Why do I think that Pat Neshek deserves to be the 2010 closer for the Minnesota Twins? Let me count the ways:
1. Closer by Committee is not a good idea
Every ballplayer, especially bullpen pitchers will tell you that they would like to have an idea about their role and an idea about when they might go into a game based on that role to psychologically prepare themselves. A closer committee of 4 would destroy this and will overtax the pen, especially with Gardenhire's tendacies to play matchups and keep pitchers to face same handed batters. A closer needs to be named.
2. Pat Neshek has excelled in every step of his career
A little known fact is that the Twins liked Pat Neshek enough to draft him twice: In the 44th round of the 1999 draft out of Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, MN (he did not sign but elected to attend Bulter University) and in the 6th round of the 2002 draft as a College junior. He was the only player drafted from a Butler team that finished 34-24 and in the 4th place of the Horizon League. He was signed by Twins' scout Bill Milos who also signed Joe Benson, Brian Dinkelman, Erik Lis and Jeff Manship.
Pat made the transition from an average starter (13 GS -and 7 complete games!- 1.36 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 4.23 K/BB) in his college junior year to a lights out reliever (0.695 WHIP, 6.83 K/BB, 13.5 K/9, 15 saves) in Elizabethton (high rookie) the same season (2002). And Pat never looked back: In 2003, playing in Quad Cities (A), Fort Myers (high A) and New Britain (AA) he pitched in a rhythm of 0.967 WHIP, 11 K/9, 4.35 K/BB for a season total of 17 saves. And this is moving up 3 levels. In 2004, he had a setback in New Britain after starting the season in Ft Myers and still delivered a 1.304 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 2.85 K/BB. In 2005 he was the New Britain close with 24 saves, 1.093 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 and 4.52 K/BB. Next season he was promoted to Rochester (AAA) where he finished that campaign with 14 saves, 0.917 WHIP, 13 K/9 and 6.21 K/BB before he was promoted to the Twins, where he was instrumental in their drive to the division title, finishing his rookie MLB season with 0.784 WHIP, 12.9 K/9 and 8.83 K/BB. The next season, 2007, he was the Twins' main set up man and produced 1.009 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 and 2.74 K/BB. He was hurt in 2008 and only pitched in 15 games. He was instructed to rest his arm and when that did not work, he underwent Tommy John surgery missing the entire 2009 season.
3. Lets look how Neshek's career performance compares to a couple of "desirable" closers
If the Twins were to announce that they have traded for a healthy Huston Street or Heath Bell, there would have been a huge sigh of relief (pun intended,) by the collective Twins' Territory. Here is a comparison of the MLB career numbers of Huston Street and Heath Bell to those of Pat Neshek (best in each pair, in bold):
WHIP Steet: 1.040, Neshek: 0.961
K/9 Street: 9.30, Neshek: 10.65
K/BB Street: 3.75, Neshek: 3.84
OBA in save situations: Street: .215, Neshek: .183
OBA of first batter faced: Street: .227, Neshek: .131
OBA in high leverage situations: Street: .234, Neshek: .154
WHIP Bell: 1.205 Neshek: 0.961
K/9 Bell: 9.20, Neshek: 10.65
K/BB Bell: 3.19, Neshek: 3.84
OBA in save situations: Bell: .232, Neshek: .183
OBA of first batter faced: Bell: .222, Neshek: .131
OBA in high leverage situations: Bell: .228, Neshek: .154
The truth (which a lot of people apparently do not want to see) is that Neshek has pitched better in his career than Huston Street and Heath Bell, especially in situations critical to a closer.To add to this point, here is a comparison of the career numbers of Joe Nathan and Pat Neshek:
WHIP Nathan: 1.107, Neshek: 0.961
K/9 Nathan: 9.40, Neshek: 10.65
K/BB Nathan: 2.74, Neshek: 3.84
OBA in save situations: Nathan: .140, Neshek: .183
OBA of first batter faced: Nathan: .201, Neshek: .131
OBA in high leverage situations: Nathan: .190, Neshek: .154
It looks to me that the "irreplaceable", could potentially be replaced with someone who has been more effective in his career than Joe Nathan.
4. Let's bust some myths
Myth #1: To be a successful closer, a pitcher needs MLB closing experience and Pat Neshek has no closer experience.
Pat Neshek finished 164 games in the minors and accumulated 82 saves. This is more than most close have in their minor league careers before they assume the closer role. As I indicated last week, Neshek's performance indicates that he would make a better closer than other options (e.g Rauch) who did save games in their MLB careers. As a matter of fact, Luis Ayala has 18 career saves in the majors, last time I checked, he is still available...
