The Astros have added some pieces to their bullpen for 2015, but are still lacking a defined closer. Chad Qualls did a decent job last season (insert repetitive A’s joke here) and could be the best candidate to fill that role again this coming season. Yet there is another candidate that has flown under the radar, and that’s Josh Fields.
Fields, a former Rule 5 pick in 2012, struggled in 2013 when he had to remain in the majors or be offered back to the Boston Red Sox. His 4.97 ERA that year can be taken with a grain of salt, because he was likely not ready for the big leagues at the time, but due to the circumstances, had to tough it out.
Last season his ERA didn’t improve by much (4.45) but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of how a pitcher prevents home runs, walks and hit-by-pitch, while causing strikeouts) was nearly two and a half runs lower at 2.09. He struck out 70 in 54 2/3 innings last season, which gave him a phenomenal rate of 11.5 K/9.
According to the Steamer, Fields is projected to lower his ERA substantially, coming in with a 3.10. The biggest difference for them came in his left-on-base percentage, which was a rough 60.4% last season. They’re projecting a 79% clip in 2015.
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Apart from the stats, this may just be his time. While he may not start the season closing games, he could take on more and more responsibility as the season goes on and by the All-Star break have claimed the role for himself.
In my opinion, 2015 is the year we find out of Josh Fields is the Astros’ closer of the future. If not now, when? While Qualls may be a safer bet, he isn’t going to be closing games when the rebuild comes to fruition in the next two or three seasons. This season could be the last year that Houston doesn’t have to deal with high expectations entering the year, so it would be the perfect time to groom Fields to be the closer of the soon-to-be-dominant ‘Stros.
A.J. Hinch should work him in to some late-game scenarios early in the season when Luke Gregerson, Qualls, or Pat Neshek need a break, see how he responds, and develop his larger role in the bullpen from there. Aside from Gregerson in the eighth, many of the other players could be moved around to fill different roles as need to push Fields to being a late-inning guy.
Who do you think should close out games for Houston next season?