Happy New Year and welcome to 2013! While the calendar has switched to January, we're still in the midst of taking a look back at the big offseason moves of 2012.
Red Sox Acquire Joel Hanrahan
For the second offseason in a row, the Red Sox traded for a new closer. Andrew Bailey, the closer acquired from Oakland before the 2012 season, was barely healthy and Mark Melancon, formerly the closer of the Astros, struggled mightily early on and quickly — a bit too quickly — received an assignment to Triple-A. Can Hanrahan be the golden ticket?
Hanrahan has always had strikeout stuff, which has translated into good numbers over the past few seasons. However, aside from a major swing in the right direction in 2011, his command/control has never been great. In fact, last season, Hanrahan posted the second highest walk rate of his major league career. With that drop in command/control came a rise in home runs allowed to eight in 59.2 innings — he only allowed one in 68.2 innings in 2011.
Some have targeted a conditioning problem as the main culprit in these departments, and that could certainly be the case. Hanrahan has never been a "thin" guy, but there is definitely a difference between fat and athletic. Keep an eye on his conditioning when pitchers and catchers report.
Of course, we can't look at this move without identifying the move from the NL to AL and moving from a good pitcher's park in Pittsburgh to a good hitters park in Boston. Since Hanrahan's groundball to flyball ratio and home runs allowed numbers have been so inconsistent, it's tough to judge what such ratios will shape up to be in 2013. However, his track record does indicate that the 5.8-percent walk rate and 0.13 HR/9 he posted in 2011 will probably be the outliers of his career and we can expect high walk rates and a few ill-timed home runs going forward.
Despite the high walk rate and eight home runs allowed, Hanrahan managed to post a 2.72 ERA with 36 saves. However, look no further than a career low .225 BABIP and career high 89.7 percent strand rate as reasons for his success despite some poor peripherals.
What does this all mean for Hanrahan's fantasy value going forward? Due to a high strikeout rate, Hanrahan has a weapon to get him out of jams that he creates himself (walks, hits). As long as he continues to rack up strikeouts and stay healthy, he has a good chance to be a middle-of-the-road closer in Boston. However, as we've seen with Carlos Marmol in the past, high walk rates equal risk and a sense of uneasiness for the men in charge.
With the likes of Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara also in the Beantown bullpen, there is a decent amount of risk that Hanrahan will turn his job over at some point should the walks, home runs, etc. become an issue.
The bottom line is don't overpay for Hanrahan because of his low ERA and 36 saves in 2012. Wait for the top dogs to come off the board before taking on the risks of his walks, home runs allowed and bullpen depth beneath him.
Grilli to close in Pittsburgh
The departure of Hanrahan means that Jason Grilli, a Pirate since 2011 who re-signed this offseason, will assume closing duties. Grilli has had a long career, which was mostly unimpressive until joining the Pirates. Since, he has truly refined his out pitch, the slider, which has seen an increase of swings and misses per pitch of over five-percent.
Grilli's strikeout rate has increased each year since becoming a full-time reliever back in 2006, so rather than being in a decline at age 36, he's actually gaining momentum and harnessing his experience and pure stuff. The risk lies in his inexperience as a closer. I know, I know, that's not something that the stats can tell us, but it is sometimes a factor. Given his major league experience, I'd venture to assume that it won't be a factor at all.
The good thing for fantasy owners is that Grilli is a 36-year-old journeyman with a career 4.34 ERA and only fives saves to his name. This means that his perceived value should be low on draft day and you'll be able to wait until the top 10 closers come off the board before adding his name to your queue. Unless Grilli folds under the pressure of the ninth inning, loses the bite on his slider, or simply forgets how he got to be the pitcher he has been since joining Pittsburgh, you should have a solid value by snagging Grilli in 2013.