Myth #2: A closer has to be able to pitch in back to back games, and in 3 games in a row and Neshek might not be able to do that.
This is a good one for a couple of reasons: first of all, the Twins have not tried to see whether Neshek can pitch back to back games this spring, they just assumed that he can not. Secondly, this is more of a fiction than a fact. If you look at the 70 games that Nathan appeared in 2009, only 22 of his appearances (that's less than a third, if you keep score) were back to back. And before Nathan was named the Twins' closer, he never pitched back to back games. Also, the Twins cannot assume that Pat Neshek cannot pitch back to back games unless they hand him the ball in back to back games and he proves them right (hopefully he proves them wrong.)
Myth #3: Pat's delivery is "too funky" to be a closer.
Dan Quisenberry and Kent Tekulve beg to disagree
Myth #4: you cannot trust a closer 1.5 years removed from Tommy John surgery.
Let's look at the performance of all relievers who had Tommy John surgery and compare their performance the year before surgery with the year they came back from surgery. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there is a large number of them so the sample size is not small (age of surgery in parenthesis for some), to see how "trustworthy" they were after they came back from Tommy John surgery
2005: 2.66 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 2.86 K/BB
2007: 3.19 ERA, 1.299 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.33 K/BB
2007: 6.44 ERA, 1.570 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 1.0 K/BB
2009: 4.02 ERA, 1.130 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 1.82 K/BB
Rod Beck (33):
2001: 3.90 ERA, 1.302 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.25 K/BB, 6 SV
2003: 1.78 ERA, 1.019 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.91 K/BB, 22 SV
2003: 6.54 ERA, 1.764 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 1.20 K/BB (as a starter)
2005: 3.13 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.82 K/BB, 33 SV
2005: 3.52 ERA, 1.370 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 1.45 K/BB, 7 SV
2007: 4.11 ERA, 1.337 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 3.42 K/BB, 11 SV
Brendan Donnelly (36):
2007: 3.05 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.00 K/BB
2009: 1.78 ERA, 1.224 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.78 K/BB
2007: 5.16 ERA, 1.618 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 1.31 K/BB
2009: 4.50 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 4.0 K/9, 1.33 K/BB
John Franco (41):
2001: 4.05 ERA, 1.388 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.63 K/BB
2003: 2.62 ERA, 1.398 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 1.23 K/BB
Al Reyes (35):
2005: 2.15 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 3.35 K/BB, 2 SV
2007: 4.90 ERA, 1.154 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.33 K/BB, 26 SV
Arthur Rhodes (37):
2006: 5.32 ERA, 1.686 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 1.6 K/BB, 4 SV
2008: 2.04 ERA, 1.245 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 2 SV
David Riske (23):
1999: 8.36 ERA, 1.857 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.67 K/BB
2001: 1.98 ERA, 1.390 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 1.61 K/BB, 1 SV
Fernando Rodney (26):
2003: 6.07 ERA, 1.753 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 1.94 K/BB, 3 Sv
2005: 2.86 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.47 K/BB, 9 SV
B. J. Ryan (31):
2006: 1.37 ERA, 0.857 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 4.3 K/BB, 38 SV
2008: 2.95 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.07 K/BB, 32 SV
Rafael Soriano (24):
2003: 1.53 ERA, 0.792 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 5.67 K/BB, 1 SV
2005: 2.45 ERA, 0.955 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 9.00 K/BB
John Smoltz (33):
1999: 3.19 ERA, 1.116 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.9 K/BB (as a starter)
2001: 3.36 ERA, 1.068 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.7 K/BB, 10 SV
Billy Wagner (36):
2008: 2.30 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 5.20 K/BB
2009: 1.72 ERA, 1.021 WHIP, 14.9 K/9, 3.25 K/BB
So chances are that Pat Neshek will be fine...
5. He is more trusted by the fans than the rest of the Twins' bullpen arms
Not much of a scientific argument (or any argument at all) towards having Pat as a closer, but as you can see in this Star Tribune Poll or about 2500 Twins' fans more fans trust Pat than anyone else in the Twins' pen. Not a supportive argument at all, just a statement, albeit an important one.
There is a lot of evidence that Pat Neshek is the best pitcher to assume the closer role for the 2010 season. It is up to Gardy and Andy to do the right thing.
A final note: There are several other Twins' bloggers participating in this Pat Neshek day. I will be listing links to their blogs, as they appear here, so please come back (Note to Twins' bloggers participating: please leave your blog URL in comments or send me an email so I can link it here).
Other Pat Neshek Day Blogs: