The Thanksgiving holiday brings us lots of food and football, but not much MLB trade rumors as many of the top baseball writers take some time off before the Winter Meetings which start the first week of December. So, I take the opportunity to fish around for potential NL closers-in-waiting.
I like to look for set-up guys who may have a good chance of getting save opportunities in 2009 so I focused on the relievers who have high strike out rates and low walk rates.
Jason Motte-STL- Motte started out in the minor leagues as a catcher, but could not hit a lick, so they made a last ditch efffort to extend his career as a pitcher. Little did the Cardinals know that they may have found their next closer should Chris Perez not handle the big leagues in 2009.
Motte's pitched only 11 innings with the Cards in 2008, but struck out 16 batters while only walking 3, with a 0.82 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP. At AAA Memphis, he pitched 65.2 innings, with 4 wins, 8 saves, a 116/25 K/BB rate, a 3.17 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP.
Hong-Chi Kuo-LA- Kuo has a history of arm problems starting and ending with not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. That right there tells you his arm could fall off after every pitch. But, Kuo put together a very fine season in 2008 for the Dodgers.
He began the season in the starting rotation, but Joe Torre made one of his smarter moves of the season by putting Kuo in the bullpen. Torre started out by using Kuo as his long man out of the pen, frequently using him for 2-4 innings. But, in July, Torre started using Kuo to pitch the 7th inning.
In 80 innings in 2008, Kuo has 5 wins, 1 save, a 96/21 K/BB rate, a 2.14 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. With Jonathon Broxton slated to take over as the closer in LA in 2009, Kuo could get some save opportunites should Broxton have problems in his first full season as closer.
Joe Nelson-FLA-Nelson has been a journey-man middle reliever pretty much his whole career. His career started in 1996 as a starter, but by 1999 he was switched to a middle reliever.
Nelson pitched 54 innings with the Marlins in 2008, with 3 wins, 1 save, a 60/22 K/BB rate, a 2.00 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He has similar success in AAA Alberquerque, where he pitched 25 2/3rd innings, with 1 win, 11 saves, a 36/6 K/BB rate, a 2.14 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
Nelson turned 34 in October, but should Matt Lindstrom, the heir-apparent to the recently traded closer Kevin Gregg, falter, Nelson could become a reliable closer for a young Marlins team in 2009.
All three of these relievers have a couple things going for them: 1) they have high strikeout rates, which is a plus for closers, and 2) they pitch behind closers with little or no experience closing at the major league level.