Sharpening the pitch-forks
"It just happened. Let's give it a day or so, huh? Every time somebody doesn't perform, they're either going to get taken out of the rotation or they're going to get sent down. C'mon, man: it's a 162-game season - guys struggle."
-- Chip Hale
No, Chip. Yesterday's backlash may seem like a knee-jerk reaction, but this has resulted from seven months of failure. Addison Reed in the ninth is a running joke in Gameday Threads when we have a lead in late innings - along the lines of, "Please score more runs, I don't want to see Addison Reed in the ninth, hurhur." This is not borne out of sarcastic faith in his abilities: it's because of a long, well-established history of appearances that fall somewhere between a Six Flags roller-coaster ride and an extinction level meteor strike, in terms of entertainment. Yesterday's failure was unexpected to regular viewers, only in its grand-slam grandeur, not its existence.
Kevin Towers traded to get Reed in December 2013, for third-base prospect Matt Davidson. and at the time, the SnakePit generally liked it: 52% rated it as great or good, compared to 29% giving it a poor or terrible rating. In some ways, that's not necessarily wrong: Davidson had a wretched 2014, hitting below the Uecker Line in AAA and, while he's doing better this season (a .763 OPS through 30 games), is still striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances. But my concerns were more to do with what I called in May 2014, the "mirage of the proven closer," which showed the volatility of relievers applies to closers every bit as much.
With regard to our current closer, I wrote there, "When we dealt for him, Reed had a much less impressive ERA+ of 103... There wasn't much in Reed's performance to suggest he was an outstanding reliever or would be a great closer." Yet despite his mediocre career numbers, he got the position, it seems because he saved 40 the previous year for the White Sox. So, he must know what he is doing, right? Wrong. Reed picked up his first loss for the D-backs, before he notched his first save, losing his second appearance for Arizona, as he gave up two runs in the ninth inning against San Francisco. That set the tone for 2014, and on into yesterday, for we discovered
Addison Reed is not a very good closer
Since the start of 2014, conveniently, there are 30 pitchers in the majors who have picked up twenty or more saves. For reasons of brevity, I'll spare you the entire list, but here is what the bottom five by ERA+ look like.
It's not just ERA+. You can pretty much take your metric of choice, and Reed sucks. Old-school? ERA: 29th. Losses: 30th. Sabermetric? FIP: 28th. bWAR: 30th - almost a full win below replacement. Opposing hitters? BA/OBP/SLG: 26th/24th/30th. OPS: 30th. HR allowed: 29th. No, Chip: this is not "Let's give it a day." This is more than a full season of performances which are among the very worst in the major-leagues by closers.
An argument sometimes offered is that Reed "pitches to the score" and the ERA is inflated by performance in non-save situations, when it doesn't matter. While technically true - his ERA is higher in non-save situations - after yesterday, the gap doesn't seem particularly significant. In save situations, Reed has now given up 20 earned runs in 40 innings, a 4.50 ERA. When there isn't a save to be had, it's 16 ER in 29.1 innings, a 4.91 ERA. The adrenalin of a save situation pumping through Reed's veins, gets the result rising from "pretty bad" all the way up to "significantly below average."
Others may say - and indeed did, even after yesterday - look at those saves! Reed has closed 81% of chances! True. Except, that isn't actually good, as a thought experiment shows. Imagine a pitcher who allows exactly one run every inning he pitches. No zeroes at all. Horrible, right? But even such a gurgling vortex of suck would still be "good" enough to save 67% of save chances, because he'd convert all the two- and three-run leads, which also count as save opportunities. 81% is, in fact, awful. As shoe noted, of the closers mentioned above, the median is 87%; only two have a worse percentage: Jason Grilli (78%) and - here's a flashback - Chad Qualls (76%).
Speaking of Qualls is a nice segue, because I'm sure you know, the Diamondbacks have had their share of despised closers over the years. I remember, before I even started the SnakePit, wincing in 2004 as I listened on the car radio to Matt Mantei stinking things up. So, where does Reed rank in the hallowed pantheon of ninth-inning guys for Arizona? I set the bar a little lower here, at 15 saves, because I wanted to include our most-hated closer of recent times, Heath Bell. Bell was so bad, we not only paid the Rays $3.5 million to take him off our hands, we also had to throw a starting prospect (David Holmberg) into the three-team deal. Surely, Reed can't be as bad?
