Trevor Hoffman blew another save on Tuesday, and again it was via the home run. That makes 4 blown saves in 7 opportunities and 6 homers in 9 innings. Normally, I wouldn’t be ready to call a pitcher done after such a small sample. However, Hoffman is a 42 year old soft-tossing pitcher who also had major home run issues in 2008 and had an insane amount of luck in 2009. If anything screams attrition, it’s that profile.
I don’t expect Macha and Melvin to take Trevor out of the closer role yet. However, let’s consider the following situation – an “injury” to Hoffman is found, and he’s forced to head to the 15-Day DL. That leaves the Brewers with an available roster spot and an opening at the closer position.
First off, the easy part: call up Zach Braddock to fill the open roster spot. After posting a 2.10 FIP between A+ Brevard County and AA Huntsville – including 62 strikeouts in just 40.1 innings – Braddock has opened the 2010 season in Nashville with a 0.00 ERA in 9.2 innings, along with 17 strikeouts and only 2 walks. Braddock is a left hander, but he has closer-quality stuff and would be able to get batters of either hand out.
As for who should take over the reins in the closer role, I have two possible solutions. The first is to move Carlos Villanueva to that role. He’s performed excellently so far this season – 11+ K/9 and a crazy 52% ground ball percentage are closer-type numbers. He’s just been much, much better as a reliever than a starter – more than the typical starter-turned-reliever – his K/9 is nearly 3 higher as a reliever and his HR rate drops significantly in the role.
Still, a HR rate of about 1 per 9 innings is still a little bit high for a closer. That brings us to the other option – Manny Parra. Yes, Todd Coffey and LaTroy Hawkins are hard throwers, but they haven’t historically shown the stuff to limit homers or get lefties out. Parra’s numbers project extremely well as a reliever – high-walk pitchers can survive in a starter role as long as they limit home runs and strike batters out, due to the nature of single-inning outings. Parra is also pitching extremely well this season – he took a 0.00 ERA and 1.92 FIP into Wednesday’s relief appearance, and even though he received the loss, he compiled another 4 strikeouts and only allowed one walk. The only disconcerting part of his appearance were 6 balls hit in the air, but that includes the double play off of the bat of Lastings Milledge and some very weakly hit fly balls.
Both Parra and Villanueva have pitched excellently this season and are my leading candidates for the next closer of the Milwaukee Brewers. Of course, this precludes the possibility of Trevor Hoffman returning to form – we can’t ignore this possibility. However, Hoffman’s 3.52 FIP and 4.12 xFIP since 2007 are not the kind of elite numbers that would preclude a change. Given how well the teams in the NL West are performing, the Wild Card could require 88-92 wins this season, if not more. The season needs to turn around now, and solving the bullpen issues are merely the first step.