Joel Hanrahan is great – throws hard, killer beard, 40-save guy. I get it. He looks like a closer and piles up closer stats with 98-mph heaters and does some closer-like behaviors after each win. By all accounts he even seems like a nice guy. The problem is: the Pirates don’t need him.
Did I say problem? I meant, the good news is: the Pirates don’t need him.
A made-up meaningless statistic from 1960 has made ‘closers’ multi-millionaires for a few years now. Forget for a moment any argument about a ‘closer’s mentality’ or ‘clutch pitching’. Very few saves actually ‘save’ anything. Even in a close game, getting three outs before allowing a run is very doable for any major league pitcher. The interesting thing is that teams pay through the nose for a guy to throw 1 inning every other day. See Jonathan Papelbon.
The Pirates have a great closer. Meaning: they’re pigeon-holing a great reliever into situations prescribed by arbitrary statistical rules (not game conditions, per se), and he’s largely successful in those situations. But the Pirates record wouldn’t be much different if, say, ANYONE ELSE was pitching the 9th inning. Hey, maybe they’d be 25-28 or something instead of 27-26. That’s not a pretty record. I understand that.
But let’s look at the big picture… Jared Hughes could pitch a passable 9th inning. Maybe he’d walk a few more tightropes than the Hammer (but maybe not…). Maybe he’d blow a couple more games (but maybe not…). There are a lot of maybes. But one thing’s for certain – Joel Hanrahan can get a quality bat at the trade deadline. A Joel Hanrahan trade could land a middle-of-the-order bat for the Pirates. And if there’s one thing we know about this year’s team, one more quality bat will double the number of quality bats in the line-up. That will surely add up to more wins than Hanrahan’s alleged ‘saving’ performances in the 9th inning.
Jared Hughes might not be that guy. I’ll admit, you need a level of consistency to become respected as a closer and to prove the presence of a ‘closer mentality’. If Hughes faltered, I’m sure Brad Lincoln could do it. And make no mistake – I love Brad Lincoln. There’s nothing better than an any-situation, ball-in-the-shoe arm on the team. But if he were to spend August and September accumulating saves and establishing his ‘mentality’ at the MLB level, we’d have another closer to trade for a bat this off-season. Quality bats contribute more than flexible swingmen. And then you know what? There’d be another ‘closer’ coming out of Bradenton in the spring (Evan Meek?! ahhh!) – building a 9th-inning resume worthy of yet another mid-summer offensive upgrade.
The new CBA has undercut the Pirates ability to dominate the draft as they have for the past few years. Overpaying for top-level (or even mid-level) free agents is simply out of the question in this market with this ownership. Manufacturing closers to trade for walk-year bats could be a solution. I can think of three very good reasons to go down this road. The Pirates would:
a) continually bring established talent to Pittsburgh;
b) begin to shift toward a veteran destination culture (building on what guys like AJ Burnett are starting); and
c) improve the farm system by stockpiling sandwich picks in the following draft from letting the mid-season free agents walk in November.