So you want Ryan Madson to be the new Angels closer, eh? Well, I suppose that makes some sense. He does have experience in the role, if your into that sort of thing, and he has a more established track record that incumbent closer Ernesto Frieri. Such a move would free up Frieri to ease into the high leverage innings more as a setup man. It's a good idea. Not a great idea, but good enough.
You know what is a great idea? This:
I don't want to get locked into the idea that there's one guy that pitches the ninth, it's a combination of guys that get the last nine outs.
This is the sort of bullpen arrangement I've been begging the Halos, and really all teams, to adopt for years. But that quote is not from me. It is from Jerry Dipoto, who has some actual say in such matters. What he's basically proposing is having two or three guys he trusts in high leverage spots and deploying them on a case-by-case basis rather than by some predefined construct based solely on what inning it is.
It really isn't a crazy idea either. In fact, the Angels have used a similar arrangement in the past under Scioscia, back in the heyday of one Scot Shields. Shields was mostly known for being one of the best setup men of all time. However, he wasn't used exclusively in the eighth inning as the setup label might suggest. Out of his 697 career innings, 122.2 came in the seventh inning and another 153 came in the sixth inning or earlier (it should be noted that some of those innings came from the 14 career starts Shields made in his career). You see, Shields was less of a setup man for Mike Scioscia and more of a fireman. If the situation was particularly dire or the matchup was ideal, Scioscia seldom hesitated to call on Shields regardless of the inning. Nor was he afraid to extend Shields for more than three outs.
With his strong strikeout rate, decent walk rate, groundball tendencies, almost identical platoon splits and famous rubber arm, Shields was the ideal pitcher for the role. There was no high leverage situation that he wasn't right for. Ever since his arm finally broke down, the Angels have been looking for a suitable replacement, and really their bullpen hasn't been any good since. But that might all be about to change with the signing of Ryan Madson.
If you look at the two, and I mean that literally, they are eerily similar. Both are tall lanky pitchers who come at hitters like flurry of knees and elbows. They both are wannabe-starters that stumbled into a wildly successful career as a reliever. But where they really appear to be baseball dopplegangers is in their statistics as relievers:
Batters faced per game
Factor in that Shields' numbers are tainted a bit by the final two injury plagued years of his career, and you can see just how comparable the two are. If anything, Madson is a little better, or at least for this role.
Madson doesn't have quite the strikeout rate, but issues fewer walks, thus making him less prone to self-inflicted wounds which is an important characteristic to have when routinely entering the game with runners already in scoring position. It is precisely why the command-challenged Frieri isn't a candidate for the gig. Really the only are where Madson is lacking is that rubber arm. As the batters faced per appearance shows, Madson was not often asked to go more than one inning and he hasn't pitched more than 60.2 innings in his last two seasons. And, of course, there's that whole Tommy John surgery thing that is going to limit his durability even further.
So Madson isn't quite perfect as the evolutionary Scot Shields, but he's close when he is performing at the top of his abilities. When that will be remains to be seen since he is still rehabbing from his elbow surgery. But perhaps that will work into the Angels' favor as they have a built in excuse to use him as something other than the close sicne he needs to "prove he's healthy." By the time he shakes off the rust (which will hopefully happen quickly), the Halos can keep him in this fireman role under the premise of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." That means Ernie Frieri will have to hold up his end of the bargain as the primary closer though so that management doesn't panic and blow up their experiment.
The real trick though might be getting Scioscia to buy into the plan, assuming Dipoto doesn't just force him to do it, that is. But what better way to convince someone of something than by making them think it was their idea? Hey, Sosh, remember how much you liked Shields and how you used him? Yeah, Madson's pretty much the same dude, what do you think we should do with him?
Clever. Clever like a fox. Now let's just hope that fox's elbow heals up quick to make this plan viable.