Do not forget about that deadly middle of the diamond!

That’s right, Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve! Altuve was an All-Star last season and is a real spark plug! Altuve was at least a top eight  second baseman in the National League last season and if he puts up similar numbers I have no doubt he will be top eight in the American League in 2013! That’s the top half of the league, sports fans! Sure, his odds of being an All-Star in 2013 are not great in a league with Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia and Zobrist, but, well, top half of the league! Huzzah! And Jed Lowrie? Are you kidding me?! He homered once every 21.25 at bats last season! Troy Tulowitzki last season only homered once every 22.63 at bats in 2012. I’m not saying Jed Lowrie is a better hitter than Tulo, because, well, he’s not. Sure, that HR rate is the highest for Jed at any professional level by some margin, and sure, he has yet to play more than 100 games in a major league season, but hey, let’s stay positive Houston! He stays healthy, he and Altuve will be darned fun to watch! I can feel Astros ticket sales skyrocketing at this very moment! But for those of you Houston fans not already online buying tickets, I present the coup de gras! Bud Norris.

You betcha! Bud Norris. You want to venture to the Juice Box to see your beloved Astros play? Try and go when Bud Norris is on the bump! Now there will be a good chance these tickets ys get snatched up first and his starts will quickly sell out, but try Stub Hub or whatever you can to watch the Masterful Mr. Norris work. All Norris did at home last season was post an ERA of 1.71 and a WHIP of .96, while striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings! Do not adjust your monitors, those numbers are correct! Now Bud was only 4-1 at home, but had seven no decisions and went at least six innings in every home start. Dang! Now sure his road numbers were on the other end of the goodness spectrum, but that’s neither here nor there, for our purposes anyways.

Well, there you go, Astros fans! There are at least several, yes several, things to look forward to this year in Houston. Honestly, if you are an Astros fan reading this and are not immediately pumped for the baseball season, then there may be something wrong with you. Seriously. Possible prospect call-up? Chris Singleton, anyone? Carlos Pena rocketing balls out of the Juice Box? An Altuve-Lowrie combo that is borderline, close to, electric, in the middle of your diamond and at the top of your order? Bud Norris dominating visiting hitters? Yep, the 2013 Astros…they have some things you can sort of, possibly, get excited about! Hmmm, I wonder if I can get that to be the team slogan for 2013? I’ll call their PR department right now!

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Fire Up The Grill In Pittsburgh!

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Fire Up The Grill In Pittsburgh!

Posted on 23 January 2013 by Will Emerson

Joel Hanrahan is not walking through that bullpen door, Pirates fans. Well, he probably won’t be.


It is a strange and funny world sometimes, so I guess no guarantees. At least for now and, most likely, the foreseeable future Joel Hanrahan will not be walking through that bullpen door. Nope, Hanrahan rode the gravy train on over to Beantown to come outta the ’pen for the Rouge Hose. Now closers, as the aforementioned Rouge Hose can attest, are not so easily replaced. It helps if a team already has someone that can slide into the role fairly effortlessly or, like the Rouge Hose, have enough money to pony up for a hot free agent closer…or an oft-injured one (*cough* Andrew Bailey *cough*).  In any event, Hanrahan, is not as notable or as high priced as say a Jonathan Papelbon (then again, who is?) but Hanrahan was solid game finisher for the Bucs. Hanrahan posted 76 saves over the last two seasons with Pittsburgh with an ERA in the low twos. I didn’t watch nearly as many Pirates games as I would have liked to in 2012, but I never heard much complaining or belly-aching from the Pittsburgh faithful….until Hanrahan went shipping up, er over, to Boston. These were mild grumblings I will grant you, but grumblings nonetheless. If not only for the fact that Joel darted for the big bucks and left the Pirates without an established major league closer. The Pirates, of course, are not flush with cash like the Red Sox, so the best bet for them is someone already in their system. Enter Jason Grilli. Aka the Grillmaster.

Grilli is slated to start the season closing games in the ‘Burgh. Now Grilli has had some ups, some downs, some what-have-yous, in his 10 major league seasons, but as a Pittsburgh Pirate he has established himself as one heck of a good reliever.  Over the past two seasons he has a K/9 of 12.51, including an eye-popping 13.81 number last season in 58.2 innings! I think you know how much I love me some Ks/9! If you don’t, well, I love them, I love them a lot! For relievers in 2012 who threw at least 50 innings out of the bullpen, that was a number good for 4th on the list, behind Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Antonio Bastardo (yeah, that one surprised me too). While K/9 is not the end all be all (although it really should be) it is a very helpful number in rating closers. The more batters you can get out without them putting the ball in play, the better your chances of survival. Simple as that. But, as I said, the strikeouts are not all there is to closing, so let’s see how the Grillmaster compared to some of last year’s closers in other areas.

