Options at Closer Plentiful for Royals

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Now that Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria is slated to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery on April 3rd, it leaves Kansas City manager Ned Yost without a declared closer for the upcoming season. There has been a lot of optimism and hype surrounding this young Royals team, and news of Soria being lost for all 0f 2012 could have derailed their optimism (like it’s currently doing for Ryan Madson and the Reds), but Kansas City has three viable options that can help this team compete for a playoff spot and start to bring a winning tradition back to a city that has been craving it for quite some time. The three pitchers that Yost has to choose from include: Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, off-season acquisition Jonathan Broxton. There have been some rumors going around that the coaching staff has though about a “closer by committee” option, but I don’t think that would be in the best interest of the team.

So, even though there is a good chance that Yost won’t be naming a closer before their April 6th season opener, who should he trust with giving the 9th inning to this year? Well, let’s take a look at what each of these relievers have to offer. First, let’s bring Aaron Crow to the table. Last year was Crow’s rookie season, and it was a very good one; in 2011, he was elected to his first All-Star game and finished the season with a 4-4 record and a 2.57 ERA. He appeared in 57 games for the Royals and compiled 62 innings pitched, 65 strikeouts, and a 1.39 WHIP. Crow did gain some experience in finishing games in 2011 (19 games finished), but none of those were save situations, leaving him without any real closer experience.

In his second season with the Royals in 2011, Greg Holland showed that he was a worthy set-up man to Soria, appearing in 46 games

and compiling a 5-1 record, 1.80 ERA, 0.933 WHIP, and 74 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched. Out of the 46 games he appeared in, Holland finished 15 of them, while also getting his feet wet in save situations, saving four ballgames. Holland is still dealing with the transition from being a starter to a reliever, which he is obviously handling quite nicely after he had a taste of it at the Major League level in 2010.

Finally, there’s Jonathan Broxton, who signed a one-year/$4 million deal with the Royals, knowing that Soria was the established closer and he would only be saving games on occasion. Now that Soria will be out for the year, the obvious choice to assume the closer role in the eyes of the fans is Broxton; he is the most tenured of the three options Ned Yost has and has the most experience in that role. The Royals are easing Broxton back into competition this Spring because he has been out of action since May 3rd of last year, but he has been responding very well. During his seven-year MLB career, Broxton has appeared in 386 games, has a 3.19 ERA, 1.232 WHIP, and has accumulated 84 saves.

Now that the numbers part of the discussion is over, who should be the one trotting out to the mound when the game turns to the 9th

inning? For me, it has to be Jonathan Broxton, but not because of the numbers he’s put up. Yes, his experience, coupled with the lack of experience by Crow and Holland did sway my decision a bit, but it’s all about the mindset. The two toughest roles on a Major League team are being a bench player and being a closer. It takes a certain type of player to not only be able to fill that role, but to do it well and have the coaching staff know what they’re getting when they run them out onto the field. Out of these three options, Broxton is the only one that has gone through an entire season being a closer, and found success. Both Holland and Crow are great options, but their other roles for the Royals in 2012 are too important to take away from them, as they act as the bridge to the 9th inning.

Holland established himself as a viable set-up man last season, and even though it’s only an inning later in the game, there is a big difference pitching in the 8th inning instead of pitching in the 9th inning. The entire mindset is changed. As for Crow, he acts as that link between the starting pitcher and the back end of the bullpen. Plus, asking a player going into his sophomore season to be the closer for a team trying to break their tradition of losing is an awful lot of pressure. Out of the six divisions in Major League Baseball, analysts aren’t predicting an exciting race in the AL Central. It is vital that the Royals get off to a good start, and if they have late leads, they need to have someone on the mound that not only has the physical attributes to close a game out, but the mental attributes to do so as well. That’s why I think Jonathan Broxton is the best choice that Ned Yost has in his bullpen to close ballgames while Soria is busy rehabbing from surgery.

I mean, Yogi Berra did say, “Half of this game is 90% mental.” He wasn’t kidding; you show me a successful closer, and I’ll show you someone with a mental toughness that is unique. Not that Crow or Holland aren’t mentally tough, but closers are a different breed. Broxton has all the tools, Yost just needs to allow him to use them now that he’s healthy again.

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