Posted at 10:21 AM on June 17, 2005
by Bob Collins
I have a theory that will, no doubt, drive people crazy but that's OK -- it's probably the same people who pay attention to a batter's average with runners in scoring position; as if the degree of difficulty in hitting a well-thrown ball actually goes up or down depending on the placement of a third party.
It is this: a closer is not a big deal and gets too much attention.
Granted this comes a day after Joe Nathan imploded and gave a game away to a completely beatable ballclub. But so what.
People make a big deal when a reliever gets a "save." But what, really, is a save? It means only that you didn't screw up, and have we really progressed to the point in this country where we reward the lack of failure?
Closers don't come into games in the middle of innings, in pressure-cooked situations like they did a few years ago, unless the set-up man completed hosed up or unless some other pitcher turned a ho-hum game into a "save situation" (defined loosely as allowing the tying run to reach the on-deck circle).
No, for the most part now, closers start the 9th inning with the lead and with nobody on base. In other words, they start pretty much with the 'save' and they have to fail to have it taken away. This is opposed to hitters who actually start with bupkus and have to achieve something.
And so, more often than not, the closer actually gets three outs without giving up a run and the announcers go crazy and cite stats like "that's the 10th straight time he's converted a save situation." Well, first of all, nothing was converted. It existed and wasn't given away.
But he got three outs and didn't give up a run. Look at the box scores today. Pitchers usually get three outs without giving up a run; this guy just happened to get his in the 9th inning.
There are many times in a game when the game is "on the line;" where a single swing of the bat spells the difference between winning and losing. This often occurs more in the 7th or 8th innings than it does in the 9th. And it's those pitchers who have more impact on a team's fortunes than the closer.
Does this mean the closer is irrelevant? Certainly not. But the guy who comes in to douse the flames in the middle of an inning gets a "hold" -- a stat which, for some reason, people pooh-pooh as being meaningless. Fine, change the name to mid-game save because for the most part that's a guy who actually took someone else's mess and cleaned it up.
But the biggest, baddest guy in the bullpen is usually annoited the closer and is held for the 9th inning, and is -- by definition -- bypassed during the previous innings that may be the game-deciding situation because there might be a similar situation in the 9th.
If you have a definite game-deciding point, you have a definite. Why ignore the definite because there may be the chance of a possibility? Why not use your closer for the definite if the situation presents itself -- and assuming he's the best pitcher in the pen -- and take your chances on the "possible" with your lesser relievers?
Joe Torre has done this successfully on occasion with Mariano Rivera in the recent years. But remember that Rivera, before he was a lights-out, prince-of-darkness closer, was a lights-out, prince-of-darkness setup guy for John Wetteland. Rivera was better -- much better -- than Wetteland. And the Yankees won a World Series over Atlanta because of it.
Rivera, for the record, gave a World Series away while acting in his regular closer role, and gave a playoff series away too.
But wouldn't this all make the strategy all the more interesting? It would force a manager to throw away the no-closers-until-the-ninth rule and determine when a game is on the line and warrants such a move. Ahhh, strategy; something the American League managers should be forced to get to know.
Oh by the way; an unrelated note, Twins, don't look now but there's a team coming up on your behind. You might want to stop looking at the ChiSox and plan on figuring out how to grab that Wild Card spot.
Posted at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2005
by Ben Tesch
Nick Punto, Brent Abernathy and Juan Castro are all banged up, so Luis "Maybe I should just let him play and not try to expect him to be Superman" Rivas is going to go right from the disabled list to playing second, with no rehab time. The other infield options? Luis Rodriguez (rookie), Glenn Williams (rookie), Jason Bartlett (rookie, and currently in AAA), Terry Tiffee (rookie, and currently in AAA) and Michael Cuddyer, who is a) only fielding .927 at third, thus proving that b) he is a recently-converted outfielder.
What a conundrum. What sort of defensive alignment would you pull together in this situation? Would you do something in terms of the upcoming trade deadline?
Posted at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2005
by David Zingler
As Ben notes below, the Twins infield situation is currently an unmitigated disaster. Now, I am the last guy who will wax nostalgic about Corey Koskie or Crisitian Guzman -- I was delighted to see them go. It’s also hard to argue that the Twins would be any better off with them -- Koskie is currently on the DL and Guzman is hitting .199. There is no way you can justify $7.8 million in payroll this season for that.
I was also all for giving Michael Cuddyer a shot at playing everyday, but would have rather seen him at second base, where his mediocre offensive production (.268/.336/.395), wouldn’t look so bad. The man who should be manning the hot corner for the Twins is currently toiling in Cincinnati and probably could be had for a moderate price. Yes, Joe Randa sure would look good in a Twins uniform right now.
The 35-year-old has always been solid with the glove and is off to a great start with the bat (.290/.365/.478 including 9 HRs). He also fits into the Twins budget with a reasonable $2.15 million salary and, since he’s on a one year contract, his advanced age is irrelevant.
With Randa at third and Cuddyer at second, the only infield hole would, of course, be at shortstop. With Juan Castro, Luis Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett and a healthy Nick Punto, you have to think the resourceful Twins would be able to work out something there.
If I were GM of the Twins -- which is a scary thought -- I’d be on the phone with the Reds right now offering up one of my many outfield or pitching prospects for Randa.