Mariners 2011 Season Overview: Brandon League

I’ve decided to stick with the positive aspects of this past Mariners season, so I’m moving right along to one of the most dominant – and most-overlooked – players on this team:  our closer, Brandon League.

Here’s a guy who you could argue has gotten better and better the past two seasons.  Yes, you could say that his K/9IP rate has dropped considerably since 2009; but you could ALSO say that 2009 was a fucking anomaly and his current rate the past two seasons is really who he is.  I could also point out that his K/BB ratio is the best it’s ever been and his WHIP is down considerably to an infinitesimal 1.08.  Oh, and his ERA is comfortably under 3 as well.

The guy was pretty lights out this year, considering the team he played on.  37 saves for the third-worst team in baseball is pretty impressive.  Yes, he blew 5 saves, but unless you’re Mariano Rivera, nobody’s perfect.  Still, 37 saves puts him tied for 9th in all of baseball, which is pretty fucking good.

Pretty interesting season for him too.  He had 12 appearances in April and another 14 appearances in May, which put him on pace for a crazy amount of games pitched (78).  To put that in perspective, only one closer had more than 78 appearances this year, and that was Atlanta’s.  As it turns out, though, as the Mariners struggled, so did League’s number of appearances drop.  Funny how that works out; your team loses a bunch of games and your closer doesn’t get to play much.  He petered out in the month of July (17 game losing streak) and after that didn’t get a whole lot of action (at least, compared to the first two months of the season).  League finished with 65 appearances, which is still a good amount, but actually 5 fewer than last year when he was just the set-up man.

The way I see it, that’s a good thing.  If the Mariners are to make any strides towards being interesting in 2012, they’re going to need their closer to be available (and not injured because he threw his arm out playing in too many meaningless baseball games during last place seasons).

One has to wonder, though:  were his numbers better this year because he pitched in five fewer games?  Or was he actually just plain better?

Well, League had one of his patented Meltdown Weeks; this year it was in May and it was absolutely BRUTAL.  Four losses in four straight appearances, three of them blown saves.  His ERA was never higher and many were questioning his viability as a closer in this league.  I wasn’t questioning him, but many were!

He responded by going 20 straight games without giving up an earned run.  His ERA fell from a high of 7.31 to 3.28, and he earned his very first All Star Game invitation.  He would go on to blow a save right before the All Star Break, with one final blown save towards the end of August (Cleveland is his fucking Kryptonite).

I’m telling you, if he ever figures out how to avoid those Meltdown Weeks, Brandon League could be looking at many more All Star Games to come.

Now, I know a lot of people are looking to trade League this offseason.  We can save some money (he’s due about $5 million) and bring back some prospects (though, probably not as impactful as you’d think, given his impending salary hike).  I can totally see that rationale and understand where those people are coming from, but I gotta say, I hate the thought of trading away our best players all in the name of stockpiling prospects and saving money.

Good teams don’t trade their best players, they do everything they can to retain them!  Or, they trade FOR someone else’s best players (see:  Fister, Doug).  Brandon League, right now, is our second-best pitcher behind Felix.  Brandon League, next year, will be our second-best pitcher behind Felix.  He’s got a nasty fastball that sinks AND approaches 100 miles per hour, he’s got a forkball that nobody can touch, and he’s working on a third pitch to keep batters honest so they don’t sit dead-red on the first pitch of every at bat.  League has the tools to be an elite closer in this league for the next ten years; why would you want to throw that away for some Triple-A outfielder who will 9 times out of 10 flame out and never make an impact in the Majors?

My solution?  Forget arbitration.  Re-sign him to a multi-year extension RIGHT NOW.  He’s GOING to be good next year, he’s GOING to deserve that $5 million he’s about to make; why not snap him up for the long haul now before he’s worth twice that on the open market?  If you don’t think Boston will be in the market for a dominant closer in the next year or two, you’re crazy.  They’ll overpay for him like they’re the Carolina Panthers signing away another team’s kicker!

There’s a lot to like about Brandon League.  If I’m destined to read about Brandon Morrow whenever he strikes out 17 guys in a game, I’d at LEAST like to have a piece from that trade kicking some motherfucking ass for the Good Guys.  Am I wrong?

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