Jim Leyland won’t name a closer for the upcoming 2013 season. It seems that would-be rookie Bruce Rondon will be given every chance to claim the role, but he hasn’t yet proven that he can get AA hitters out for a full season and his ability to stick in the big leagues for a full season is far from a sure thing.
It seems like Phil Coke will be given the first shot (should Rondon not seize the job), but he probably isn’t the best option (though he might do just fine), and the Tigers have other guys who could do the job just fine. Yesterday Grant touted Al Alburquerque, and today I’m going to throw Joaquin Benoit‘s name into the ring.
After missing the 2009 season due to injury, Benoit has bounced back to be one of the more effective relievers in baseball. In 192 innings (one season in Tampa Bay and two in Detroit), he’s compiled a 2.71 ERA with a 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings rate. That’s a better ERA than each of the top six save leaders had over the same time frame (Jose Valverde, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, John Axford, Chris Perez, and Carlos Marmol).
His only real issue was just last year when he allowed 14 home runs — nearly triple the total that he allowed the year before (5). That could be a serious problem — a sign that his stuff isn’t working so well — or it could just be random variation rearing it’s ugly head. If fly balls stop leaving the yard at an abnormal rate, there’s no reason that his ERA wouldn’t dip back below 3.00 where it had been.
Benoit’s biggest plus is probably his ability to get both right handed and left handed hitters out with good frequency. Even though he was allowing homers at a high rate last season, he was still getting outs. Lefties put up a .298 OBP and righties put up a .278 OBP against him last season. To put those numbers in some context, Phil Coke has allowed a .370 OBP against him when facing right handed hitters. Benoit’s small platoon splits make him the ideal type of pitcher to throw into the game regardless of who’s coming up to bat.
Like all the options Detroit will have, Benoit certainly isn’t perfect or free of question marks, but — questions of his durability aside — he has the potential to be an incredibly effective closer.