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Breaking down closers: Grant Balfour vs. Jim Johnson

BaseballMajor League BaseballGrant BalfourJim JohnsonBaltimore OriolesAmerican League East

The winter meetings are over, and even though the Orioles will return without having made any moves other than taking two players in the Rule 5 draft, the club hopes to have a closer soon.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette will return to Baltimore from Orlando this morning, and he believes the dialogue he had with free-agent closers here will eventually lead to getting a quality ninth-inning arm in orange and black to replace 50-save closer Jim Johnson, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics last week.

The club's focus is on free-agent closer Grant Balfour, who saved 38 games for the Athletics last season. As of last night, the Orioles were one of three teams to make Balfour a two-year offer. One of the three teams also offered a third-year vesting option. The Orioles were not that team.

I don't expect that to change: I can't see the Orioles making a three-year commitment to a closer who will turn 36 later this month. Instead, they will sell the idea of coming to a team that competed for a playoff spot in the American League East the past two years.

There are more closing options on the market than there are teams who have closer openings, so if a deal with Balfour doesn’t come to fruition, the Orioles can turn elsewhere.

For now, let's take a look at Balfour's 2013 numbers and how they compare with Johnson’s:

2013 Stat              Balfour                    Johnson              
Saves                    38                           50
Blown saves            3                             9
ERA                       2.59                        2.94       
WHIP                     1.197                     1.28
Ks per 9 IP             10.3                        7.2
BB per 9 IP             3.9                          2.3
K to BB ratio           2.67                        3.11
HR per 9 IP            1.0                          0.6
LOB%                    84.4%                    78.9%
Opp. BA                 .204                        .271
Ground-ball %        37.9%                    58.0%                   
Fly-ball %              39.1%                    21.5%
WAR                      0.6                          0.9

Balfour is obviously more of a power pitcher. He strikes out more batters and allowed fewer hits than Johnson last year. He also walked more batters, but seemed to be able to get out of jams more because of his ability to miss bats.

While Johnson allowed more hits, his sinker allowed him to record a high ground-ball rate. And with a solid defensive infield playing behind him, he was able to compensate for allowing more hits (72) than innings pitched (70).

The one red flag with Balfour is that he allows more fly balls than ground balls, which can be problematic in the AL East and playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Camden Yards, where he won't have the spacious foul ground he had in Oakland.

It’s also interesting that even despite nine blown saves, Johnson had a higher wins above replacement (WAR) value than Balfour.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BaseballMajor League BaseballGrant BalfourJim JohnsonBaltimore OriolesAmerican League East
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