Many MLB hitters have been stifled by Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara over the course of the last two seasons. Uehara, who was signed as a free agent during the 2013 offseason after playing with the Texas Rangers, went on a wild ride to become the closer of the Red Sox, converting 21-of-24 save opportunities while helping the Red Sox win their third World Series title in 10 seasons. Through his mastering of opposing offenses, as well as his unusual repertoire of “out-pitches,” it is safe to say that Uehara has established himself as the most dominant closer in the American League.
Uehara has been on a roll since the second half of the 2013 season. In his last 48 appearances, Uehara has only allowed one run on nine hits in 52.2 innings pitched, striking out 66 batters during that time. The only run he allowed in that span was a walk-off home run to former Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton in Game 3 of the 2013 American League Division Series. Uehara’s domination has propelled him to the status of an elite big league closer; his performance even landed him in the top 10 for 2013 Cy Young Award voting. Although Uehara hasn’t been a closer for a significant portion of his career, his ability to slam the door on opposing offenses has helped him become one of the more lethal closers in the AL.
In addition to his recent hot streak, Uehara’s arsenal of pitches baffles hitters on a daily basis, adding to his newfound reputation as arguably the best closer in the AL. Many scouts have noted that Uehara has amazing command of his fastball (despite averaging out at 90 miles per hour), and his placement of pitches stymies hitters in key situations. Uehara also has a lethal split-finger fastball, which serves as his off-speed “out-pitch” when he overuses his fastball. With those pitches to his credit, Uehara is able to master the strike zone, pinpointing pitches in areas that opposing batters can’t reach, adding to his intrigue as a premier show-stopper in the AL.
Even though his arsenal of pitches and his hot streak might sound below average for standard Major League closers, Uehara’s ability to come through in clutch situations has enabled him to separate himself from the pack. In 13 postseason appearances, Uehara went 1-1 with a 0.66 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 13.2 innings. It was almost certain that every time Uehara came into a postseason game, he could get the key outs, and secure a key victory for the Red Sox. His composure in those tight situations have been unmatched by any active closer in the AL, adding to his case as the best AL closer.
Although Uehara hasn’t been a closer for a full season, the success he has had over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons has elevated him as the best lock-down reliever in the AL. His pitch repertoire and composure in key situations has allowed Uehara to transcend the mold of a normal reliever in order to become a greater pitcher. Even though Uehara is 39 years old, his contributions have been unmatched by his younger contemporaries, making him the most valuable active reliever in the AL.