January 18, 2007

PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM:

Battle for closer may go into season (Ian Browne, 1/18/07, MLB.com)

The closer's spot for the 2007 Boston Red Sox is currently wide open. Applicants need not send in their resumes. The Red Sox have them on file, and are willing to let the multilayered situation sort itself out. [...]

The slight favorite: When news broke that the Red Sox had signed free-agent right-hander Joel Pineiro, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The last thing the Red Sox needed was another starting pitcher, right?

But once it became clear that the Red Sox viewed Pineiro as possible closing material, the move made more sense. Still, there's no way of knowing if Pineiro -- who gained experience as a setup man late last season in Seattle -- can make the transition to closer, particularly when he is coming off a sharp decline in performance over the past couple of years.

But the Red Sox feel it is worth the gamble. And if all else fails, Pineiro could help the team in middle relief and as a spot starter. [...]

The safest choice: If the Red Sox truly wanted to get conservative -- and that is typically not their nature -- they would entrust the job to Mike Timlin and his 139 career saves. [...]

The young gun: When the Red Sox drafted Craig Hansen in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, they did so with the thought that he could be their closer of the future. Is the future now?

Probably not right out of the gate -- but don't rule out the scenario of Hansen moving into the closer's role by mid- to late-season. But after his mighty struggles of a year ago, it would be hard to envision the former St. John's star winning the job out of camp.

"I don't know if the time is now -- it's not my decision," said Hansen. "But I know what kind of shape I'm in, physically and mentally. Basically, all I can do is go into Spring Training and compete for the job -- any job that it might be."

In order for Hansen to become closer material, he needs to stop falling behind in the count and start establishing his fastball. Only then can he effectively use his slider, which is a lethal pitch when it's on.

"Craig is a guy that's still in the early stages of what should be a very successful career," said Farrell. "The physical abilities are outstanding. He has every physical attribute that you look for in a successful big-league pitcher. I think the fact that he's come to the big leagues so quick ... There's still some things to learn, and he would probably acknowledge that."

Staying with the "young gun" theory, what about Manny Delcarmen? The local product has a mid-90s fastball and a gorgeous curveball. However, Delcarmen -- one of the nicer guys you will meet -- doesn't seem to have the closer's mentality.


There just aren't many curveball reliant closers--Gregg Olson comes to mind--because your manager has to be confident you'll have the touch on it from the first batter 50-70 times a year. Hansen, as is not uncommon for youngsters, ended up pitching backwards: it's easy to get minor leaguers out with a slider, but you really need to throw predominantly fastballs in the majors or your dependence on sliders seems to rob you of velocity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2007 12:00 AM
Comments

Wasn't Hansen's main problem that he couldn't get lefties out? Wasn't the solution for him to develop a decent change-up to keep them off-balance? And weren't the Sawx working on that in the minors with him, but then made the mistake of bringing him up so fast? I suspect there are a lot a AL lefty sluggers just salivating at the idea of Hansen trying to get ahead of them with his fastball.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 18, 2007 3:21 PM

Have you seen Hansen's home/road split?

Holy Cow!

1.032 ops against at the Fens

.610 on the road.

Miniscule sample size blah blah blah, but maybe he'd do better with a team that didn't play 81 games a year at Fenway.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 18, 2007 3:25 PM

It's quite common for rookies to have a wide split depending on whether they only feel comfortable at home or feel less pressure on the road.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2007 6:10 PM

No, a slider pitcher can always get hitters from the opposite side of the plate out. He needs to throw more fastballs because he had trouble maintaining velocity.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2007 6:10 PM

Then why were they so hot on teaching him a change in the minors?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 18, 2007 6:23 PM

A good slider gets hitters from the opposite side of the plate out. When I saw Hansen pitch last year his slider tho had more in common with Randy Johnson circa 2006 than Randy Johnson circo 2001.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 18, 2007 6:28 PM

Bingo!

Post-steroidal Johnson can't throw a crisp slider.

Hansen just has to learn to throw mostly fastballs in order to keep his crisp.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2007 9:13 PM

Because if he can be a starter why waste him as a reliever? Closers are a dime a dozen.

Posted by: oj at January 18, 2007 9:16 PM
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