Antonio Bastardo leads all Major League pitchers at the All-Star Break with an .82 ERA and only trails the Padres’ Mike Adams and the Orioles’ Koji Uehara for the Major League lead in WHIP. With Tuesday’s trade of Fransisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers, there was one less, at the very least, once-dominant closer in the NL East. With K-Rod’s departure, there was likely even a more clean-cut best closer in the NL East; do Bastardo’s video-game-like numbers pass the test to take the role? Click on the chart below to enlarge.Bastardo at least finds himself in the discussion by the easy-to-digest ERA and WHIP stats. He leads all NL East closers (which for the sake of this post includes Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Leo Nunez, Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, Jason Isringhausen, Craig Kimbrel and Drew Storen) in those categories. But when peripherals are thrown in the mix a few conclusions can be drawn:
1.) Francisco Rodriguez was not nearly effective this year as he was in previous years, nor as effective as he was perceived to be;
2.) Jason Isringhausen is not the guy Mets fans want closing for them;
3.) Bobby Parnell has been, very quietly, one the best middle relievers in Major League Baseball, able to strike batters out, but struggles with walks. He should be the Mets’ closer;
4.) Ryan Madson was having a terrific season before he injured his hand;
5.) If the Marlins can get a decent return for Leo Nunez at the deadline, they should do it;
6.) Antonio Bastardo’s peripherals mirror his performance and you shouldn’t expect a huge fall-off;
7.) Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the NL East, probably the entire NL.
First, the trade of Rodriguez was a very smart move for the Mets. They avoid his gigantic option and are able to give an opportunity to a young player, Parnell, who has been successful this year in striking batters out. His 2.92 ERA is lower than both Rodriguez and Isringhausen, outpaces both in relatively large margain in FIP and xFIP, and creates a lot of swings and misses. If he can limit the walks, he would be an excellent choice to close as the Mets look to rebuild. Next, Madson of the Phillies was having a tremendous season before his untimely hand injury. He had very solid K/9 IP and K/BB rates, a 1.19 WHIP, and posted a 2.03 ERA despite being relatively unlucky (.316 BABIP v. .228 BAA). Nunez feels like the Marlins closer by default and ranks at or near the back of the pack in each of the statistical categories, conventional or advanced, for NL East closers. Bastardo’s other-worldly ERA and WHIP is not something that will balloon into the 3’s any time soon, but he is on quite a historic pace, as written about earlier here. He has a .101 BAA which closely matches an impressive, or lucky depending on ow you see it, .130 BAPIP. His penchant for giving up fly balls may catch up to him, but he is making hitters swing and miss as well. However, Bastardo has done this in only 33 innings. He has been perfect in only 5 chances but does have 7 holds in 36 appearances. Craig Kimbrel, meanwhile, is on another level.
Kimbrel may not have the flashy sub-1 ERA Bastardo carries, but he has done his work in 13 more innings over 11 more appearances. Kimbrel has been worth 2 Wins Above Replacement level player (WAR) this season, .6 WAR more than the next closest Major League reliever (teammate and fellow All-Star Jonny Venters). His 2.35 ERA is only good enough for 17th in the NL, behind teammates Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, but his FIP leads all NL closers, pacing the next closest closer, Joel Hanharan, by .7. Where Kimbrel really shines is his 13.70 K/9 IP, which leads all NL closers and trails only Kenley Jenson of the Dodgers for the NL lead. Like Parnell, Kimbrel would benefit from reducing his walks, but his 3.89 K/BB is still good enough far and away to lead all NL East closers and good for third among all NL closers. The scariest part? His .181 BAA versus his .305 BABIP suggests that hitters are finding holes that better defenses would reach. Meaning with a little bit of defensive luck, Kimbrel would have even better stats.
Kimbrel is only 23 and is in his first full season. His 46 innings pitched is 31.2 away from his career high attained last year between Triple A and Atlanta. His success is scary for Phillies’s not only this year, but for years to come. The silver-lining for Phillies’ fans this year? Kimbrel and teammates Venters and O’Flaherty, two All-Stars and a third I wouldn’t have blinked an eye on if selected, are all on pace to either surpass or outright blow away their previous career high in innings pitched. Despite his five blown saves, Kimbrel has been far and away the best and most consistent closer in the NL East this season and looks to be, along with Venters, a thorn in the side of Phillies fans for years to come. If the Braves can maintain his arm and effectiveness, I would dread facing the Braves and their stellar bullpen in a potential NLCS match-up.