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The Arizona Diamondback Closers’ Cup: The Final

It’s Papa vs. Putz...

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Semi-final results

#1 Jose Valverde vs. #5 Brad Ziegler: 51% Valverde

An achingly close contest was, in the end, decided by just two votes, with Papa Grande edging Z by a margin on 47-45. This was perhaps something of a shock, with a number of people expressing the opinion that Ziegler was the best closer in team history. There is a case to be made that Brad is the greatest reliever in team history: he currently holds the franchise record for appearances (though Andrew Chafin may well take that from him by the end of 2023), and his 157 ERA+ was the best of the eight contestants here. But he arguably did some of his best work as a free-range fireman, coming in to strand runners before the ninth inning.

#2 J.J. Putz vs. #3 Matt Mantei: 88% Putz

This was nowhere near as close, though it was at least slightly more competitive than Putz’s first-round match-up, where he got 96% of the vote. Can’t really argue with the result. While Mantei is ranked third by sheer number of saves, he had an ERA north of four in his time with Arizona. Even allowing for the offensive-minded era in which he played, that’s still an ERA+ off 116, which is merely respectable, rather than outstanding. Certainly, Putz had better numbers in just about every category, and also has the benefit of recency, with Mantei’s time here pre-dating the SnakePit. His presence in our recent Worst Contracts series may not have helped...

The final poll

So, we end with the #1 and #2 seeds making their way through to the final. Both Valverde and Putz had easy first-round victories, but Papa Grande definitely had to work to get past Ziegler in the semis. In some ways, their numbers are remarkably close: Valverde has a fractional edge in save percentage (86.0% vs 85.6%), but Putz’s adjusted ERA is marginally better (ERA+ of 142 vs. 141). Still, let’s take a look at both candidates and see if we can make a case for them.

The case for Jose Valverde.

Papa Grande has more saves than anyone in franchise history. Not only that, he also holds the single-season mark, with 47 in 2007, leading all major-leaguers. Only one other pitcher has reached even forty saves in a year for Arizona. Valverde was an essential part of the team’s success in 2007, when they had most wins in the NL, despite being outscored. It’s largely because they had 32 one-run victories, also most in the majors. Valverde’s 2.12 average leverage index for the season is top-five for any reliever in franchise history. But it’s worth nothing Jose has three other seasons in which he recorded double-digit saves for Arizona, a mark unequaled by any closer.

The case for J.J. Putz

On the other hand, Putz is the only player in franchise history to have multiple seasons wirh 30+ saves, doing so in both 2011 and 2012. The former season, he recorded 45 saves with a 2.17 ERA, and like Valverde, was a key component in the team reaching the playoffs that year. Putz has a better ERA with Arizona than Valverde, and the gap is bigger when you look at Fielding Independent ERA, where J.J’s 2.85 number is the best of any of the eight contestants, and more than half a run lower than Jose’s 3.40. From 2011-13, Putz was one of the best relievers in majors, with 83 saves and a 2.45 ERA (163 ERA+), a sustained run as closer unmatched for anyone as a Diamondback.

Here’s a comparison of their two numbers and the poll. As always, feel free to explain your choice in the comments.


Who was the better Diamondbacks closer?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Jose Valverde
    (54 votes)
  • 45%
    J.J. Putz
    (45 votes)
99 votes total Vote Now