Ever since John Axford was rightfully demoted from his ninth inning role, the so-called “four-headed closing monster” has been called upon to close out games. In case you weren’t aware, the heads of that monster are Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison. But statistics show that a closer by committee is less effective in general (although some of my colleagues would reasonably voice their disagreements), so eventually Cleveland is going to need someone to slot into the role on a more permanent basis. That person should be Atchison. Here are a few reasons why.
Okay, it may not be that much, but Atchison has certainly been around longer than Allen, Shaw or Rzepczynski. In fact, he cracked the MLB roster for the Mariners for the first time in 2004. He missed all of 2006, 2008 and 2009, but since 2010 he’s averaged over 45 innings per year. His best year came in 2012, where he turned in a 1.58 ERA over 51.1 innings while playing for Terry Francona in Boston. He’s no stranger to high-leverage situations. Perhaps most importantly, he keeps calm in pressure situations and comes out throwing strikes.
Aside from having a few years on young players like Scrabble, Allen and Shaw, Atchison has also put up better numbers in most areas. While he narrowly trails Shaw in ERA and innings pitched, he leads every member of the Tribe’s bullpen in WHIP and opponent batting average, and is tied with Shaw for the fewest walks. He is the only one of the four to have never thrown a wild pitch, and his ground ball to fly ball ratio is by far the best of the bunch. But if we dig a little deeper into more obscure stats, we can find that the roots of his success lie in his efficiency. His OPS against (.429) is a full 70 points lower than the next best candidate on the list, who also happens to be Shaw (.499). Atchison has been wildly successful at limiting walks and extra-base hits, keeping runners out of scoring position with great consistency. But I find this stat even more interesting: he’s averaging just 13.14 pitches per inning, while Shaw is averaging 14.96, and Allen and Rzcepczynski are averaging over 17. This is basic proof of Atchison’s ability to consistently throw strikes without leaving pitches up in the zone, and a great example of why he’s been able to go multiple innings in so many of his appearances. While the younger pitchers may impress with velocity and strikeouts, Atchison is throwing fewer pitches and has been great at keeping runners off of second and third base.
This is the part of the article where I tell you that basically everything you just read doesn’t even really matter. By far and away, the most important part of the Atchison for closer argument is the simple fact that Allen, Shaw and Rzepczynski are all have at least two years of arbitration ahead of them, while Atchison is on a one-year MLB contract. The implication of this is that accumulating saves will drive up the salaries of the younger relievers due to the fact that arbitration panels place a ridiculous value on the save stat, which many people would consider to be practically arbitrary. By letting Atchison pitch the ninth and accumulate the majority of the team’s saves, the Indians will save millions of dollars when Shaw, Rzepczynski and Allen go to arbitration a total of eight more times between them. The number of saves Atchison earns will have significantly less impact on his contract for next year, if the Tribe chooses to re-sign him.
Personally, I’d rather watch Atchison earn saves with little drama than see Axford crumble under pressure. And if a pitcher like Jim Johnson is earning ten million this year with a career 3.27 ERA, imagine how 30+ saves per year could impact the salaries of Allen or Shaw. Join the Atchison for closer train and help get the word out by sending us a tweet with the hashtag #atchisonforcloser.