New Boston Red Sox Closer, Joel Hanrahan, is Not a Closer

At best, Joel Hanrahan is a good reliever. He strikes out a lot of batters (career 9.9 K/9), throws hard (consistent 96 MPH fastball), and possesses a good “out” pitch (slider has been worth 30.8 RAA in career). Yet, despite owning a perfectly projectable career 3.74 ERA vs. 3.78 xFIP, the righty’s peripherally-putrid 2012 campaign casts a shadow on his recent jettison to Boston, and subsequent named-role as closer.

Joel HanrahanHanrahan never had good control (career 4.2 BB/9 pre-2012), but his 2012 exposed his potentially detrimental issue. Despite saving 36 games for the Pirates last season, the 31 year-old righty also walked batters at a 5.4 BB/9 rate, and was himself saved by an miracle-esq .225 BABIP (vs. career .301 BABIP, and vs. 329 BABIP in 2010). Even though the closer posted a 2.1 BB/9 in 2011, his 2011 control was much more of an anomaly than his 2012 version.

Back in 2009–when he was traded mid-way through the season to the Pirates–Hanrahan too similarly dazzled with a low-ERA (1.72 ERA in 31.3 IP) and sterling strikeout total (10.6 K/9). But his 5.7 BB/9, while ignored by those who were enamored by his transformation from a dud (7.71 ERA / 1.95 WHIP in 32.6 IP with the Nationals in the first-half of 2009) into a “stud”–should have stood out like a sore thumb.

Fast forward to 2011. Hanrahan posted a 1.83 ERA vs. 2.98 xFIP, marking the greatest ERA/xFIP split (in his favor) in his career. Combined with career-bests in GB% (52.4% GB% vs. career 40.8% GB%), BB/9 (2.10 BB/9 vs. career 4.35 BB/9), HR/FB (1.9% HR/FB vs. career 8.8 HR/FB), and [at the time] BABIP (.282 BABIP vs. career .301 BABIP, and vs. 329 BABIP in 2010), Hanrahan’s 2011 was unsustainable.

As it stands, Hanrahan’s 2010 season embodies the type of year Joel Hanrahan should have–and will be lucky to emulate in the more competitive American League East. The righty posted a 3.62 ERA (which is more or less in-line with his career 3.78 xFIP), 12.92 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, .329 BABIP, and 42.0% GB%. While it might be tempting to use a pitcher with such a towering K/9 as a closer, his “high” ERA and mediocre BB/9 scream otherwise. And if not for an incredible 2011 season, Hanrahan would surely be treated as more of a setup man and not a closer.

The argument at hand is not whether Joel Hanrahan has value–he does. But to trade a 22 year-old pitching prospect in Stolmy Pimentel, 25 year-old prospective starting outfielder in Jerry Sands, and ironically, a recently acquired former-closer in Mark Melancon, seems to be a bit of an over-payment. As a reminder, Melancon, who is just 27 years-old, was acquired by the Red Sox from the Houston Astros last off-season for Jed Lowrie–who posted a 2.1 WAR in 2012–and Kyle Weiland. One can make a good argument that Melancon, who had the opposite 2012 that Hanrahan had, could actually have a superior 2013 to Hanrahan. But perhaps that argument is best saved for another article.


12 responses to “New Boston Red Sox Closer, Joel Hanrahan, is Not a Closer

  1. screw the peripherals.. he didn’t allow a single inherited runner to score all year.

  2. There’s no such thing as a closer. There are starting pitchers and relief pitchers. Hanrahan was a closer in PIT but he’d never be with the NYY as long as Rivera is there. There are only relievers, not closers and relievers.

  3. Not a closer. Okay, you liked Aceves…Bailey…Bard…Melancon? How ’bout checking their stats last season and compare.

  4. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Hanrahan, Porcello, Morgan - Unofficial Network

  5. Ben…that’s asinine…calling Hanrahan and Melancon equals, is foolish….and wildly inaccurate.

    Melancon is a mental midget…you can get too hung up peripherally, you didn’t see this kid absolutely melt on Fenway’s mound last year. Closing isn’t just only measurable statistically..there is a mental side to it as well. It’s why we’ve seen so many electric setup guys, like bard for instance, fail when given the chance to close.

    Don’t you think there is a reason he’ll be playing for his 4th team in 4 years?

    As for your assessment on what they gave up? It’s a joke…labeling Pimental as “22 year old pitching prospect” would be akin to calling Mike Trout nothing more than “20 year old outfield prospect” 12 months ago.

    While technically accurate, it’s doesn’t accurately portray the player in question. Take a look at Pimentals numbers, pay close attention to the trend of the higher he’s promoted, the WORSE he’s been peripherally.

    He’s garbage…and Sands might start in pittsburgh….but he had no future in Boston…by all accounts he’ll be a league average hitter at best…and play sub-par corner OF or 1st base defensively. He’s the epitome of a “quad-A” player, AKA “Matt Diaz”

    Holt is actually an upgrade over DeJesus, and will most likely be the best positional player that was moved in this deal…and is COMING to Boston…

    This was a steal for the Sox swap 3 pieces you had very little invested in and had very little hope of getting anything out of, for an established closer that you can put in place, and position guys in the Pen behind. As it was? They had a mish/mash of guys that would all be vying for save opportunities…now? They have a cohesive bullpen that looks to be the strongest element of this team.

    • I don’t think either of them should close, but for different reasons. Hanrahan has horrendous control problems, and his peripherals point to a bad 2013. On the other end of the spectrum, Melancon had a bad first four appearances, and was very good after that–but he’s not dominant enough to close for a good team like the Boston Red Sox.

      Melancon in 2012:
      First 4 appearances: 49.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 0.5 K/BB.
      Next 37 appearances: 4.19 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB

      If you’re of the belief that Hanrahan and Melancon are not closers, but merely setup men, then having one for 3 years (Melancon) is better than having one for 1 year (Hanrahan).

      I could write a whole article analyzing the individual pieces (i.e. what kind of “prospect” Pimental is), but this article was merely focusing on why Hanrahan is not a closer, and just another poor “closer” acquisition by the Red Sox (which includes Melancon, ironically).

  6. ben,this is a great article and i agree with you.joel h.was mark m. when the pirates got him from the nationals.bailey will be closing games by mid a pirate fan i watched him be wild and out of control.there is no pressure pitching here in pittsburgh just wait till joel h. is on espn sunday night baseball playing the yanks with the game on the line.the al east is completely different than the nl central.going into 2010 joel h. wasnt even the closer,it was evan meek,but he got hurt which opened the door for joel to get a shot.the pirates just signed jason grili as their closer,but soon as he screws up mark m. will get a crack at it just like joel for the other 3 prospects only time will tell.i liked this gonna to add a link to this article so bucco fans can get a different view,maybe theyll stop bitching and actually think for once,thank you

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