In the wake of the injury to Andrew Bailey, the Boston Red Sox have a hole in the closer role. Manager Bobby Valentine has decided to begin the season with right-hander Alfredo Aceves in the closer’s role. Aceves was the odd man out in the battle for the final starting pitcher’s spot after Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard were named to the rotation, but he clearly made a positive impression on the Red Sox coaching staff.
Aceves has an important part of the Red Sox bullpen in 2011, thanks in large part to his throwing 93 innings out of the bullpen. He was frequently used for multiple innings last year and saw action in long relief and in high leverage situations. He even got a few chances to save games when Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard were unavailable, though the results were not promising. Ace was just two for five in save situations last year. However, that is not a fair representation of his abilities to close games. Aceves had two save opportunities in which he entered the game with the tying run already on base and three opportunities where the first batter he faced represented the tying run. In situations like that, even Papelbon, who was among the best closers in the game last year, was just nine for twelve.
Aceves does not have the typical closer profile. His strike out rate is just ok, at 6.27 K/9 career. He features five very good pitches, a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a two seam fastball, a change, and a curve, but none of his pitches generate high whiff rates, and his fastball has very average velocity. However, Aceves has been very good at enducing weak contact thus far in his career. He has a career 12.9% infield fly rate and last year he induced even more pop ups with 14.7% of batted balls traveling high, but not far. He has also limited home runs more than expected, with a career 7.2 HR/FB. Those rates may be due for regression, as Aceves has just 240 innings under his belt and such results may just be random variation, but as a fly ball pitcher, (44% fly balls), he needs to keep that trend going as a closer. While he does not have traditional closer stuff, he can succeed in the role in his own unconventional way.
The other interesting element that Aceves brings to the closer role is his ability to pitch multiple innings. Prior to announcing him as the new closer, Valentine had said that he wanted to get 90+ innings from Ace. If he does reach that workload while closing, he will be seeing a good number of multiple inning saves. With Mark Melancon in the set up role this could mean far fewer innings from the lesser righty arms on the bullpen such as Matt Albers, Vicente Padilla. Valentine has a track record of relying on a few key guys for a large number of innings and Aceves fits perfectly into that system.