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 Linear Saves.
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 starter.
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 ineffectiveness.
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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