I've heard and read a few comments saying the Rays really need to invest in a closer - oxymoron - because J.P. Howell just isn't cut out of the job. The Rays should sign someone like [Veteran Pitcher] so Howell can go back to roving as a fireman and leave the saves to a more qualified arm. Naturally, I was befuddled when I viewed his ERA in save situations. ERA lacks in quality and I would never encourage using it as a meaningful measure, but the casual fan eats it up like chocolate-coated ham. Have a look for yourselves:
A better ERA and only a slightly worse FIP. Here's a list of things we know after looking at the above data:
1. J.P. Howell is a good relief pitcher.
2. 40 innings is not a large sample size and leaves a lot of room for variance.
3. 26 innings is even smaller.
4. Howell's issues with walks were almost evened out by his increase in strikeouts.
5. The Rays shut him down due to fatigue.
Nothing indicates Howell is incapable of closing games. Jonathan Papelbon had a 3.1 FIP in save situations this year. Francisco Rodriguez went to the N.L. and still had a FIP around 4.37 in save situations. Jose Valverde's was north of 3.7 too. The list goes on and on.
I don't particularly care if Howell is the closer or not next year - heck, him not being the closer probably saves on arbitration costs - but to say he "doesn't have ‘it'" or buckled in his chance is ridiculous. He pitched fine, and if you're willing to make broad statements like that based on less than 30 innings of work then bigger issues are in play.
Howell may or may not close next year, but it won't be because he somehow failed in his duties this season.
Note: I hand-calculated the FIP and used a constant of 3.2. So the exact totals are about a third of a run off FanGraph's FIP.