New Sox closer: A look at the candidates

New Sox closer: A look at the candidates
June 21, 2013, 1:15 pm
Share This Post

DETROIT -- The season began with Joel Hanrahan as the closer. After Hanrahan was ineffective because of one injury and then lost for the season because of another, Andrew Bailey took over.
Now, it seems as the Red Sox are ready to turn to a third closer after Bailey blew his fourth save of the season Thursday night,
costing John Lackey a win.
In a month or so, it's possible the Sox could go outside the organization and make a deal for a proven closer at the trade deadline. Or, they could eventually go with someone from their system, with hard-throwing Rubby de la Rosa a potential candidate in time.
For now, however, the Sox are somewhat limited to what seems like three choices from their current bullpen.
A look at their respective strengths and weaknesses and likelihood of being tabbed.
1) Andrew Miller
Tellingly, Miller was up in the bullpen immediately after Bailey walked Victor Martinez to start the ninth inning Thursday night. He  barely had time to get loose before Bailey gave up the walkoff homer to Jhonny Peralta.
Miller's stregths are obvious: he's been striking out hitters at a ridiculous rate, averaging 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings, second-best among qualifying relievers.
Lately, he's been close to unhittable. Since May 14, covering his past 16 games and 16 innings, he's struck out 25 and compiled a 1.13 ERA and a .203 batting average against.
But Miller has never closed at the professional level and even as he's racked up strikeouts at an incredible pace, he's also had some command issues, with 4.8 walks per nine innings.
That's an improvement over his career numbers (5.3 per nine innings) but it's still worrisome.
When attempting to protect a one- or two-run lead, putting hitters on base with a walk invites either the tying or winning run to the plate immediately.
That's a dangerous way to go, as Bailey found out Thursday night.
Still, Miller has harnessed things better of late and his ability to get hitters to swing and miss can't be denied.

2) Koji Uehara
Uehara pitched a perfect inning in a set-up capacity Thursday night and has been among the team's most reliable bullpen arms from the start of the season.
Uehara has appeared in 32 games so far with a 2.10 ERA. What's more impressive, however, is his command. While striking out 42 in that span, he's issued just seven walks -- two of those intentionally.
His 6.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio illustrates just how in control he's been and his WHIP of .867 is evidence that he doesn't put runners on base late in the game -- a critical skill for closers.
Two other numbers, however, bear watching: Uehara has given up four homers in 30 innings, which is raises an eyebrow.
Also, Uehara is 38, easily the oldest of the candidates.
At the start of spring training, Farrell said he didn't want to pitch Uehara on consecutive days, in order to preserve him for the long season.
Circumstances have changed that thinking: six of his 30 appearances have come a day after he was used. Uehara hasn't seen any dropoff in those appearances, but the Sox may still be wary of annointing him closer while worrying about how frequently he can be used.


3) Junichi Tazawa
Tazawa was briefly selected as the emergency closer earlier in the year when both Bailey and Hanrahan occupied the disabled list together.
Tazawa's strikeout-to-walk ratio are even more impressive than those of Miller or Uehara. In 32 1/3 innings, he's struck out 38 and walked only three, translating into a 12.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But he's the only member of the trio of candidates to allow more than a hit per inning (however slightly, with 33 hits in 32 1/3 innings) and his strikeout ratio per nine innings is also the lowest of the three (10.6).
That's not to suggest that Tazawa hasn't been effective; he has. But between his relative inexperience in the big leagues and the fact that he's been highly effective in the set-up role -- with the added benefit of being able to come back for a second inning when called upon -- would seem to suggest that he's probably best left where he is.