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No Melancon, No Problem. Closer Candidates

Mark Melancon won't be closing games for the Astros next season as new GM Jeff Luhnow felt that it was in the teams best interest to turn Melancon into a starting shortstop and a starting pitching prospect. As Luhnow alluded to in this article, the new Astros closer is more than likely already on the team, and he expects the closer situation to sort itself out during spring training. Some of the relievers that could potentially battle for that role are Wilton Lopez, David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez, Juan Abreu, Brandon Lyon, and Rhiner Cruz. Below is a look at some of the positives and negatives that each of the six potential candidates for the vacancy possess.

Wilton Lopez


Solid groundball tendencies – Since making his debut Wilton’s groundball percentage has never been below 55%. Even in the minors he never posted a groundball percentage lower than 50%.

Limits Walks – His BB/9 rate this past season was 2.28. In 2010 he posted a ridiculous BB/9 rate of 0.67.

Durable – Lopez made 68 appearances in 2010, and 71 appearances in 2011. He pitched 129.2 innings splitting time as a starter and reliever in 2009, and also appeared in another 58 games in AAA in 2008.


Not the overpowering type – His fastball averaged 91.7 MPH last season, and he averaged 7.1 K/9 innings as a reliever last season.

Hittable – 9.1 H/9 last season, 8.9 H/9 in 2010. Melancon allowed a full hit less (7.9) last season. In his four seasons in the minors Melancon averaged 7.6 H/9 innings while Lopez posted a 10.8 H/9 rate spanning his five seasons in the minors.

Lefties = trouble – Lopez averaged a 5.1 K/9 against lefties versus an 8.12 K/9 against righties. Left handed hitters also hit .327 against him where righties hit .266. In 2010 his K/9 rate against lefties was 3.81 versus an 8.56 against righties. His batting average against splits in 2010 were not as bad, with a .282 against lefties and a .240 against righties.

Inherited runners = big trouble last season – Of the 34 runners he inherited last season, 16 of them scored. To put this in perspective, in 2010 of the 33 runners he inherited only 1 of them scored.

David Carpenter


Solid strikeout numbers – Carpenter possesses a mid-nineties fastball that he uses often and effectively. Throughout his four seasons in the minors David Carpenter averaged a K/9 rate of 9.7. Through his 34 appearances and his 27.2 innings with the Astros last season his K/9 remained a strong at 9.43.

Has closer experience in the minors – Carpenter has recorded a total of 49 saves in the minors. Last year he recorded 14 between the AA and AAA levels.

Control shows signs of improving – In 2008 he averaged 4.3 BB/9, and in 2009 his walk rate increased slightly to 4.8. He seemed to right the ship in 2010 and lowered that rate to 2.8. In 2011 he posted a BB/9 rate of 1.9 in AA, and 2.8 in AAA. This rate increased to 4.23 with the Astros, but it’s not that surprising to see pitchers struggle in this area while facing the more disciplined hitters for the first time.


Hittable – Carpenter allowed 9.1 H/9 with the Astros last season. In his four seasons in the minors that rate was better at 8.1, and he allowed 7.1 at the AAA level last season before being called up.

Inherited runners = trouble – 8 of the 19 runners he inherited scored this past season. Digging deeper, in Corpus 2 of the 4 runners he inherited scored, and 9 of the 16 runners he inherited scored at Oklahoma City. In total 19 out of the 35 runners Carpenter inherited scored during his 2011 campaign.

Secondary offering inconsistent – Carpenter works exclusively off of his fastball-slider combination, but his slider is still developing.

Fernando Rodriguez


Possesses a four-pitch repertoire – Rodriguez features a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup, whereas many relievers only feature two pitches. This could be an added benefit of him starting 128 games in the minors. He does however use his fastball and curveball the majority of the time.

Solid 2011 campaign – In his 47 appearances and 52.1 innings pitched Rodriguez posted a K/9 rate of 9.8, and an ERA of 3.96. This could be a sign that he has put it all together, or could just be another example of the volatile nature of relievers.

