Brandon Lyon was the surprise choice as Arizona Diamondbacks closer over the
younger, less experienced Tony Pena. Pena is widely recognized to have
more dominant pitches than Lyon does. Additionally, the club controls
Pena's contract for years to come, while Lyon can depart as a free agent at
season's end. He almost certainly will if he succeeds in the role, as a
40-save season would engorge Lyon's price tag to an amount the Diamondbacks
would not be willing to pay.
Statistics Courtesy of
The Baseball Cube
So why make Lyon the closer? There are several reasons. While Lyon
doesn't have a single pitch as dominant as Pena's fastball or slider, he has a
wider selection of pitches to offer. Lyon throws a low-90s fastball with
some sink to it, which he compliments with a solid slider, curveball, and
changeup. While Pena might have been susceptible to seeing an NL West rival
once too often and having players square up on his limited offerings, Lyon can
mix it up a little.
"Having all four gives me that comfort level that I can use just two one day and
use two the next night if I approach the same team," Lyon said.
The standard reason for making Lyon the closer is probably the worst:
experience. Supporters cite his going 14-for-15 in save opportunities in
2005, as though that were a significant enough sample size to gauge his
effectiveness as a closer. In fact, had Lyon blown his next save, his save
percentage for the year would have fallen to 87.5%, which was essentially the
2005 average for pitchers with double digit saves (87.3%). As it is, Lyon
finished 12th in the majors in
The most convincing argument for installing Lyon as the closer is his demeanor.
Always calm and collected, Lyon would not suffer mental anguish if he were
replaced as the team's closer in June. With Lyon a free agent at season's
end, if the demotion did affect him, at least the team would not suffer in 2009.
Tony Pena has some character issues dating back to his fraudulent birth
certificate that read "Adriano Rosario" and claimed that
Pena was nearly three years younger than he actually was. So although he
has electric stuff, it remains unknown whether he has the mental makeup of
someone who could A) close games consistently and B) handle the insult if he
were replaced by Max Scherzer in mid-summer.
The organization insists that Scherzer has the stuff to
start. However, most scouts agree that his stuff is major-league-bullpen
ready now, but that he needs a few more years of honing his secondary pitches to
become a fixture in the rotation. So the plan may very well be to use Lyon
as a stopgap, turn the ball to Scherzer if the Boras client is hot or if Lyon is
cold, then finally turn to Pena around 2010 when Scherzer is converted back to a
Pena will be well into his arbitration years at that
point, so his salary will be more affordable if he hasn't been used as a full
time closer before then. Lyon could also be traded for an extra bat this
July if he were replaced due to Scherzer's dominance and not his own
All in all, Lyon is an unusual choice for a closer due to his low strikeout
totals and lack of a dominant pitch, but he should be serviceable in the role.
This is a case where the best man for the job did not win the job; politics,
psychology, and economics played larger into the decision than talent level did.
We'll have to trust that Josh Byrnes and company didn't over-analyze the
situation when they named Lyon the closer. Don't draft him high in your
fantasy league, though.
Predictions: 2-4 3.97 ERA 13 SV - Scherzer takes over as closer in early
June - Lyon is traded to the Braves for Mark Kotsay in July
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