Friday, August 31, 2012
Mattingly's options at closer
By Dan Braunstein, ESPN Stats & Information
With Kenley Jansen out indefinitely with a recurrence of his heart issues, the Dodgers will most likely turn to Ronald Belisario and/or Brandon League to close out games in his absence.
Belisario picked up a five-out save Wednesday, but after the game manager Don Mattingly indicated that League might be his choice. Either way, both Belisario and League will take on more important roles as the Dodgers move forward without their stopper. The two pitchers have plenty in common.
Belisario and League are both groundball pitchers, although League has struggled to get grounders this year. League’s groundball rate from 2009-11 was at 59 percent but has dropped to 47 percent this year. At 62 percent, Belisario’s groundball percentage ranks seventh among all right-handed relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.
The result is that both are very good at keeping the ball in the park. League has allowed just four home runs in 115 innings over the last two seasons, including just one in 54 2/3 innings this year, and Belisario has allowed only two home runs in his 52 1/3 innings on the season.
Another skill both pitchers share is the ability to dominate right-handed hitters. Belisario in particular has excelled against righties this year. Righties are hitting just .139 against him this year, lowest among all pitchers who have faced at least 100 right-handed hitters this season. League has held righties to a .246 clip against him this year, even in a down year. From 2008-11, righties hit .225 against League.
Both have pitched well lately, too, although League’s success has been more recent. After a July in which he posted a 6.60 ERA, Belisario has a 1.38 ERA in August. As for League, even though he has an ERA of 5.40 since joining the Dodgers in August, he’s been excellent over his last five appearances.
According to the Dodgers’ official website, League has made a mechanical adjustment which according to him has improved his fastball and, in turn, his slider and splitter. The results of that adjustment have been impressive. In his last five appearances, League has allowed one hit and no runs over five innings, striking out six and walking three. He’s allowed 10 balls in play over that time, and only one has left the infield. It’s only five outings, but 65 percent of his pitches over that time have been in the lower third of the strike zone or below, compared with 48 percent on the season before those four outings.
Belisario has certainly outpitched League this season; his ERA is more than a full run lower than League’s, and he’s struck out more hitters than League and also walked fewer in almost exactly the same number of innings. League’s advantage in the eyes of Mattingly might be his prior experience as a closer. Just last year, League saved 37 games with a 2.79 ERA for the Mariners, making the All-Star team.
No matter which way the Dodgers turn, they’ll be getting a right-handed pitcher who excels at getting groundballs, keeping the ball in the park, and getting right-handed hitters out. Mattingly’s decision will come down to whether he wants the pitcher having the better season or the more experienced pitcher who seems to be rounding into form.