I've given up trying to figure out Takashi Saito. How a man can go from a middle reliever in Japan at age 35 to an elite closer in the MLB at age 36 will forever remain a mystery. I'm done with analysis with him, I'm just going to accept that sometimes, miracles happen. Now that I can just sit back and enjoy Saito, it's time to ask: is Takashi Saito the best closer in baseball right now? Hard to believe that it would ever be a question, but there is a huge case to made for him.
First, here's some numbers for the top closers in the game.
WXRL measure's a pitchers performance in high leverage situations.
Saito's case rests on his absurd strikeout to walk ratio. No one in the game comes anywhere near his MVP Baseball-esque 42 to three strike out to walk ratio. The only other people that have a K/BB over nine are Rafael Betancourt, Andy Sonnanastine and (I did not see this coming) Paul Byrd. Saito is at 14. 14. I remember looking at Akinori Otsuka's Japanese numbers and being astonished that he had a 56 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio in his last year in Japan. Saito, right now, is better than that.
On top of this, Saito has come up big in high leverage situations. He has the second highest WXRL in baseball, behind only J.J. Putz of the Mariners. Saito has come into a tie or one run game 12 times this year, and he's only surrendered a run once. While this seems impressive, Putz, who is nine for nine in these situations, Wagner (nine for nine) and Cordero (eight for eight) have been better this year. Still, this places Saito above most of the closers here in "tough saves".
Despite this, Saito does have a downside. Batters have gone out for fourth meal four times in 32.1 innings against Saito, giving him a home run rate that is actually higher than the league average. Because of this, other pitchers come back into his league. Pitching in a home run friendly ball park does help Saito's case, but is it enough to push him back into contention? I'm not sure. What is amazing is that if Saito hadn't given up those home runs, he would have only given up one run all season.
My first inclination was name J.J. Putz the best closer in baseball. He's surrendered fewer home runs, and performed better in high leverage situations than Saito. However, that doesn't seem fair. Why does Saito suffer for allowing only one less home run, despite having a strikeout to walk ratio more than twice that of Putz. Sure, the home runs are a problem, but a 42/3 strikeout to walk ratio helps that a lot. When you consider that Putz is pitching in a far more forgiving environment, I have to give the award to Saito. Not bad for a guy that I called the Japanese Jorge Julio at one time.
I just realized that I failed to vote for the All Star game. I blame Rick Monday for shoving "vote Russell Martin" down our throats for the last several weeks. I started seriously considering spite voting for Brian McCann because of Monday, but then decided it wasn't worth the effort.
The Padres get another good player for nothing. The A's sent Milton Bradley the Padres way in exchange for a minor league pitcher. Given the general crapitude of the Padres farm system, I doubt it will be anyone of consequence. Bradley will likely take over right field, shifting the newly returned Brian Giles to left and ridding the Padres of the Russell Branyan/Jose Cruz platoon. Over the last couple weeks, the Padres have turned Rob Bowen, Kyler Burke, and a minor league pitcher into Michael Barrett, Milton Bradley and two to four draft picks.
Update>>Andrew Brown was the pitcher the Padres lost. This is the second time Brown has been traded for Bradley, the first was when he was shipped to the Indians by the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez.