Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hanrahan proven to be human after all

Joel Hanrahan is yet another player making Pirates GM Neal Huntington
look like a genius after acquiring him in a 2008 trade with the Nationals
 It took 93 games, but Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan finally blew his first save situation of the season when he entered Sunday afternoon's game against the Houston Astros in the eighth inning to try and get the final out and protect the Bucs' 4-3 lead.

The bad news came on a 3-2 pitch when the Stros' Chris Johnson doubled into the right-centerfield gap, scoring Jeff Keppinger and knotting the game at 4-4.

The good news, possibly great news, was Hanrahan's return to the mound in the ninth. After a leadoff single, the Hammer returned to form, retiring the next three batters in a rather pedestrian way to carry the Pirates into extra innings, where Pittsburgh picked up yet another series victory with three runs in the 11th inning of the 7-5 win.

"Fortunately, we kept it right there at the tie game and guys battled and we had some things working," he said. "Sometimes you need a little extra time. The guys came back in the bullpen and did their job at the end, and it's always nice winning a series and it's good to go home with."

Hanrahan is the last of the NL closers to blow a save this season. But to this point he has cruised. He is second among closers in baseball with pitches thrown per inning, needing an avg. of just 14 to get through his outings. In the 36 games he has finished, he has inherited only eight runners. That means the bullpen has certainly done its part, as has the offense, of delivering the game to Hanrahan to put away.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not downplaying his role. But the numbers suggest the pressure has really been on some for those who's job it is to complete the bridge from starter to Hammer.

Chris Resop in his 45 appearances has inherited the most runners in baseball with 42. And the percentage of those runners who scored? 38 percent. I agree, not dominant numbers. But almost 2 out of every three times Resop has entered the game with ducks on the pond, he bailed out the Pirates. His strikeout to walk ratio (52-17) is 3-1, quite solid out of the pen. And despite the solo shot he gave up while earning the save on Sunday, his 3.40 ERA is respectable. 

Jose Veras, who is tied for fifth in appearances, has also had his share of inherited runners (a stat we'll refer to as IS% as we move along). Veras has allowed just 19 percent of his inherited runners to score and his fourth in the league in holds.

Daniel McCuthcen's 14 percent number is impressive as well, considering he also has been asked to get more than the three outs a team-leading 14 times and pitched without a days rest 12 times.

This all from a bullpen that's missing an All-Star set-up man Evan Meek and lefty bullpen arm Joe Beimel, who got himself out of trouble in his return from the DL with a nice double play in an inning of work on Sunday.

As the games have been delivered, Hanrahan has steered the ship home 26 times. But the best job yet may just have been his ability to stay focused, bounce back in the 9th and keep his team on course as the Pirates ended up over .500 for their seventh consecutive series and 13th in their last 14 series.

Wins until the Pirates match their 2010 win total: 8
Games left in the 2011 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates: 69

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