At the age of 29, Joel Hanrahan has almost arrived.

Given the opportunity this year to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer, Hanrahan has responded with a performance that has both surprised and delighted fans.

Hanrahan currently ranks seventh among National League closers with 33 saves.

Despite slumping somewhat in August, the big right-hander is in the process of finishing a season that portends well for the future.

Since Aug. 24, Hanrahan has made four appearances without giving up a run.

More and more “experts” are realizing that the number of wins a pitcher earns is not the best method of evaluating his effectiveness.

The second greatest closer in MLB history, Trevor Hoffman was just 61-75 over his 18-year career. However, Hoffman is also the all-time saves leader with 601.

In 2006, Hoffman finished second in the Cy Young Award voting without winning a single game. In that season he had 46 saves with a 2.14 ERA, a 190 ERA+ and a 0.968 WHIP.

Currently, Hanrahan is 0-3 with an excellent 1.66 ERA, a 235 ERA+ and a 0.989 WHIP, statistics comparable to what Hoffman accomplished as a Cy Young Award challenger.

Of course Hanrahan is no Mariano Rivera, but to contrast the two, this season Mariano is 1 -2 with 37 saves, a 2.04 ERA, a 213 ERA+ and a 0.925 WHIP.  Additionally, Mariano is 41-years-old, giving 29-year-old Hanrahan hope for staying power. ranks Hanrahan as the major league’s fourth most effective closer behind Craig Kimbrel, John Axford and Jose Valverde. That puts Hanrahan in some pretty good company.

However, after surprising everyone for almost two-thirds of the season by contending for a playoff spot, reality set in for the Pirates.

Entering play on Sept. 3, the Pirates had won 63 games. Craig Kimbrel’s Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves have 81 wins and John Axford’s Central Division leading Milwaukee Brewers have won 82 games. In the American League, Jose Valverde’s Detroit Tigers have 76 wins.

The Pirate’s lack of consistency further emphasizes Hanrahan’s achievement of 33 saves on sub par ball club. Hanrahan is making $1.4 million this season and is scheduled to remain in Pittsburgh next season.

The Pirates have certainly made progress this season and with Brewers’ first-baseman Prince Fielder eligible for free agency next year, the future is unclear for the NL Central.  With Hanrahan already in place, a few additional moves could help push Pittsburgh into serious playoff contention in 2012.

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