Closer Conundrum: The Case For J.P. Howell

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We got the word today from Ken Rosenthal that the Dodgers are interested in Joba Chamberlain. This comes nearly minutes after Adrian wrote his latest article about the Dodgers going after Chamberlain. You know I think this kid may know a thing or two about Baseball, so I am glad he’s here. In any case, Chamberlin would be a decent middle relief option. However the question remains, who closes?

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The most literal and obvious answer at first glance would be J.P. Howell. The left hander has been probably the second best reliever after Kenley over the last two plus seasons. There is no reason to at least not give him a chance to close for a few weeks and see how he does.

His 2.89 and 3.30 FIPs in 2013 and 2014 respectively have been pretty solid. His strikeout rates of 7.8 and 8.8 are solid as well. He’s posted ERA+ of 176 and 147, and he’s pitched in 67 and 68 games in each of the last two seasons.

People still complain because of Howell’s lone bad month in September of last year, and his performance in the division series against the Cardinals. Although you know what kind of small sample size we’re talking about here? 5.1 innings pitched. That’s how many frames Howell threw in September. He threw 5.1 innings over seven appearances. People can forget that Howell posted a 1.42 ERA in August. Or the goose egg he put up in July over eleven appearances. Or what about the 0.96 ERA in eleven June appearances? Before the bad month in September, Howell had only allowed six earned runs through August.

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  • Look at the rest of the numbers. He’s limited opposing hitters to a .185 opposing batting average against with runners in scoring position. He was death on left handers last season as well, holding them to a .170 batting average against, and a .512 OPS against. He had a 79% strand rate in 2014, and a 57.5% ground ball rate.

    Players have bad months sometimes, it happens. Perhaps it was because of a slight mechanical flaw in his delivery? Maybe the veteran got tired down the stretch? Or maybe he just had a poor month. Whatever the reason, let’s not hold that against Howell. He’s been one of the most consistent middle relievers the Dodgers have had in recent years, and there shouldn’t be any real reason why he can’t close out games until Kenley Jansen returns from injury.

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