Thursday, February 28, 2008

Closer George Sherrill: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

The Orioles rush to name lefty relief pitcher George Sherrill closer seems to be based not only on his closing experience -- which is limited -- but his rather pristine stats. But all that glitters is not gold.

True, Sherrill's 3.65 lifetime major league ERA is more than decent, not to mention his sparkling 2.36 mark last year. Further, he has averaged better than a strikeout per inning since being called up by Seattle in 2004.

So what's wrong with this picture?

First, Sherrill has been used almost exclusively as a lefty specialist, as evidenced by his appearance in 195 major league games while throwing a mere 128 innings, hardly making him the type of pitcher managers rely upon for very long when a game is on the line. No wonder Sherill's near complete obscurity, even though he will be 31 on March 19 and has been in the majors for some time.

Sherrill's record is based on such a small sample that his glowing numbers are deceptive if not altogether meaningless, and subject to great fluctuation if he falters while facing greater numbers of righty batters for extended outings. For example, at the end of 2005 Sherrill's ERA ballooned from a nifty 3.32 to a mediocre 5.21 in just one game after he allowed three hits and four earned runs without retiring a batter.

If that weren't bad enough, Sherrill is being held out of action because of pain in his right hamstring, and has previously served time on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain.

Hopefully for the Orioles, Sherrill will work out as closer, but relievers Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker, Greg Aquino and Dennis Sarfate had better stay close to the phone in the bullpen.