Well, Grilli posted a 2.91 ERA out of the Pirates bullpen last year, which is a very solid ERA for a pitcher  however this is about middle to back of the pack for closers. His xFIP, however was a tad better at 2.68 and he was hurt a bit by a .309 BABIP, which is not super unlucky but leans a tad more in that direction than towards the “super-duper lucky” end of the spectrum. Although it does not look like the batted ball will be his biggest issue if he is to be the Buccos chosen closer. Grilli walked 3.4 batters per nine innings which, for a starter is pretty good, but for a reliever? A closer? That will need to be improved if he is gonna close the door on Pirates victories. That 3.38 was good for 81st among relievers who threw at least 50 innings out of the bullpen in 2012. Among the 37 closers who had 10 or more saves in 2012, 11 posted higher walk rates than Grilli. Three of those relievers saved three or fewer games and three others would lose their closing gig at some point in the season. The good-ish news, cause I am silver lining type a guy sometimes, is that Grilli’s walk rate is down from 2011 when he was at four walks per nine innings. In fact, that 2012 walk rate was the lowest he has posted since 2005. Baby steps, Jason, baby steps. Besides, shouldn’t we really be seeing how the Grillmaster stood up against what the Pirates are losing at the closer position? That was rhetorical, folks.

Here are the numbers Hanrahan put up as the Buccos’ closer in 2012:

5-2, 36 saves, 63 appearances, 59.2 IP, 2.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP 4.28 xFIP, .225 BABIP, 10.11 K/9, and 5.43 BB/9

Umm, yeah, there are a few red flag numbers there that make it seem wise for Pittsburgh to have not kept Hanrahan around for 2013. 5.43 BB/9?! And I thought Grilli’s walk rate was high?! That’s more than a walk every other inning, in case you didn’t want to do the quick arithmetic. Also that xFIP and BABIP point to a regressions for Hanarahan in ’13. Well, at least Hanrahan didn’t go to a big baseball market pressure cooker, where every bad outing will be picked apart to no end. Oh, wait a minute. Anyways, back to Grilli. Here were his 2012 numbers:

1-6, 2 saves, 64 appearances, 58.2 IP. 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.68 xFIP, .309 BABIP, 13.81 K/9 and a 3.38 BB/9

Not too shabby and all of those stats are based on about the same number of innings Hanrahan pitched. So Grilli had a lower WHIP, xFIP and BB/9 with a higher K/9 and BABIP. Now I am not necessarily saying Grilli was, or is, a better pitcher than Hanrahan, per se. You also need to account for the fact that Grilli was not pitching the 9th for the most part. And while the 7th or 8th inning can provide plenty of high leverage situations the 9th is still going to carry some extra pressure with it. So let us see how we can level the playing field a bit here. Courtesy of Fan Graphs, Grilli had 27 shutdowns and 9 meltdowns in 2012. With shutdowns and meltdowns you can kind of draw a comparison with relievers that close games and those who are 7th or 8th inning guys. Grilli’s numbers but him in the above average category, so that’s good if your a Pirates fan. Hanrhan was pretty similar, if not a tad better, in this regard, posting 26 shutdowns and 5 meltdowns. Also in that above average category, but a tad more above average than Grillmaster.

Now, again, I am not saying that Grilli is better than Hanrahan, merely that this was a good move by the Buccos. Pittsburgh should at least be able to get relatively the same production from Grilli that Hanrahan gave them, at a cheaper cost (Hanrahan will make almost $5M more in ’13). If Grilli cuts down on the walks a tad he could be this years sleeper in the closer field. Maybe I am overly optimistic of Grilli because of his sexy K/9 numbers or because the bar his dad owns has some of the best wings in Syracuse, NY, I dunno? Grilli could very well implode early, and often, losing his closer job, but I like his chances to be an above average closer this year for the Buccos and surprise a few people. For fantasy purposes, you have to like Grillmaster as a great source of cheap saves in ’13. More importantly, if it is not already, I think Grilli’s intro music should be Nelly’s Grillz, who is with me? Wait is Grillz a better nickname than Grillmaster? Well, that’ll be an article for another day.

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