Jul 1, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jake McGee (57) pitches against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. The Rays defeated the Yankees 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jake McGee Should Be Named The Tampa Bay Rays Closer

Ever since June 9th, one day after Grant Balfour gave up 5 runs to the Seattle Mariners, the Rays have been using a closer-by-committee. Players such as Juan Carlos Oviedo, Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, and Joel Peralta have all been given chances to earn a save. While this move has worked so far, it is time to end the closer-by-committee and name McGee the Rays closer.

This season, McGee has been one of the most dominating relievers in all of baseball. He leads AL relievers in ERA at 1.17, and he pairs that with a 10.3 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9. It isn’t the first time McGee has dominated either- in 2012 he put up a 1.95 ERA and after struggling early in 2013 he had a 2.76 ERA from the beginning of June until the end of the season. From a pure stuff point of view, McGee has what you always want from a closer- a power fastball. He throws in the mid-upper 90′s with ease, and he does it from the left side. This season he has also developed his curveball nicely. He still rarely needs to throw it given how great his fastball is, but having it around means that hitters have to worry about one more pitch. The best part about McGee is that he has great command of his fastball, which makes him pretty much unhittable. McGee absolutely has the big stuff and dominating results that you want to see from a closer.

If that isn’t enough alone to name McGee closer, there are other reasons to do so. Bullpens generally benefit from having players in defined roles, and that is what the Rays were hoping to accomplish when they signed Balfour in the offseason. But by having a closer-by-committee, Rays relievers have not been able to find their niche. Players don’t know when they will be coming into games until they are told to start warming up, and that can make it hard on them to be mentally prepared to pitch. But if McGee, or anyone for that matter, is named closer, every player can slide back into a defined role. Having one closer is beneficial to an entire bullpen, and McGee has proven himself worthy of being a closer.

Of course, there are potential issues with McGee being a closer- the biggest being a lack of experience in the 9th inning. You truly never know how a pitcher will react to the pressure of pitching in the 9th inning when your team is up by 1 run. Oviedo and Balfour have proven themselves in a closer role before, and both have been pitching well lately. Because the Rays have so many experienced options, there has been no reason to rush McGee into the role. However, with how dominant McGee has been lately, the lack of experience is something that can be looked past.

You can’t ignore McGee’s dominance for much longer. Regardless of how the rest of the bullpen pitches, McGee deserves the closer job because of the body of work he has put in this year. Joe Maddon has the opportunity to allow all of his pitchers to slide into their niches by naming McGee closer, and it is an opportunity he should take advantage of.

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  • buddaley

    I disagree. Certainly common wisdom indicates that it helps relievers to know their role. In fact, Maddon mentioned it in an interview.

    But I think that bit of psychology is not natural but taught and is self-perpetuating. After all, is there any evidence that relievers were more successful before the introduction of the “closer” and specific roles? And even if there is such evidence, is the success linked to knowing their roles or to other factors-such as the proliferation of 95mph throwers, shorter usage and so on?

    Actually, the one certain thing is that piling up saves makes the closer more expensive. Even on that simple level, it behooves the Rays to try to avoid a designated closer. Otherwise, the relievers job is the same regardless of the inning. Get batters out! What is the difference what inning it is? But avoiding designated roles provides the manager more options, more flexibility to use match-ups effectively. It means putting each pitcher in the situation with which he is best equipped to deal.

    If in a one run game, in the 8th inning, Bautista, Encarnacion and Lind are due up, I prefer McGee on the mound to Peralta or Balfour, unless there is some solid evidence that the righties are better against those RH batters. Let the lesser pitchers handle the lower part of the lineup.

    • Lexi Ronson

      I agree about the money part. Jim Johnson was never as good as Jake McGee, and the O’s had to trade him for a 28 year old backup/AAAA second baseman because he got too expensive. His numbers were good, not great, but he had 101 saves in 2 years, and ended up making 10 mil in his final year of arb. I don’t want to ever be in a position where we have to trade a dominant arm like McGee’s because he has too many saves. Let him work the 8th and an occasional 1 run ninth when there are a few lefties coming up, and earn 3.5 mil in his final year of arb. 10 saves per year won’t be expensive. If we name him closer, and let him rack up 40+ saves per year, he gets expensive. Arbitraors award much more for saves than holds.

      Peralta and Oviedo should close most of the time. They are used to high leverage situations, and Peralta has been lights out as of late. He has a 2.5 ERA over his last 18 innings. Don’t name McGee closer and waste salary in 3 run games when there are 3 righties coming to the plate.

  • OTown RaysFan

    what an inane article – an almost mindless rehashing of hoary old baseball traditions. just the kind of thing that causes managers (even a gentleman like joe maddon) to do double takes when confronted with this type of “reasoning” by baseball writers. maddon was pretty well forced to cast balfour as the closer because of friedman’s gaffe in hiring him (for way too much money) even in the face of peter angelos and billy beane having passed on him. now, maddon is making the best of what he’s got, and doing a heck of a job of it. your effrontery in questioning him on this only points out your ignorance. if you really want to second guess him, then you would be on much sounder footing by looking into how well some of the catchers he found lacking have done with other teams since the rays gave up on them: john jaso, chris gimenez, stephen vogt, robinson chirinos, and even dioner navarro.