Curveball is a plus pitch – Rodriguez used his curveball 27.6% last season, and relied on it as his out pitch.


Lacks a solid track record – Rodriguez spent the last 6 seasons between AA and AAA, and owns a 4.52 ERA during that time in AA, and a 5.63 ERA in AAA. There is the possibility that his 2011 season was the outlier.

Hittable – Through 9 seasons in the minors Rodriguez has allowed 9.9 H/9 innings. Last year for the Astros he allowed 8.8.

Lacks previous closer experience – In his nine seasons in the minors he has only recorded a total of 7 saves.

Juan Abreu


Fits the typical closer profile – Abreu has an electric fastball that sits in the mid to upper nineties, and a decent curveball. His career K/9 rate of 10.8 in the minors is evidence of this. Of the candidates on this list you could make a strong case that he possesses the best "stuff".

Has experience closing games in the minors – He has saved a total of 41 games in his six minor league seasons.

Changeup has potential – He doesn’t use it much, but his changeup flashes plus potential, and could be a solid weapon for him against left-handed hitters if he can improve his consistency with the pitch.


Control is an issue – This is somewhat of an understatement as he has a career BB/9 rate of 5.4 in the minors. His BB/9 rate with the Astros last season was 4.05 in a very small sample size. This is the biggest flaw in his game, and could be what holds him back from reaching his potential.

Very limited time in the majors - It's highly unlikely that Abreu would break camp as closer given the fact that he has less than ten innings in the majors.

Brandon Lyon


Most experienced option – Experience is important and Lyon has more of it than all of the other candidates listed combined.

Closed 20 games for the Astros in 2010 – He has shown that he can be an effective closer in Houston when healthy in the past.


Coming back from an injury that sidelined him the majority of last season – It is unknown how effective Lyon will be after missing the majority of last season.

Not your typical closer – There’s nothing overpowering about Brandon Lyon. His career 5.82 K/9 rate will attest to that.

Awful in 2011 – To be fair to Lyon his injury could have had a lot to do with his poor performance. Still, with new ownership fully committed to the rebuilding process I would guess that the leash on Brandon Lyon is shorter than ever.

Rhiner Cruz


Good velocity – Reports on Rhiner are that he possesses a mid-nineties fastball which can’t be taught.

Solid strikeout numbers – Over seven seasons in the minors he has averaged an 8.5 K/9 rate.

Solid ERA – Rhiner’s Career ERA in the minors is 3.44.

Has closed games in the past – He has closed a total of 43 games in the minors.


Control has been an issue – Like the other higher velocity guys on this list Rhiner could benefit from improved control. He has averaged a 5.5 BB/9 in his seven seasons in the minors.

2011 was okay, but nothing special - In 59.1 innings in AA Rhiner posted a 4.40 ERA, 7.74 K/9, and a 5.92 BB/9.

Zero time in the majors - Like Juan Abreu, Rhiner Cruz is unlikely to break camp as the closer as he has no experience in the majors. Expect the rule 5 pick to be used in low leverage situations until(if) he gets acclimated to the majors.

Each of these candidates could potentially see some time in the closer's role at some point next season depending on their performance.

Wilton Lopez seems like a likely candidate to break spring training as the closer, but his shiny 2.79 ERA last season does not tell the whole story. According to Fangraphs Shutdowns and Meltdowns statistics he was slightly above league average with 18 shutdowns, but was also well below league average with 17 meltdowns. David Carpenter had a good rookie season, but also struggled at times which could mean that he may need a little more time getting acclimated to the majors before he is handed the closing responsibilities.Experience can't be discounted, and if Brandon Lyon returns healthy then he could be reunited with his old post. Fernando Rodriguez would seem like a better fit as a setup man rather than the closer. Juan Abreu has the stuff but needs to improve his control. It seems unlikely that he would begin the season as closer, but he could be a good candidate to take over the role at some point next season with a solid performance. Last but not least is the rule 5 pick Rhiner Cruz, but being that he has never pitched in the majors before it seems likely that he would be used in low leverage situations a la Aneury Rodriguez last season.