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Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Closer questions: Madson to Angels, Reds

By David Schoenfield

Jerry Crasnick reports that the Los Angeles Angels have signed Ryan Madson to a one-year deal, pending a physical. The Reds are also reportedly close to re-signing Jonathan Broxton, a move that would allow them to move Aroldis Chapman into the rotation.

Let's take these one at a time.

The Angels clearly had bullpen issues in 2012, posting a 3.97 ERA that ranked 12th in the American League. This even though they were able to concentrate their innings on fewer relievers, since only the Yankees required fewer innings from their bullpen. The Angels also had 22 blown saves, tied with the Red Sox for most in the league. The American League average was 16 blown saves per team; the Rays had the fewest with eight, although the Orioles with that phenomenal record in one-run games had 18 blown saves. Remember, not all blown saves result in losses.

The Angels were 77-3 when leading after eight innings, so the problems came in the middle innings. The Angels allowed 33 percent of inherited runners to score, tied with the Royals for highest in the AL -- although that vaunted Orioles pen was at 32 percent. Angels relievers also entered with the lowest average "leverage" in the league. In other words, the pen was bad even though it entered in fewer high-pressure situations than other bullpens.

So, yes, if Madson returns healthy from Tommy John surgery, he'll help. Relying on his terrific changeup, he had a 2.89 ERA over his final five seasons with the Phillies. He generally keeps the ball in the park and the changeup makes him effective against left-handed batters. Ernesto Frieri had 23 saves in 26 chances after becoming the team's closer, so we'll see if he keeps the job or if Mike Scioscia hands that role over to Madson. In the end, it doesn't really matter: As the Angels showed last year, the seventh and eighth innings are arguably more important than the ninth inning. The closer gets to enter without runners on base and often with the comfort of a two- or three-run lead. It's the middle guys who have to pitch with runners on base in tight games. Which means it's all about bullpen depth. The Angels now have Madson, Frieri, hard-throwing Jordan Walden, lefty Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and lefty Nick Maronde (a third-round pick in 2011 who reached the majors last September).

The talent and depth is there for a better bullpen. Now the players have to perform.

As for the Reds, signing Broxton means Chapman finally moves into the rotation -- a move the Reds wanted to make last season until Madson got injured in spring training. Certainly, it's worth the effort to find out if Chapman can pitch six or seven innings at a time instead of one or two.

The Reds arguably had the best rotation in the NL last year, in part because their top five guys didn't miss a single start (Todd Redmond made one start because of a rainout), which made Johnny Cueto's injury in the NLDS all the more painful. The Reds' 3.64 rotation ERA was fourth in the NL (the Nationals led at 3.40), but the Reds threw the second-most innings behind the Phillies and had to pitch half their games in their home-park bandbox.

That doesn't mean Chapman wouldn't be an upgrade over Mike Leake or Bronson Arroyo, and the Reds will likely need more than five starters in 2013 anyway. I'm not a huge Broxton fan -- his dominant 2009 season in the rear-view mirror now -- and I think there's a chance that if he begins the season as closer that Sean Marshall, J.J. Hoover or even Chapman ends the season with that job.

But it's worth seeing if Chapman can throw 100-mph fastballs in the seventh inning. Do you agree?