Full beards and funky mustaches have often been accessories for some of baseball’s most legendary closers.
Rollie Fingers had a handlebar mustache and a Hall of Fame career.
Bruce Sutter. Great beard. Hall of Famer.
Lee Smith. Good beard. Hall of Famer.
Goose Gossage. Fu Manchu mustache. Hall of Fame career.
Dennis Eckersley. Classic ‘stache. Hall of Fame career.
Facial hair isn’t going to play a role in manager Joe Girardi’s closer evaluation this month down in Clearwater, Fla., but there is a pretty good chance Archie Bradley is going to become the Phillies’ first closer with a bushy broom face since Gene Garber in 1977.
Bradley, signed for $6 million as a free agent, definitely looks the part of a closer. But in order to secure the job with the Phillies, he is going to have to beat out a group of veterans with experience in that role.
The competition includes Hector Neris, the Phillies’ primary closer since 2017; Brandon Kintzler, the primary closer for the playoff-qualifying Miami Marlins last season; and maybe even Hector Rondon, who had three straight successful seasons as the Chicago Cubs’ closer before relinquishing that job to Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline in 2016.
Girardi is not concerned with having a particular type of closer.
“What you’re really looking for is consistent outs,” the manager said Monday after the Phillies played to a seven-inning, 4-4 tie with the Baltimore Orioles at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla. “You don’t want guys getting in jams or creating jams. Guys who are throwing the ball where they want and putting hitters away, that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for weak contact.”
Kintzler, 36, was an effective closer as recently as last season for the surprising Marlins, posting a 2.22 ERA while converting 12 of 14 save opportunities. He was also the closer with Minnesota in 2016 and 2017, converting 45 of 52 saves. He’s intense but not overpowering. He relies heavily on a 91-mph sinker and he has the kind of resume (a 3.31 ERA in 454 career games) that impresses teammates.
“We’ve added some older guys for the back of the bullpen,” Phillies ace Aaron Nola said. “They are guys who have done it for a while now – guys who have closed, so they have that end-of-game mentality and they know what they are doing. That means a lot and I think that helps.”
Rondon, 33, does throw hard, but he has not been in the closer role since 2018 with Houston when he surrendered the job after Roberto Osuna was acquired from Toronto. Rondon, in camp as a nonroster invitee, is trying to bounce back from a difficult 2020 season.
Neris, 31, looked like he might be the Phillies’ closer for a long time when he converted 26 of 29 save opportunities and posted a 3.01 ERA in 2017, but new manager Gabe Kapler did not want a set closer the following year. We’ll never know what kind of mental impact that had on Neris, but he struggled through most of that season and was even demoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley at one point.
He had a good bounce-back season in 2019 as the team’s primary closer but was part of the overall bullpen problem last season, blowing three of eight save opportunities before Brandon Workman came over from Boston and was even less effective as the closer.
Girardi has said that past performance and what he sees in spring training both play a role in his decision-making and that likely be the case as he decides on his 2021 closer, too.
A starter early in his career, the 28-year-old Bradley has a four-pitch mix that is set up by his 94-mph fastball. He also throws a curveball, changeup, and an occasional sinker.
He got his first shot at closing in 2019 with Arizona and made the most of it, converting 18 of his 21 save opportunities while posting a 3.52 ERA and striking out 87 batters in 71 2/3 innings. He converted six of seven save opportunities and had a 4.22 ERA with the Diamondbacks last season when they traded him to Cincinnati. The Reds used him in a setup role and he had a 1.17 ERA in six games.
With 24 saves in his last 28 opportunities and the ability to pitch more than an inning, which he has done 24 times in 82 appearances the last two seasons, Bradley’s recent track record qualifies him to handle the closer role.
His face full of hair is just an added bonus.
“Just get outs, but if you can grow it, then grow it,” Nola said.
Archie Bradley can grow it and he can throw it.