Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ninth Inning: Safe So Far

Just three games into the season, two save opportunities have already emerged for newly appointed closer Jon Rauch. Rauch has responded by going 2-for-2 in those opportunities, and the Twins are 2-1. Despite widespread panic that arose over the course of the spring that the Twins would be unable to hold late leads in the absence of a proven, steady closer, both of the Twins' relatively narrow victories have been finished by Rauch without much drama. Already, we are starting to see how overstated the fan and pundit reaction surrounding Nathan's loss has been.

Rauch's performance in last night's 4-2 victory over the Angels was not even a particularly good one. In his one inning of work, he allowed a pair of hits and a run. That's the type of outing you'll see a bit more often from a non-elite reliever like Rauch than you would with Joe Nathan. Yet, as is often the case in save situations, Rauch was given a multi-run pad and the run he allowed was ultimately meaningless.

After coming to the Twins in August last year, Rauch made 17 relief appearances. He allowed zero runs in 16 of those appearances. I certainly don't expect him to continue with that outstanding rate throughout this season, and indeed he already experienced his first blemish last night, but the fact remains that when a solid reliever comes on with the bases empty at the top of an inning, he'll rarely allow a run. And he'll very rarely allow more than one run. Rauch is no superstar closer, but if the Twins keep providing him with a two- or three-run cushion they will have very little to worry about in the ninth inning. And even when the lead is only one, Rauch will get the job done most of the time. As would basically any other candidate to fill the closer role.

3 comments:

Leslie said...

After watching Nathan nibbling these last two years, Rauch is a welcome relief. I felt more secure watching Rauch pitch than Nathan pitch down the stretch last year.

Greg said...

Put me in the camp of thinking that the outs in the 7th and 8th are just as important as the 9th. Not to take away from anything that Joe Nathan has accomplished in his time with the Twins, but saves are an overrated stat. Is it nice to have someone in the 9th inning with nasty stuff? Absolutely, but over the course of a season it's not important enough to say that all is lost without Joe Nathan. With him, the Twins are that much stronger in the bullpen, but I don't think he makes the difference in winning another division championship. Honestly, I'd probably feel more comfortable stepping in against Nathan than I would against Rauch because of the intimidation factor.

I don't think the Twins should add a guy like Heath Bell for the sake of adding a "closer". If the right deal presents itself, yeah, go for it, the bullpen is better because of it. It's not worth trading Ramos for the illusion of 9th inning immortality.

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