As Spring Training rolls along and we get closer to Opening Day, there’s only one position that Baltimore Orioles fans should really worry about. With Jim Johnson and his multitude of saves gone, there’s no proven closer in Baltimore. This begs the question, who’s going to be the Orioles’ closer in 2014?
Assuming that the Orioles stay inside the organization to fill the opening, their closer will be unproven. But so was Koji Uehara in 2013. That’s not the problem. Uehara was outstanding as a first-year closer, as his team, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series.
The problem is that Tommy Hunter is the favorite to be Baltimore’s closer next season. However, he’s not the best man for the job. Darren O’Day is better suited to fill the role. While he may not have the electrifying stuff that Hunter does, he does have a unique delivery which allows him to keep hitter guessing.
Many believe that Hunter will be the closer in large part due to a plus-fastball that averaged 96 miles-per-hour last season. Those people think this will give him the ability to strike a lot of batters out. For all the praise Johnson received, people believed that he pitched to contact far too often. This was believed to have gotten Johnson into trouble and Hunter’s perceived ability to strike batters out have won the admiration of the fanbase. What some people may not realize is that O’Day strikes out more batters per nine innings than Hunter does, and allows less hits per nine innings than Hunter does. O’Day also has a proven track record as a relief pitcher across multiple seasons, something that Hunter doesn’t quite have.
Over the past two seasons, O’Day has gone 12-4 with a 2.23 ERA thanks to allowing only 6.7 hits per nine innings and 0.9 home runs per nine innings. Combine that with an impressive 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings ratio, and the Orioles have a very intriguing potential closer.
To be fair to Hunter, we’ll forget about his disastrous 2012 campaign as a starter, and focus on 2013 where he became a very reliable pitcher out of the bullpen. Hunter went 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA and cut his home runs per nine innings average in half, bringing it to 1.1 compared to 2.2 the year before. Hunter averaged 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings and gave up 7.4 hits per nine innings. While neither of those averages are alarming, they aren’t as good as O’Day’s, nor has Hunter ever posted numbers similar to that in his career prior to last season.
The main concern that people have with O’Day is his inability to get left-handed batters out. However, Hunter isn’t much better against lefties. Left-handed hitters batted .309 off of O’Day last season, but lefties hit .294 off of Hunter. While his numbers against lefties aren’t staggering, through his career O’Day has shown the ability to get lefties out, limiting left-handed batters to hit a more respectable .250, alluding to his troubles against left-handed hitters in 2013 being an anomaly.
Both O’Day and Hunter have pitched only three innings so far in Spring Training, but this very limited sample size suggests that Hunter has more issues to address. In three innings of work, Hunter has already given up two home runs and three hits. O’Day, on the other hand, has given up only two hits and surrendered no runs in his three innings of work.