Latroy Hawkins has been an enigma throughout his 19 years in the major leagues. Reinventing himself multiple times has helped the 41-year-old stand the test of time.
Hawkins enters his 20th season in the majors where he once again is penciled in to play an important bullpen role. Signed by the Colorado Rockies over the winter to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, he has since been anointed the Rockies’ closer by Manager Walt Weiss. While Hawkins’ 2.93 ERA over 70.2 innings last year warranted an open competition during spring training, the Rockies have disregarded the the phenomenal performance of Rex Brothers last year.
Brothers, a 26-year-old lefty from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, put together one of the best relief seasons in franchise history in 2013. Striking out 76 batters over 67.1 innings to finish with a 1.74 ERA and 19 saves, Brothers looked to have firmly cemented his claim to be the opening day closer for the Rockies in 2014. Instead Weiss and the Rockies have opted for Hawkins hoping his ground ball tendencies keep batters from launching balls into the thin Coors Field air.
In fairness to Weiss, Hawkins did have a slightly better spring training than Brothers, posting a 5.63 ERA over eight innings. Brothers’ ERA was slightly higher at 5.79 over 9.1 innings pitched. Obviously, neither one lit the world on fire.
However, spring training statistics must always be taken with a grain of salt when evaluating Rockies pitchers given the hitters friendly Coors Field. Last season Brothers posted an impressive 2.23 ERA at Coors over 36.1 innings of work. In comparison, Hawkins, during his first stint with the Rockies in 2007, posted an equally impressive 2.48 ERA at home over 29 innings. The difference today being Hawkins is far older and no longer has the same zip on his fastball to overpower hitters.
Hawkins impressive 2013 campaign is also a product of his 38.2 innings pitched at pitchers friendly Citi Field. At home last season, for the New York Mets, Hawkins posted a 2.23 ERA, but a far more pedestrian 3.66 ERA on the road.
If the Rockies are banking on Hawkins building on his solid 2013 season as well has him replicating his effective 2007 work at Coors Field they will most likely be disappointed. Pitchers rarely, if ever, experience career renaissances after the age of 40 and it’s even less likely given the challenges that Coors Field presents to most pitchers.
Brothers proved last year that late inning situations do not phase him and while certainly nothing in major league baseball is owed to any player, Brothers has proven with his career 2.82 ERA that he does not fear late game situations at Coors and deserves the closer job.
In the end Brothers may very well be the permanent closer by June as the Hawkins era could simply be a transitional phase. But on a team ravaged by injuries and instability over the last few season, why not give the home grown lefty, who does not have a history of injuries and has proven his worth at Coors Field, the opening day nod as the closer?