|Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports|
In a baseball world full of analytics and new statistical analysis, what does the term "proven closer" even mean?
Old-school baseball minds would tell you that a "proven closer" is the player a manager always turns to in the ninth inning of a close game. He has experience collecting saves and pitching in high leverage situations. It doesn't matter the match-ups for the final frame because the "proven closer" will be out there on the mound. However, not every team has a proven closer and every closer needs to start gaining experience somewhere to earn their "proven closer" badge of honor.
Terry Ryan, the Twins recently fired GM, was no stranger to this adage. Entering the 2012 season, Glen Perkins had been dominant in relief the year before but he was hesitant to give him the closer role. "He doesn't have any experience in that role," said Ryan. "I think you're wise to ultimately see if you can find a guy with experience." Perkins would serve as closer that season and he has been a three-time All-Star since 2012.
Flash-forward to the 2016 season and the Twins have shuffled through multiple players at the back-end of the bullpen. Glen Perkins began the year with the closer title but he was limited to two appearances before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery. Kevin Jepsen was fantastic at the end of 2015 so he stepped back into the closer role. However, he posted a 6.16 ERA and was recently released by the club.
Enter Brandon Kintzler, a 31-year old who the Brewers organization didn't want in the off-season. Since earning his first save on June 8, Kintzler has posted a 1.69 ERA and a 10 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio in 17 appearances. Opponents are slashing .238/.262/.317 and he has yet to blow a save.
There's been a shift with the former 40th round draft pick this season. In previous season's he stayed in the low to mid 90's but this season he has hit over 95 multiple times. Another significant change in 2016 has been his use of his sinking fastball. For his career, he has used this pitch 52.8% of the time but this season he has bumped that total up to 83.4%.
Kintzler's sinking fastball has also resulted in 15 strikeouts this season which is 75% of all of his strikeouts this season. Over the course of his career, this pitch has been the out pitch in 53.2% of his strikeouts. This pitch has also been effective because he has hit nearly 96 mph with it but he can also drop it all the way down to 87.6 mph.
The myth of the "proven closer" might still be out there in some baseball organizations. Kintzler has been good and hopefully someone would like to pay for Kintzler and his new closer title as the trade deadline approaches.
Because he seems to have "proven" himself.