According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Angels are looking at Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour, Joel Hanrahan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Brandon League of the Seattle Mariners as possible closing solutions for the team. Jordan Walden was stripped of his closing duties, and the Angels are currently using star set-up man Scott Downs as the closer. In the article, Cafardo also stated that Balfour is a sought-after reliever and looks like the most logical option.
Last season, Walden was worth 1.7 WAR and struck out about ten batters per nine innings with a 2.98 ERA and a 3.88 BB/9 in 60.1 innings. He saved 32 games and ended up with a 45.2 GB% in a great year.
This year, he struggled mightily as the closer and brought down his projected ERA total to about 3.90 from 3.75 due to his struggles. It seems too early to give up on Walden, and it is far too irrational to acquire a lesser closer.
In 2011, Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan had a career year and was worth 2 WAR after a 2010 season in which he set his previous career high for WAR at 1.4. In fact, Hanrahan became a better pitcher in each year of his career. In 2007, he was worth -0.4 WAR, he was then worth 0.7 WAR in 2008, and Hanrahan improved to 0.9 WAR a year later.
He became the closer in Pittsburgh last season and saved 40 games in 68.2 innings with a 2.18 FIP. He struck out eight batters per nine and walked two per nine in 2011, and he set a career high with a 52.4 GB%. Hanrahan is on pace for a 3.00 ERA and has four saves this season.
Current Angels closer Scott Downs was a terrific offseason acquisition in 2010 and was signed to an inexpensive deal. As solid as it gets, Downs has never been worth less than 0.5 WAR at any point in his career. He had four straight seasons of at least 1 WAR from 2007-2010 with the Blue Jays before being worth just 0.9 WAR last season.
Although he may not have any closing experience, I was surprised to hear the announcers during the Angels-Indians game yesterday saying that he isn’t closing material. Downs is one of the better relievers in the game and is better than some current closers. I don’t see the problem with using him as a closer, since he is one of the most consistent RPs in the game.
The other two relievers, Grant Balfour and Brandon League, currently close for other teams in the AL West. Balfour is a former Tampa Bay Rays gem and has saved six games this season with a 1.38 ERA. He is on pace for a 3.50 ERA in an expected 60 innings of work.
When the Rays won the World Series, Balfour had a monstrous year and was worth 2.1 WAR thanks to a 1.54 ERA. He followed that up with a 0.8 WAR season in 2009 and a 1.1 WAR year in 2010. In his first season with the Athletics, Balfour was merely average and was worth 0.4 WAR with a 3.57 xFIP in 62 innings of work.
The last closer on the list of three, Brandon League, used to be Downs’s teammate in Toronto. He became the closer in Seattle last season after a promising 1 WAR campaign in 2009 and a mediocre season in 2010. League saved 37 games last year with a career-high 1.4 WAR and finished with a healthy 2.79 ERA. League has seven saves so far this year with a 2.78 FIP (same total in 11.2 innings this year as 61.1 last year) and will likely have a 3.30 ERA.
All three of the closers the Angels are looking at are good, but so are Downs and Walden. Of the five, Downs is the safest bet and Walden has the highest upside. However, he also has the highest downside, but the Angels should stay pat and shouldn’t acquire a closer. Trading for closers is usually expensive in terms of assets, and it isn’t like the Angels have a huge need for one anyway. They just need good regression to take place in Walden’s case, because six appearances doesn’t dictate much of anything.
In the mean time, the Angels can close Downs and use Walden as the set-up man until they feel comfortable with Walden closing again. Both of these pitchers are near opposites, with Walden being the young, sometimes mercurial yet talented righty, and Scott Downs being the veteran left-hander with two great pitches and impressive consistency.
The relievers that the team is looking at are quality pitchers, but the Angels need to take a step back and analyze the situation with a more patient eye before coming to a decision. They already have two great high-leverage relievers who can switch off closing duties if need be, and they also have solid depth in the pen with LaTroy Hawkins.
Tags: Boston Globe Brandon League Grant Balfour Joel Hanrahan Jordan Walden LaTroy Hawkins Los Angeles Angels Nick Cafardo Oakland Athletics Pittsburgh Pirates Scott Downs Seattle Mariners Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays