Recent trade rumors are that the Detroit Tigers are interested in obtaining Carlos Mármol as their new closer. Apparently Tigers management has no interest in keeping down the blood pressure of its fans. According to http://www.baseball-reference.com, the Tiger’s closer for the last three years, José Valverde, had an excellent career strikeout rate of 9.9 SO/9 and a below average 3.8 BB/9. Any Tigers fan will tell you that watching Papa Grande close out a game was a nail-biting experience because he always seemed to put runners on and make games close. In the end, however, he converted 84 saves out of 89 opportunities in the last two years. Considering that his career postseason ERA is 9.82 and the Tigers management wants a championship now, it is not surprising that the 34 year-old was not re-signed.
So is Mármol the answer the Tigers have been looking for? On the plus side, Mármol is four years younger than Valverde, and his career 11.7 SO/9 is better than Valverde’s. On the minus side, his 6.0 BB/9 is much worse than Valverde’s, and his career postseason ERA is 7.94. Most importantly, Mármol’s career save percentage of 82% is seven points lower than Valverde’s. To put this in perspective, Craig Kimbrel, Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Trevor Hoffman, and Jonathan Papelbon all have career save percentages of 89%. So, although Valverde may have felt like a wild ride, his overall save percentage ranked among the best. Mármol’s save percentage however is not at that level. If Valverde had blown saves 7% more often last year, the Tigers would have had 2.8 more blown saves. The Tigers won the AL Central by just three games.
So, if Mármol is not the answer, is there a solution from within? Early favorite 22 year-old Bruce Rondon has had a slow start to spring training allowing three runs in his first 3.2 innings. Phil Coke is a terrible 6 for 16 in save opportunities, and although Octovio Dotel has lots of experience as a closer, his 69% conversion rate is insufficient. Similarly, Joaquin Benoit has converted just 13 of 37 over his career.
On the bright side, Francisco Rodriguez is noticeably available as a free agent. K-Rod is recently played for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic alongside current Tigers Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante, and Aníbal Sánchez. Although K-Rod comes with some off-the-field baggage, K-Rod is only 31 years old, and his ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 are all substantially better than Mármol’s. Although K-Rod’s 84% save conversion is not elite, it is better than Mármol’s, and K-Rod has faced more than twice as many saves. Just five years ago, K-Rod set the all-time major league record of 62 saves in a single season, and he had at least 40 saves in 2005, 2006, and 2007. His career 2.7 ERA is phenomenal, though his 4.38 ERA last year was not. Ultimately, there is no reason to let his poor 72 inning showing last year eclipse what has been an excellent 720 inning career. K-Rod is not past his prime and is the clear answer that the Tigers have been looking for to lock down the ninth inning.