As Greg Thurston wrote earlier today, the Astro’s closer role and Brandon Lyon need to part ways… fast. Instead of looking outside of the organization like Houston did prior to the 2010 season with the departure of Jose Valverde, the Astros have a couple have a couple of options available currently on the roster in Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez.
Generally, I care very little for the strike out ratio, but when closers are the topic of conversation, then K/9 and K/BB are crucial ratios and statistics. Closers occasionally find themselves in trouble. Whether it be a gapper triple or a batter that got away, sticky situations will arise where they need to depend on a go to pitch in order to retire a batter while keeping the runners stationary. Lyon’s K/9 ratio has decreased each of the past three years, and he walked over 30 batters in the past two seasons when he previously found success in never walking more than 25 per season. Even prior to today’s blow up, Lyon showed warning signs that should have been addressed before blowing his fourth save on the year.
Coming into the 2011 season, I had tapped Wilton Lopez as the closer to be due to the lack of authority Brandon Lyon showed during spring training. Lopez turned in a rather impressive 2010, posting a 2.96 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in his first extensive major league season. Most importantly, Lopez struck out 50 while walking only 5 on the entire season. Though his stuff isn’t electric, Lopez knows how to work batters into his favor and seemingly never loses control. His 6.36 K/9 won’t win him any awards, but it gets the job done when coupled with the fact he rarely walks batters.
Prior to his elbow nerve irritation, Lopez looked a little less impressive than he did in 2010, but he clearly has impressed Brad Mills since his first appearance came with a two run lead in a division ball game. Based purely on merit, Lopez’s 2010 would be enough to move him into the closer role, but moving back to the 8th inning would ideal for a couple weeks just to make sure he is 100%.
This year’s 8th inning man with the absence of Lopez had been assumed by Mark Melancon. In a bullpen where success almost seemed forbidden, Melancon reports with a 1.72 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Mark also leads the National League in appearances with 17 (tied with fellow Astro Jeff Fulchino), so his durability remains unquestioned in 2011. Walking batters more than Lopez, Melancon’s K/9 ration is just above 2 which fails to impress when compared to Lopez’s 10 from last season.
Melancon this year, though, finds success in a new category: ground ball to fly ball ratio. With a 1.81 GB/RB ratio, Melancon has induced 3 double plays this year to help him get out of innings when he surrenders base runners. Of Melancon’s 7 inherited runners, zero have scored when Mark takes the bump. 2011 has been favorable to Mark, and his numbers show that the success is no fluke.
So, with Lyon having one foot out the door, who is primed to get the job? My money says to go with Melancon based on the “what have you done for me lately” standard, but Lopez showing in 2010’s 8th innings makes you wonder if he will get the nod. Either way, the Astros have no need to look past the two guys currently in the pen to figure out this dilemma.