Could Alfonseca Close?

Responding to P. Baker's Freddy Garcia update earlier today, commenter BGNJason writes:

...Alfonseca has been pretty good closing out games these past few weeks. The starting pitching has been atrocious. So why not throw Myers back into the rotation and live with Alfonseca closing?

My first reaction to this was to remember what I've thought every time Alfonseca has come in for a save these last few weeks: "This is the night he blows it." My second was the realization that he has not, in fact, blown one. El Pulpo has a solidly respectable stat line of 3-1, 3.62, 5 saves and a 1.46 WHIP. He's the anti-Brett Myers in that he doesn't record many strikeouts--just 11 in 27.1 IP--but he's also allowed just one home run (granted, it was a painful one, a game-ender to Andruw Jones) and three walks. He keeps the ball on the ground, with a G/F ratio of 2.1. And he hasn't allowed a run in his last nine appearances.

Watching Alfonseca against the White Sox Monday night, I didn't see much to convince me he couldn't do at least a decent job. His velocity was consistently 93-95, and his location was pretty good. He fell behind a couple of the Chicago hitters, who were showing unusual patience for an Ozzie Guillen team. (I guess needing baserunners in the 9th inning helps in that regard.) After Uribe's two-out single, with Jim Thome lurking on deck, he didn't panic or change his approach--and he got the game-ending strikeout to leave Thome right where he was.

The perception is that Alfonseca no longer has the "big-time closer stuff" he used to rack up 94 saves for the Marlins from 1999 to 2001. But a look at his numbers from that period suggests he's pretty much the same pitcher. Over that stretch, he averaged fewer than 6 strikeouts per 9 innings; that's still a lot better than his 3.6 rate in 2007, but the point is that Alfonseca never was a gunslinging strikeout closer like, say, Billy Wagner. He's always been fairly stingy with the home run ball, and his groundball tendencies in those seasons were very close to what they've been in 2007.

Don't get me wrong: I'll never feel the degree of confidence in Alfonseca that I did in Wagner, or even Myers during his short period closing games. I'm pretty sure he's at his very best right now, and will go through at least one, probably two more stretches similar to his late April/early May struggles, when he allowed runs in four out of five appearances, and I'll be surprised if his full-season ERA is under 4. But if Tom Gordon can come back to share the role, or Ryan Madson can harness his stuff, the bullpen might be good enough to justify moving Myers back into the rotation, and the team would come out ahead overall.

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