BIRDS HOUSE: Seeking a solid closer

Written by on January 15, 2014 in Orioles, Sports - No comments

Fernando Rodney in 2009. - Photo by Keith Allison, from Wikimedia Commons

Among other things, the Baltimore Orioles closer situation is still up in the air with Jim Johnson now in Oakland. Over the past two seasons, the Orioles have gotten 101 saves out of their closer (along with nine blown saves in 2013), so filling those shoes might be a tougher task than expected. Here are some options.

The Orioles were on their way to signing free-agent closer Grant Balfour to a two-year deal worth $15 million before he failed a physical, which we have just recently learned was due to knee and wrist issues.

One current free agent that stands out—because he’s the only viable option left—is Fernando Rodney. Rodney had a great 2012 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, saving 48 games with an ERA of 0.60, but his 2013 was average, with 37 saves (on 45 tries) with an ERA of 3.38. He also more than doubled his walks, allowing 36 free passes in 2013 to 15 in 2012.  They’ve waited this long, so perhaps they could get Rodney at a discount.

Tommy Hunter is another option. The current reliever had himself a fine 2013 as he went 6-5 out of the bullpen with a 2.81 ERA, the lowest of his career. Hunter is brutal against righties, holding them to a .141 batting average last year, but lefties took advantage of him, batting .294 against him, which is where Brian Matusz comes in.

Matusz has done a fine job since being moved to the pen. In 2013, Matusz posted an ERA of 3.53 in 51 innings pitched while striking out 50 and walking only 16. Where Hunter failed, Matusz succeeded, holding lefties to a .168 average last year, however where Hunter succeeded, Matusz failed miserably, allowing righties to bat .302 against him.

Darren O’Day could be an option as well. O’Day has been lights out since coming to Baltimore before the 2012 season. O’Day posted an ERA of 2.18 in 2013, besting his 2.28 ERA from 2012. In 62 innings pitched, O’Day struck out 59 while walking 15 with a WHIP of 1.00, just a hair off his 0.94 from 2012. The only bad news about O’Day is that his 2013 splits resemble Hunter’s: Righties hit .154 against him while lefties batted .309 against him.

If the O’s can bring in someone else, that would be the best option, which would leave their bullpen where it is. Their setup men are great in their respective situations, so if they can leave them where they are while bringing in a closer to shut the door, they could find themselves back in the playoffs. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Rodney’s 2013 splits, righties batted .169 against him while lefties hit .248 against him. Looks good to me.

Now their starting rotation; that’s another story.

by Andy Mindzak

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