The Other Dominant AL East Closer

Closers tend to be dominant, because if they weren’t dominant, they wouldn’t be closers. The role is selective, which makes total sense, on account of the stakes that come along with the designation. Now, this statement isn’t fact-checked or anything, but I feel like the closers in the American League East are particularly dominant. Maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t care, but the Red Sox, of course, acquired Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees, of course, acquired Aroldis Chapman, and they also have Andrew Miller. The Orioles have the unbelievable Zach Britton. Even the Blue Jays are happy with Roberto Osuna, who last year got himself some playoff exposure. The division knows how to finish games. It’s one of the reasons it’s a good division.

There’s another guy, and by process of elimination, you can see he closes for the Rays. Most good Rays players end up seemingly underrated, and the current closer is no exception. Jake McGee? They traded Jake McGee. Brad Boxberger? He’s been hurt. He’s on the way back, and they say he’ll close again, but if that happens, he’ll have to bump Alex Colome. Colome has been better than you probably realized. Colome has been better than I realized, and this is literally how I make a living.

The Rays have a well-earned reputation as a pitching factory. Now, at present, they’re having some problems with their starters. And you could argue, I suppose, that if the Rays were really special, they would’ve been able to turn Colome into an effective starter himself. Colome did get his chances, but over 19 career big-league starts, he wasn’t good enough. It was in the middle of last season that Colome officially converted into a reliever, and since then, he’s been fantastic. There’s a reason the Rays allowed him to close.

Just how fantastic has Colome been? Over the past calendar year, 120 different relievers have thrown at least 50 innings. Colome, for whatever it’s worth, has cleared 60. And during that time, Colome has pitched well enough to be the leader in WAR. It is the slightest of leads that he has — it shows up as a tenth of a point on our leaderboard. But second place is a tie between Miller, Britton, Cody Allen, and Dellin Betances. You don’t lead that leaderboard by accident. Colome was immediately successful as a converted reliever, and this year he’s even moved forward.

We’ll get to that, but first, a comparison. I’m going to guess the community recognizes the excellence of Zach Britton. I’ll guess the community is less familiar with the excellence of Colome. So here they are, side by side, as relievers, since the start of last year. I’m showing their percentile ranks among relievers in strikeout rate, walk rate, and isolated slugging percentage allowed.

colome-britton-graph

Colome has thrown fewer innings out of the bullpen over the stretch, but he’s thrown enough for the sample to be meaningful. Colome and Britton are comparable in strikeouts. Colome has been superior in terms of walks, and nobody has been better than Colome with regard to the last stat. Britton is an extreme groundballer, and the advantage of being an extreme groundballer is that it’s hard for hitters to generate any lift. So, that means it’s hard for the opponent to get any extra-base hits. For sure, Britton has made it tough to drive the baseball. But Britton’s allowed a .074 ISO. Colome comes in at .032. The next-closest mark is .053. Colome has allowed a few extra singles, yet that can have to do with the defense, and in all we’re talking about four doubles and one home run.

Over 49 outings, spanning 61.2 innings. Nearly 250 batters faced. Those batters, against bullpen Colome, have hit .234/.276/.266. The batting average makes you think they’ve had a chance, but the other numbers shut that down.

Colome adjusted easily to the bullpen, with his powerful rising four-seamer and his dangerous cutter. Or slider. I don’t know, so we’ll go with cutter. Colome this year has seemingly taken another step forward with his command. I could show that with numbers, but I won’t bother. Imagine the numbers that I would show you. You’re basically correct. One probable aid: simplification. Via Brooks Baseball, Colome has cut his repertoire in half.

colome-brooks-pitches

The changeup is just about gone, and the curveball is just about gone, with Colome throwing more fastballs and more cutters. Maybe you could think of it as a sign of his embracing his bullpen role. He doesn’t need those other pitches, not with his two primary ones being so effective. Righties see them, and lefties see them, and Colome’s cutter is sufficiently dangerous that he’s more than just a fastball/slider righty. Colome attacks everyone, and he’s kept them all on the defensive. Just Tuesday, he came in for a six-out save against the Marlins.

The fastball that ended things:

Sure, that’s a borderline strike, so Justin Bour had some argument, but more importantly, that’s a perfect pitch in that situation. Perfect execution. That wasn’t the only demonstration of Colome’s feel. Check out some cutters! The batters looked like silly little men.

That cutter is a phenomenal pitch. It shows up on our pitch-value leaderboards as a slider, but this year among relievers, it’s been the single most valuable slider or cutter. One can figure it’s been made better by Colome possessing better fastball command, which his cutter plays off. Colome has honed his location to either side of the plate, giving him that desired blend of stuff and precision. Once a reliever has those, there’s no real good way to attack him. You can wait for a mistake, but given that reliever Colome has allowed just the one home run, mistakes are few and far between.

The Rays keep saying that, when he’s healthy, Boxberger will resume his closing duties. The healthy version of Brad Boxberger is great, so it’s not like there’s a wrong choice to be made. And there are plenty of high-leverage at-bats to go around. Colome will end up getting some of them, somewhere. He’s likely to remain underrated, but at this point, you have to think he’s also likely to remain totally dominant.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Ryan
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Ryan

April 25 – May 24th Kimbrel has allowed 1 hit.

Mattabattacola
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Member
Mattabattacola

He has only pitched 10 innings in that span… While that is still very impressive, pointless to use the dates