Before we get to that, congratulations to Jose Valverde. He edged out J.J. Putz in a close-fought final by a margin of 54-46% to be anointed as the best closer in franchise history. Thanks to all those who took part, commented and voted. Before we get into the games of spring training properly, I wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum, and pick the scab of the candidates for worst closer in franchise history. Much as with closer, there’s no obvious candidate, but for a slightly different reason. The plug gets pulled on bad closers, even in Arizona, and once you’ve lost the job, it’s unlikely you will get it back. Maybe Mark Melancon will break that trend this year...
But in the end, I set the qualifying bar at ten saves. Dropping it to five didn’t really add many more true “closers”. Aaron Heilman was the best-known name in the 5-9 save category, and his six saves were scattered across about half of the 2010 campaign. Typically, D-backs managers have (understandably) had a slower trigger finger than fans, when it comes to getting rid of closers. So ten saves seems like a decent number. I initially also included five blown saves as another qualifier. Except I then realized that actually excludes Mark Melancon, who had only three in his twenty-one opportunities - his issue were in non-save situation, particularly tied games. So I dropped the BS qualifier.
Below are the ten worst in terms of ERA+, with ten or more saves for Arizona. I’ve included some other numbers, such as blown saves, Win Probability Added, etc. Note that these numbers apply to their entire time with Arizona. This is of particular significance for Ian Kennedy, whose overall figures are definitely helped by his time here as a starter, which represent well over 90% of his total innings as a D-back. Last year as a reliever, his ERA was 5.36, giving him an ERA in that role of 73 - tied for worst with Brian Bruney. Kennedy’s FIP in 2022 was 5.58 and his WPA was -1.4. Those are the numbers I’d be more inclined to bear in mind when measuring his candidature.
As with the question of who’s the best closer, your choice will likely depend on your preferred metric. We noted earlier, Melancon didn’t blow many saves - but his Win Probability is the worst on the list. Bruney and Greg Aquino had the worst ERA - but both men played in a more offensively-minded era than recent occupants of the role. Kennedy has the worst save percentage - but a lot of his appearances in the first half of last year, came before the ninth inning, when you can only blow a save, not secure one. Heath Bell’s blown save percentage is almost as bad, yet his overall Win Probability is not bad. As a reliever, it trails only Aquino... who has an ERA close to five.
So, really - there is no wrong answer here. But that won’t stop us from having a poll, and you should also be sure to provide your pick and explain your choice in the comments...
Who was the worst closer in team history?
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