by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It appears that the Los Angeles Angels have decided to move on from Bud Norris for ninth inning duties, though that isn’t a given (though last night’s performance may have cemented that). It is a decision that would make sense based on his recent struggles, but even if they haven’t gotten to that point you would think it wouldn’t be far off. That said, as we’ve all learned it’s easy for a manager to turn back to someone with past success in the role, so we don’t want to ignore him as a potential option moving forward. There are a few pitchers who could step into the role, so let’s take a look and try to determine who has the highest upside (please note all statistics are prior to last night’s game, though the percentages reflect the outcome):
Up until recently it would’ve been hard to believe that Norris would be removed from the role, but things have gone south in a hurry. Since July 25 he’s allowed runs in three of his six appearances, with 10 ER on 7 H and 6 BB over 3.2 IP. That’s led to his ERA rising from 2.23 to 4.09, though with only one of the outings leading to a blown save it is possible that he sees the next chance. Of course one more stumble in the short-term could lead to him permanently being yanked from the role.
Norris’ biggest issue has been his control (4.30 BB/9) and sudden home run issues (1.02 HR/9 overall, but 2 HR allowed over this stretch). That said the latter shouldn’t be viewed as a major problem (46.3% groundball rate) and he also has shown big strikeout stuff (11.25 K/9) in his first full season as a reliever. In regards to the control, prior to his recent struggles he had walked 15 batters in 40.1 IP so that too wouldn’t have registered as an issue.
It’s easy to be down on Norris, and last night’s most recent implosion (coming in the 8th inning) all but cements that his time in the 9th inning has ended.
Chances of Closing – 20%
The preseason darling has missed time due to injury and struggled as of late (8.00 ERA since the All-Star Break). However when you start looking at the overall numbers things start to look promising:
- Strikeouts – 11.88 K/9
- Walks – 2.88 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.1%
We’d obviously like to see more groundballs, though home runs haven’t been an issue (0.72 HR/9) and he owns a 43.7% career mark. The problem, at the end of the day, has been luck (.339 BABIP, 63.8% strand rate) and little else. He’s getting swings and misses (13.4% SwStr%) and inducing swings outside the strike zone (35.4% O-Swing%).
Now is actually the ideal time to try and buy low, because outside of the poor luck the skills are fully there. He got the save yesterday and could get an opportunity to run with the role from here.
Chances of Closing – 40%
He’s 32-years old, so don’t mistake him for a young pitcher trying to emerge. That said he has been strong, showing all of the skills that we look for as he owns an 11.34 K/9, 2.52 BB/9 and 51.3% groundballs rate. He’s made an adjustment this season, significantly reducing the usage of his curveball (9.95%) and instead throwing his split-finger fastball quite often (30.31%). With a 26.58% Whiff% and opposing hitters managing a .138 average against the pitch, the change makes sense.
The move has definitely helped him emerge as an extremely impressive reliever, and there’s a good chance that he does get a look in the role at some point. You could actually argue that he’s the most impressive of the group and is a name to be monitoring closely.
Chances of Closing – 35%
He recently picked up a save, so his name has to be included in the mix of candidates. That said he likely is the longest shot at earning the regular role. He has shown an ability to generate ample swings and misses (16.5% SwStr%), but after that the skill set becomes questionable for a closer:
- Control – 3.50 BB/9
- Fly Balls – 45.5%
He owns a minor league career 3.8 BB/9, so walks are going to be an issue. Couple that with the elevated fly ball rate, which has led to home run issues (1.75 HR/9), and you don’t get an ideal closer. He also is a rookie, which makes it even tougher to envision him being trusted.
Chances of Closing – 5%
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
Make sure to check out our Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects by clicking here!