Searching for Saves: Los Angeles Angels: Will Ryan Madson Or Ernesto Frieri Be The Better Closing Option?

The Angels were a team who strived to improve their bullpen this past offseason, something that they clearly accomplished. They brought in new faces and have ample depth, but that doesn’t mean they are without questions. Right from the top, there are serious concerns so let’s take a look at how things shake out:

The Closer – Ryan Madson?
After missing 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, Madson was signed to a low guarantee, high incentive contract with the thought that he would close for the Angels. However, there has been talk already that he may not be ready for Opening Day. While he isn’t expected to miss much time, you never want to leave an opportunity for someone to step up and steal your job.

When healthy, Madson has proven that he can bring high strikeouts and good control. Just look at his last three healthy seasons (K/9 // BB/9):

  • 2009 – 9.08 // 2.56
  • 2010 – 10.87 // 2.21
  • 2011 – 9.20 // 2.37

Control is always a question coming back from Tommy John surgery, but if he can maintain it along with a solid groundball rate (47.7% for his career), there is no reason he can’t continue to thrive. He excelled in Philadelphia, after all, and we all know what kind of pitching environment that is.

The biggest question is his health, which does make him a sizable risk.  However, if he is healthy he is by far the best option the Angels have and the relief pitcher that is worth targeting on draft day.

Next in Line – Ernesto Frieri
He thrived after being acquired from the Padres, compiling 23 saves to go along with a 2.32 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. He dominated hitters with a 13.36 K/9, a number we would expect to regress a little bit but he should remain an elite strikeout artist.

The questions are his control (4.31 BB/9 for the Angels, 4.54 for his career) and an awful lot of luck. Despite posting an overall 21.1% line drive rate, Frieri posted a .208 BABIP and an 87.5% strand rate. It’s hard to imagine those numbers continuing, especially given his control and propensity to allow home runs (1.23 HR/9 last season). He is a fly ball pitcher, and being out of San Diego he could continue to get burned.

It’s not to say that Frieri can’t thrive once again, just don’t go into the year expecting him to match last seasons’s numbers.  If he’s closing he obviously holds value, but there’s a lot of risk involved in him handling the job.

Another Option – Sean Burnett
Signed as a free agent, Burnett has posted an ERA above 3.12 once in the past four seasons. The strikeouts and control have varied a bit, but in two of the past three years he has paired a K/9 of at least 8.86 with a BB/9 of 2.86 or better.

That’s a nice make-up, though hs value could take a hit moving to the AL. A lefty, that also hurts his chances of closing. He should see time in the eighth inning, but he should be considered a long-shot to close very often, especially considering righties hit .293 against him last season. Unless its a lineup loaded with lefties, he’s going to setup.

Another Option – Scott Downs
Another southpaw, Downs earned nine saves for the Angels last season so you know he has the trust of his manager. Not a big strikeout pitcher, he uses groundballs (57.5% for his career) to get the job done.

Like Burnett, however, he is coming off a season with a stark split between lefties (.188) and righties (.294). Seems like more of a matchup play, wouldn’t you think?

Deep Sleeper – Nick Maronde
A starter by trade, Maronde reached the Majors last season as a reliever and has the stuff that could translate into an excellent end game option. In 20 appearances (18 starts) in the minors last season he amassed 90 K and 19 BB over 99.2 IP. In the Majors (12 appearances, only 6.0 innings), he struck out 7 while averaging 92.5 mph on his fastball.

Another lefty, his strikeout ability and the presence of Burnett and Downs do give him a chance to rise up and get a chance. That said, it’s a long-shot it happens this season but he is a pitcher well worth monitoring in dynasty formats.

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