This past week, the Atlanta Braves added two proven closers with career ERA's under 2.40 to their bullpen at a price of 10.2 million dollars guaranteed in 2010. Typically, those words would incite great response from the baseball community, however add in the fact that their combined age on opening day will be 78, the media has been far more critical of the moves. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were signed this week to be late inning relievers for the Atlanta Braves as they make a push back towards the playoffs. Saito is expected to set-up Wagner in the eighth and ninth innings. Here is my take on each reliever:
Billy Wagner, LH (One-Year Contract worth 7M, 2011 Option for 6.5M)
Coming off of Tommy John Surgery in 2009, Wagner showed that he certainly still has the same power arm as he did in 2007 when he closed games with the Mets. Looking at his career statistics, Wagner is one of the best closers in the history of the game. The red flag that I keep returning to on Wagner is that he is a power closer. Unlike some of the other storied closers such as Trevor Hoffman or even Mariano Rivera that have remained solid in the twilight of their careers, Wagner has not changed his style of closing. Both Hoffman and Rivera have experienced a drop in velocity and have had to focus on keeping hitters off-balanced to be successful. Wagner still throws mid-90's. If he loses his velocity for any number of reasons, there are going to be issues. There is a story that I remember about Wagner that gives me hope on his velocity continuing this late into his career. After injuring his right arm earlier in his career, Wagner adapted and became a left-handed pitcher with the ability to throw 100 MPH. With around twenty years of throwing with his left-arm, it makes sense that he would be able to continue to throw hard late into his career. Barring injury, I am going to make the prediction that Wagner is going to be successful with the Braves.
Takashi Saito (One-Year Contract worth 3.2M)
Saito came to the Dodgers in 2006 expected to be a middle-reliever and turned into an all-star closer and perhaps even the best reliever in baseball in 2007 when he posted a 1.40 ERA with 39 saves. His career ERA of 2.03 is also extremely impressive. Saito also went down with arm trouble in 2008 and had a rebound season with Boston in 2009. One difference for Saito is that his walk totals went way up last season. His control was average at best and that is a scary thought if he is to be relied upon in the eighth inning as a forty year old reliever. Saito still has some innings left in him, but he is going to have to make a believer out of me that he is going to be pitching them as a set-up man. While Saito may start the 2010 season as Braves set-up man, I do not expect it to finish that way (Peter Moylan).