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Closer Battle Down to Two

March 12, 2012

Manager Bob Melvin gave the clearest indications yet on the state of the closer battle today. Joe Stiglich of the Contra Costa Times reported,

“Manager Bob Melvin said Monday that Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are the two clear front runners for that spot. Yes, we were assuming that already, but it was the first time Melvin has declared it’s not a four-man race (with Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine being the other two possibilities).”

In his analysis of this for HardballTalk, Aaron Gleeman wrote,

“Beyond the obvious on-field implications of choosing a closer there’s a decent chance the A’s will look to trade whichever reliever they allow to increase his perceived value by racking up saves.”

That is why I think Grant Balfour is the man for the job. Back after Andrew Bailey was sent packing to Boston, I made the argument in basically the same way Gleeman did, writing then that Balfour,

“could be a very valuable trade piece – the way Bailey himself may have been – if he racks up saves and is made available at the trade deadline. Furthermore, not only does increasing Balfour’s trade value at the deadline bode well for the club, it also could enhance Fuentes’ trade value by enabling the team to maximize his usage as that of a left-handed specialist. The A’s could potentially bring back a decent haul for these two pitchers at the deadline, after all just two years ago the Twins traded Wilson Ramos and an MiLB pitcher to the Nationals to acquire Matt Capps, a closer who at that point had 26 saves with the Nats and comparable numbers to what a Balfour can put up (Capps has better control but fewer strikeouts than does Balfour). While I don’t think the A’s can get away with a steal of that variety, a closer at the deadline is indeed a valuable thing and presently Balfour is a very good but pricey middle reliever. Once traded, let the Fautino De Los Santos era at the backend of the pen begin.”

It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out. There are some arguments in favor of Fuentes though, for example yes he does have more saves 199, but one can argue he has been used as a closer more. Two stats I like that to me better values relievers – shutdowns and meltdowns – also give Fuentes an edge. Fuentes has 253 shutdowns and 79 meltdowns in his career to Balfour’s 112 shutdowns and 43 meltdowns. Of course Fuentes has pitched a lot more than has Balfour but the ratio 3.2 for Fuentes to just 2.6 for Balfour shows that despite that Fuentes has had more success as a reliever. I have a feeling that Fuentes wins the role, with Jerry Blevins being the lefty-specialist type in the pen. We’ll all find out soon enough.

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