Welp. That puts Reed's performance into perspective, doesn't it? We're left yearning for the halcyon days of Bell as closer. We do see that being merely average isn't good enough - and that makes sense, because you're put into the most important situations for your team, and should be the best reliever available On the 2014-15 D-backs, Reed certainly has not been that. Indeed, of the 11 relievers with 20+ innings of work for us over that time, Reed's ERA ranks... tenth. The only worse reliever for Arizona since the start of last season has been Matt Stites. You wouldn't want, say, Will Harris as closer, would you? So why should we settle for Reed, who has a worse ERA in that time?
That kind of performance is not just bad for a closer, it's bad for a reliever. In terms of Diamondbacks history, Reed's 82 ERA+ trails the numbers belonging to Sam Demel, Jason Grimsley and, worst if all, Jon Rauch. Yet somehow, Reed is the cost of a tricked-out Escalade from being the highest-paid reliever on the 2015 team, behind Brad Ziegler. Who is, y'know, actually good at the job. He's the poster child for "not trading for a proven closer," and the sooner the team realizes this and makes a change, the better for the Diamondbacks, and the happier we'll all be. Hey, even Reed, who can continue cashing those sizable checks.
If not Reed, then who?
We will still need someone for those save situations - sparse though they have been through the first month-plus of the season [only four in the first 33 games]. We do find potential candidates slightly thinner on the ground than they were on Opening Day, with Evan Marshall recently having been optioned to Reno. However, these are the three most obvious names to come to mind.
Brad Ziegler. He's the best reliever on the Diamondbacks. In fact, he's one of the best in the game, and has been since 2011; his ERA+ of 156 over that time is twelfth among relievers with 200+ innings of work. He has even stepped into the role for Arizona before, filling in admirably in 2013. He's particularly good at suppressing the long-ball: Ziegler has allowed fewer HR since the start of 2011 (11 in 281.1 IP) than Reed in Arizona (12 in 69.1 IP). However, Brad's extraordinary ability to generate ground-balls makes him particularly useful at putting out existing fires. These don't necessarily occur in the ninth, so anointing him as closer might make him less useful.
Daniel Hudson. Hudson has made it clear he wants to go back to starting, but after two Tommy John procedures, there's understandable concern about whether his arm can handle 200+ innings per year. Closing might be a good compromise, with almost as much earning potential, yet a lot less workload. He has been bringing it as a reliever, with an average FB of 95 mph, touching 97 on occasion [when a starter in 2012, his average FB was 92.8]. On the other hand, his ERA of 4.80 this year suggests that Hudson, unsurprisingly, is still working his way back from two-plus years enforced absence. Maybe eventually, just not yet?
Enrique Burgos. If we were looking long-term, Burgos is probably the person mostly likely to be the closer in 2017. pitch f/X says we haven't had a harder-throwing pitcher since their records began, Burgos reaching 98.7 mph during his appearance on May 6 in Colorado. This has resulted in the 24-year-old fanning 11 batters in just seven major-league innings, mirroring a minor-league K-rate which saw more than half his outs last year by the whiff. But with this, have come six walks, and considering Burgos to this point still has only 13.2 innings of work above High-A ball, his lack of experience may count against him.
Jake Barrett. If we're looking for a prospect with slightly more experience, Barrett may be the man, as he is currently closing for the Triple-A Reno Aces, and is doing a good job, with a 1.80 ERA over 14 appearances, and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings,. He's actually about eight months younger than Burgos, but is in his fourth year of professional baseball, and has more of a track record in general, with a 2.76 ERA over those four season in the minors. Either man would provide a cheap, cost-controlled alternative, since they'd be earning little more than league minimum through at least the end of the 2017 season.
But, for me, the main point is not having Reed closing games any more. If he does, any future losses will be squarely on Chip Hale: Reed can only pitch in the spots he's told, and that's a decision which belongs to the manager.