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Anybody can close

Posted at 10:21 AM on June 17, 2005 by Bob Collins (3 Comments)

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.

Comments (3)

You were to kind to the closer statistic. In many games a closer comes in with a 2 or 3 run lead. In a lot of those games he comes in...pitches one inning giving up a run or two...and still gets his save. I am in total agreement that a SAVE is is our closer.

Posted by roger | June 17, 2005 2:35 PM

the save statistic is overrated, but not anyone can close -- exhibit A: latroy hawkins...........exhibit B: the 2003 red sox bullpen by committe fiasco.........exhibit C: the white sox of the past five years.........

Posted by daveZ | June 17, 2005 3:25 PM

Well, obviously not everyone can close. A lousy pitcher is a lousy pitcher whether it's the first inning or the 9th inning. The Red Sox bullpen by committee was a flop because the bullpen was poorly assembled and they were all mediocre. So of course it shouldn't be surprising that a mediocre pitcher fails.

However, when they fail, some idiot will opine that he "just didn' thave the makeup to be a closer," suggesting that perhaps the pressure is somewhat less in the 7th or 8th innings.

The pressure on closers is dictated by the situation and the only situation that's different in the 9th vs, say, the 8th is that there isn't a 10th. Big deal.

As I said, the pressure is greater among the "inherit someone else's mess" crowd than it is for closers since most closers start the 9th inning. So any pressure that is created, they likely created themselves. That doesn't take a lick of talent.

LaTroy Hawkins failed as a clsoer for one reason: he's not a very good pitcher. The fact some Minnesota fans think he was a good closer for having amassed 28 saves just goes to show you what a ridiculous myth the role of the closer is. That year Hawkins had an ERA near 6. The myth of the role blinded the fans to the reality that Hawkins ... stinks.

Can anyone close? Sure. You just bring in your best pitcher when the game is on the line whether it's the 7th, 8th, or 9th.

Hawkins wasn't the best reliver in 2001. Eddie Guardado was. So that's my Exibit A,B, and C.

Guardado saved many more games than Hawkins did. He just never got credit for it because we are all so indoctrinated with the myth of the closer.

Posted by Bob Collins | June 17, 2005 8:43 PM

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