After Sandy Alderson shrewdly traded away Francisco Rodriguez as his looming 2012 vest, Terry Collins announced that veteran Jason Isringhausen, fireballer Bobby Parnell, and rookie Pedro Beato all were in the running to close out games for the team. It soon became apparent that Izzy was the de facto closer, as he closed a bunch of games over the span of about a month, allowing him to reach the 300 save plateau. After that, it was announced that he would no longer close, and that Bobby Parnell would assume the role.
Since becoming the full-time closer, Parnell has been anything but lockdown, blowing 5 save opportunities in his last ten chances. Historically, Parnell has performed less-than-sterling in what ‘The Book' categorizes in High Leverage Situations- he walks more batters (4.78/9, as opposed to 4.47/9 in Moderate Leverage Situations, and 3.59/9 in Low Leverage Situations), has given up more home runs (1.13/9 as opposed to 0.80/9 in Moderate Leverage Situations, and 0.40/9 in Low Leverage Situations), and batters are hitting better against him (.326 BAA, as opposed to .307 in Moderate Leverage Situations, and .233 in Low Leverage Situations). His FIP/xFIP in High Leverage Situations is 4.63/4.45, a lot higher than it is in Low Leverage Situations (3.21/3.89) and Moderate Leverage Situations (3.72/3.71). Sure, in those High Leverage Situations, he's being BABIP'd to death (This season, his BABIP in those situations is .378), but all those walks (5.56/9 this season) and the drop in strikeouts (8.74/9, almost two full strikeouts less than his performance in Low and Moderate Leverage Situations) fall on his head.
As a result, Terry Collins has temporarily removed him from the closer role, using Josh Stinson and Manny Acosta in save situations. A recent SNY text poll revealed that a large majority of those who voted (I can't find the results, so I am going by memory) were weary of Parnell closing going forward, including the 2012 season. So, who are the possible candidates for the closer role in 2012?
Despite everything mentioned above, Parnell is still among the best relievers that the Mets have this season (which is somewhat disheartening, since Fangraphs says he is worth only 0.3 WAR, as of 9/10). When he is on- when he can locate his explosive fastball and razor sharp slider- Parnell looks impressive. The problem is that Parnell does not always have command over his pitches. When he isn't able to control his slider, all Parnell really has is the heat- and, while 100 MPH+ fastballs are impressive, if they're as straight as Parnell's are, the batter can guess location and get his timing such that he smack the hell out of the ball. It is also important to note that, since we're the Mets and all, Bobby Parnell's fastball is the unluckiest fastball in the Major Leagues. Because luck is luck, it is liable to change on a whim. When Parnell's fastball- his main, bread-and-butter pitch- is luckier, Parnell as a relief pitcher will be more effective.
It's been a tale of two seasons for Acosta. After not making the team from Spring Training, he was brought up and posted a 9.35 ERA in 8.2 IP in June. Since then, he's posted a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 IP in July, 1.32 ERA in 13.2 IP in August, and, so far in September, a 1.50 ERA in 6 IP. He's slowly been weaned into progressively more and more important innings, and so far, Acosta has performed admirably. In the 7.1 High Leverage Innings he has pitched, he is sporting a 0.57 FIP and a 1.75 xFIP. His K/9 rate is higher (11.05/9, as opposed to 9.00/9 in Medium Leverage Situations, and 8.71/9 in Low Leverage Situations), and he has yet to give up a walk in a High Leverage situation as I write this. In such situations, batters are hitting .222 against him, and that's with a somewhat unlucky .333 BABIP. According to Terry Collins, Acosta has been more emotional since his recent renaissance began, which has translated into an adrenaline-boost in his fastball velocity (he's regularly hitting 97 MPH on the radar gun) and pitch control. "This guy, in the last six weeks, has not only amped it up emotionally, but his location and his pitches- he throws all his pitches for strikes. He's down in the zone. It's very impressive."
Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft, Beato was an early sensation, setting a new Mets club record for the longest scoreless inning streak to start a career, with 18.2 innings (in those innings, he allowed only 9 hits and 3 walks). Inevitably, Beato came back to earth. After an elbow injury sent him to the DL, Beato has pitched to mixed results, most of them poor. In 8.2 innings in May, he had a 6.23 ERA. In 12.2 innings in June, he had a 6.39 ERA. In 10.0 innings in July, he had a 1.08 ERA. In 13.1 innings in August, he had a 6.08 ERA. So far in September, he's pitched 4.0 innings, and has a 4.50 ERA. Beato's low K/9 rate and relatively high BB/9 rate are problematic. He currently possesses a 5.31 K/9 rate, and a 3.73 BB/9 rate, giving him a 1.42 K/BB ratio. Considering the poor results that he's had with a .247 BABIP, there's not much reason to believe that he'll be any more effective when his BABIP invariably goes up. With an 82.9% contact percentage, he needs that BABIP to be as low as possible- His 7.7 % swing and miss percentage isn't going to get things done. The potential might be there, though. In 2010 with AA-Bowie, Beato threw 59.2 innings (netting 16 saves) to a 2.11 ERA and 3.50 FIP, with a .271 BABIP. He struck out 7.54 batters per nine innings, and walked 2.87 per nine innings. So, against lesser competition, yes, Beato struck out more, walked fewer batters, and allowed fewer hits, all with a higher number of batters getting on base. Beato has a wide assortment of pitches, though none stand out as being much better or worse than any others- perhaps with the refinement of a pitch or two in Winterball, or Spring Training, Beato will be able to increase his Major League strikeout rate, and lower his Major League walk rate, and be a more effective relief pitcher.
Might Chris Capuano take a page out of Joel Hanrahan's book, and shift to a relief role as a closer? Hanrahan started his career as a starter, but never really distinguished himself. After being shifted to the bullpen in 2008, his career began to take off. The fulltime closer of the Pirates currently, he having an All-Star season, worth 2.0 WAR +/-, the best of his career. Capuano shows some pretty large variance in how effective he is based on how many times through the order he's pitched. In 2011, batters have hit .207/.261/.328 against him the first time through the order, .286/.359/.437 the second time through, 298/.335/.608, and (11 PA SSS) .800/.800/.900 the fourth time through. He also seems to tire early, as he has a 3.33 with 80 Ks in the first three innings of games (81 IP sample size), but a 5.35 ERA with 56 Ks in the next three (71 IP sample size). Although Capuano is going to throw 175+/- IP by season's end, his age and injury history have given him a stigma- can be an effective starting pitcher, repeating that in seasons to come? Capuano wanted to stay a starting pitcher in 2010, while the Brewers envisioned him having a bullpen role, which is why he and the his former team went their separate ways. Capuano was pitching in middle relief with the Brew Crew, however. Perhaps a more glorified position might cause him to rethink his career trajectory- closers generally make around the same money as much as low-to-moderate tier starting pitchers.
There's going to be a bunch of established closers, or relief pitchers with a "closer's mentality" on the Free Agent market this winter, at varying prices and availability. The list includes:
Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Octavio Dotel, Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Jason Isringhausen, Brad Lidge, Mike MacDougal, Ryan Madson, Joe Nathan, Vicente Padilla, Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Rodriguez, Takashi Saito, George Sherrill, Kerry Wood, Joel Zumaya, and Jose Valverde