Who Closes After Koji?

It’s the year 2014. We know that a good closer isn’t integral to a team’s success. That being said, having the closest to a sure thing in the back of the bullpen is an incredibly useful asset (an asset that contributed 3.6 WAR according to Baseball-Reference in 2013.)

Koji Uehara’s two year deal ends after 2014. When the 2015 season opens, he’ll be closing in on his 40th birthday. There have only been four pitchers since the DH era to save over 20 games at age 40 or older; Dennis Eckersley, Doug Jones, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera. A one year deal for Uehara could possibly work out, but is the risk necessary? With the recent injury to Uehara, I wanted to take a look at the Sox’s internal options.

Edward Mujica
The former Cardinals closer was brought in to be the latter part of the bridge to Uehara with Junichi Tazawa in a deal that was widely appraised, and with good reason. Mujica’s K/BB ratio was the second best in baseball, only behind Uehara. He doesn’t strikeout a lot of guys, but his groundball tendencies make up for it. Mujica should remain an effective pitcher, although the 2 MPH decline on his fastball is troublesome.

Junichi Tazawa
It’s only when you look at Tazawa’s stats that you realize how comparable he is with Uehara. Tazawa isn’t on Uehara’s level by any means, but since 2011 he is third among relievers in K/BB ratio, 4th in BB%, within 3.3% of Uehara’s GB%. While Uehara relies on spotting his high 80’s fastball on the corners, Tazawa will consistently pump mid 90’s fastballs in the zone in an attempt to blow hitters away. With two strikes, Uehara will often go to his splitter while Tazawa prefers to stick with his fastball, but if he feels comfortable ahead in the count, he becomes more likely to attack with his splitter. Tazawa would be my personal choice to take over as closer in 2015. He’s a click away from becoming a top notch relief option, in my opinion.

Rubby De La Rosa
The long-time prospect has been brought up as a starter since he signed with the Dodgers in 2007, but he has always projected toward a bullpen role. De La Rosa kept his trademark velocity after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, making his future role in the bullpen a near certainty.

Allen Webster
It pains me to say this, but Allen Webster might not work out as a starter. While this has been a popular opinion in the scouting world since he was traded to the Red Sox, I irrationally refuse to accept that his future is in the bullpen. However, with a plus plus fastball and the potential for a swing and miss secondary pitch, he could dominate in the bullpen.

Taking Ben Cherington’s previous history of acquiring closers into account, none of the aforementioned pitchers could take over the closer role in 2015. I hope Cherington has learned from his recent mistakes and turns to an in house option for the closer role.

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