Rockies sign LaTroy Hawkins, get suckered by saves

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

A pitcher who pretty much defines "just a guy" is now the Rockies' closer.

With the news that the Rockies are about to sign LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year deal to serve as their closer, the veteran right-hander is one moderately healthy season away from becoming just the 16th pitcher to have a 1,000-game career.

Hawkins is probably the least-distinguished, least likely pitcher to be in a position to surpass the 1,000-game threshold. Many relievers began as busted starters, but few failed as hard as Hawkins did, putting up a 6.11 ERA in 98 career starts. For pitchers with at least 500 innings as a starter, that is merely the second-worst ERA in history:

Rk

Player

From

To

ERA

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

1

Todd Van Poppel

1991

2004

6.31

25

37

98

516

551

282

336

2

LaTroy Hawkins

1995

1999

6.11

26

44

98

518.1

675

186

298

3

Les Sweetland

1927

1931

5.96

29

51

96

607

816

278

127

4

Claude Willoughby

1925

1931

5.81

30

49

101

590.2

781

279

137

5

Roxie Lawson

1930

1940

5.80

29

32

83

507

606

300

165

6

Rob Bell

2000

2005

5.76

28

34

108

594

631

252

376

7

Kevin Jarvis

1994

2006

5.69

33

45

118

656.1

767

204

379

8

Casey Fossum

2001

2007

5.65

29

47

120

636.2

716

256

483

9

Bryan Rekar

1995

2002

5.61

23

47

108

607.2

734

184

351

10

Scott Elarton

1998

2007

5.56

49

57

170

965

1038

376

592


Notice that none of those guys went on to big career second acts as a reliever or a knuckleballer or a really witty after-dinner speaker. Hawkins is the only one. As a reliever he has compiled a 3.32 ERA in 856 innings, which is -- I'll spare you the table on this one -- not bad, but it's not great either. Hawkins is 57th on the list of relievers with 800 or more innings pitched. Said list begins with Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, and Hoyt Wilhelm, three pitchers who are (or should be) Hall of Famers. ERA isn't the best measure of effectiveness for relievers, of course, so we could go to something like WAR, which would show him in about the same place among career relievers. Basically, Hawkins hasn't been notably good, but he's pitched just well enough at key moments that he's been allowed to continue his career despite his general just-okayness.

Hawkins finished the 2013 season with 943 career games, meaning if he makes 57 appearances with the Rockies he'll crash 1,000 games. Listing the other guys at the 1,000-game reunion party alongside Hawkins is like playing a game of "Which one doesn't belong:"

Player

G

From

To

SV

ERA

ERA+

WAR

WHO

Jesse Orosco

1252

1979

2003

144

3.16

126

22.9

Closer and postseason hero for the 1986 Mets, spot reliever for 100 years after that.

Mike Stanton

1178

1989

2007

84

3.92

112

13.8

Longtime setup man with a 53-game record of postseason excellence.

John Franco

1119

1984

2005

424

2.89

138

23.7

Longtime closer holds the record for saves by a southpaw.

Mariano Rivera

1115

1995

2013

652

2.21

205

56.6

Oh, you know.

Dennis Eckersley

1071

1975

1998

390

3.5

116

62.5

Had two great careers as a starter and a reliever.

Hoyt Wilhelm

1070

1952

1972

227

2.52

147

50.1

Pioneering fireman won an ERA title as a starter, pitched until he was 49.

Dan Plesac

1064

1986

2003

158

3.64

117

17.1

Left-hander and sometime closer who extended his career by pitching in spot relief.

Mike Timlin

1058

1991

2008

141

3.63

125

19.2

Sometime closer and longtime setup man pitched on four winning World Series teams.

Kent Tekulve

1050

1974

1989

184

2.85

132

26.2

Sidewinding closer for the great Pirates teams of the 1970s.

Trevor Hoffman

1035

1993

2010

601

2.87

141

28.0

The career saves leader before Mariano.

Jose Mesa

1022

1987

2007

321

4.36

100

11.7

The closest pitcher to Hawkins on the list, Joe Table was a busted starter who saved over 40 games four times.

Lee Smith

1022

1980

1997

478

3.03

132

29.4

Held the career saves record for 13 years before giving way to Hoffman.

Roberto Hernandez

1010

1991

2007

326

3.45

131

18.5

Survived life-threatening blood clots early in his career to establish himself at 27, pitched into his 40s.

Michael Jackson

1005

1986

2004

142

3.42

126

18.8

An early attempt at closing didn't take, but went back to setting up and later conquered the ninth inning.

Rich Gossage

1002

1972

1994

310

3.01

126

41.8

Fireballing stopper of the 1970s.

Four guys who conked out in the 900s.

LaTroy Hawkins

943

1995

2013

101

4.37

105

16.3

He's ... LaTroy Hawkins.


What this really suggests is not that Hawkins somehow doesn't deserve to keep pitching, but that the Rockies are really overthinking things. Rex Brothers has the weak command that is typical of a hard-throwing young lefty and he had some struggles as the season wound down, but he still struck out a more than a man per inning while converting 19 of 21 save opportunities. Hawkins whiffed 7.0 batters per nine innings last year. It was his best rate since 2008 and not only might it not hold up, it was well below-average for a major-league reliever, who had an average of 8.3 strikeouts per nine. In the age of the humidor Coors Field no longer plays like a bandbox on the moon, but it's still a hitter-friendly park with a big outfield. Putting a relatively low-strikeout reliever in that park in key situations seems like an idea that's likely to backfire, particularly if ol' LaTroy regresses to a lower strikeout rate, which for him could be anywhere between four and six per nine.

Worse, designating Hawkins the closer might encourage manager Walt Weiss to use Brothers more situationally, holding him out of innings that don't feature a predominance of left-handed hitters. This would further reduce his impact and drop more innings on relievers that aren't as good as he is.

Bottom line, this is the kind of move that mediocre teams make, signing a 40-year-old off of a 13-save season for a second-division team and bestowing an important role upon him. Chances are Brothers will have the closer's role back by the All-Star break and Hawkins, 1,000 games or not, will be pitching lower leverage innings. Without those saves appended to his line, Hawkins' season would be just one of dozens of half-decent seasons put together by right-handed relievers in 2013. Count general manager Dan O'Dowd among the beguiled.

More from SB Nation MLB:

Four teams that could trade for Rick Porcello

What package might the Blue Jays get for Jose Bautista?

Alex Trebek trolls the Astros on "Jeopardy"

MLB trade rumors | Cano still wants $310M | Wieters wants Mauer money

Death of a Ballplayer: Wrongly convicted prospect spends 27 years in prison

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.