FanDuel - WFBC

November 05, 2007

Myth Of The Closer: In the 20 seasons since LaRussa's brainstorm, teams holding late leads have won at about the same rate they did in the 20 seasons before. Since 1988, teams leading after eight innings have won at a .951 clip, according to Baseball-Reference.com and STATS Inc., compared to .948 from 1968 to 1987. That adds up to less than one win per season per team.

posted by justgary to baseball at 03:31 PM - 23 comments

The .951 vs .948 statistic is interesting, but I'm not convinced that there is no need for a designated closer. The article praises Colorado's approach of using a variety of pitchers, but this didn't seem to work too well in the World Series. I'm also not too sure that Papelbon will ever develop into a starter. His pitching repertoire is limited, and you can only face a batter a few times in a game before he starts to look for your fast ball and ignore your off-speed stuff. The theory of "shortening the game" by getting an early lead, sitting your starter after 6 or 7 innings, and bringing in a "bridge" pitcher, then the closer to me seems preferable to letting a tired starter struggle through the 8th or 9th. There are exceptions, but the general rule should be to use what you have.

posted by Howard_T at 03:50 PM on November 05

His pitching repertoire is limited, and you can only face a batter a few times in a game before he starts to look for your fast ball and ignore your off-speed stuff. He really needs just one more pitch. He's fastball, split, and he was working on a cutter. That's probably not different enough to be called a third pitch. I really think he's a career closer from now on. The article praises Colorado's approach of using a variety of pitchers, but this didn't seem to work too well in the World Series. True, but it got them to the series and they were facing a pretty good lineup. Statistics be damned I'd rather have Papelbon or Rivera in my bullpen, but watching detroit and cleveland win closing with pitchers I'd love to try and hit does make me question their value. Not that they aren't, but how much.

posted by justgary at 03:57 PM on November 05

Two points -- One, the article is wrong about Colorado doing a closer-by-committee approach or, more specifically, that Fuentes and Corpas shared closing duties. Someone looking at the team's statistics without more context might come to that conclusion, but one who followed the team or had one of the two players on his or her fantasy team knows that that is not the case. Fuentes was the closer until he blew several games in row and was put on the DL. From that point forward, Corpas was the closer. Corpas will likely be the closer next year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rockies try to move Fuentes, as $3.5MM is a bit much to pay for a lefty-specialist or set up man. Also, to Howard_T's comment, even if Colorado had a closer-by-committee approach, it wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome of the World Series one way or another because Colorado never had a late inning lead in the World Series. Two, I recall reading somewhere that having a good closer can make a difference in the post-season, where games tend to be tighter than in the regular season and teams play for more one-run strategies.

posted by holden at 04:15 PM on November 05

The Rockies bullpen wasn't bad in the WS except for game 1. The same thing happened to Sox bullpen in extra innings of game 2 of the ALCS. Stuff happens. After that I believe the only relief pitcher who gave up any runs was Brian Fuentes, who many Rox fans have thought untrustworthy since he blew four straight saves in June. In fact, the entire bullpen was generally stellar in the playoffs. That said, I don't know why he's holding up the Rockies as an example of closer by committee. Corpas is most definitely the closer and Hurdle is pretty much by the book on things like that. Fuentes would likely have been the closer all year were it not for the June meltdown. Wasn't it the Red Sox who experimented with Bill James' idea of closer by committee, with one pitcher in particular being relied on for one and two-run leads after the 6th inning, not just the 9th?

posted by drumdance at 04:19 PM on November 05

I want to like this article, but I think he lost me when he said that Papelbon blows up the closer myth. Papelbon may blow up the 'incredibly highly paid older closer' myth, but there is no sense of the word that he is not a fireballing, modern closer on the mound. But hey... if this guy wants to convince other teams not to have fireballing closers, and the Sox keep Papelbon, I'm OK with that.

posted by tieguy at 04:20 PM on November 05

Just to confirm, only two Rockies relievers gave up runs in the WS: Fuentes and Morales. Morales had a disastrous game 1, but came back to pitch 2 2/3 scoreless innings, I believe in game 3. His ERA of 21 is a marked improvement from the 90+ he had after game 1. :)

posted by drumdance at 04:29 PM on November 05

Sorry meant to include "after game 1" in that comment above. If there's ever a good time to give up runs in the World Series, it's when you're already losing by 6 and facing Josh Beckett. At least they all got it out of their system except for Fuentes. If there was a goat for the Rockies in games 3 & 4, he's it.

posted by drumdance at 04:38 PM on November 05

It seems as if you could take one of two points from the article first that you don't nescessarily need to spend a ton of money to have a great bullpen (I agree completely) or two you don't need a great bullpen to win the World Series (completely absurd). You have to have 3 solid starters and you have to have a quality bullpen, look at the Sox in 2003 with their patented bullpen by commitee.

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 05:55 PM on November 05

You can't base anything in baseball on one short series. The article's point is that overall the idea of designating one person to pitch just the ninth inning and paying him tons of money isn't usually going to be the best way to go. I have questioned this strategy for some time, for most teams. Ideally your best relief pitcher should be the one on the mound at the most critical point in the game, which is not always the ninth inning. Of course that's not easy to do either, since pitchers need to warm up, and potential threats can either dissipate or turn ugly before he's ready. You don't want to warm him up often without using him. But to never use your best in, say, the seventh inning in a tie game with the bases loaded, because you always have to hold him back to pitch with the bases empty to start the ninth, is, I think, a bad strategy.

posted by srdshelly at 06:44 PM on November 05

One thing that is neglected is that if both teams are using specialists in the late innings, sure there may not be a large difference in winning percentages, but if one team is, and another is not, it's possible that the team with the specialist has a better chance of completing the win. By looking at an era when teams had no closers and at an era when all teams have closers proves nothing. For there to be proof that having a closer doesn't increase your odds, you'd have to at a matchup level of how teams with closers did against teams without closers, and I believe the usage of closers has been pretty consistent throughout the league, throughout the years (IE there wasn't a year when Team X had a secret weapon closer, as teams tend to copy other successful formulas).

posted by AaronGNP at 07:05 PM on November 05

Interesting idea and maybe stats, percentage back up the article. But I get a gut feeling that most big money closers have superior stuff and have a bull dog mentality that set up and short relievers do not. There's a attitude about the guys that are closers-give me the ball and get f*&k out of the way. Besides, there been a lot of relievers that tried and failed to fill the closer spot. Perceived or not, my feeling is big time closers are worth their weight in gold, if not from a psychological standpoint.

posted by brickman at 07:10 PM on November 05

AaronGNP, you've missed the point of the study. If they were looking merely at winning percentage, you'd be right. But whether both team has a closer or neither team has a closer, they were looking only at whether teams held leads after the eighth inning or not. If you're leading me 5-3 after eight innings and bring in your closer, it doesn't matter whether I have a closer, too, or not.

posted by olelefthander at 07:33 PM on November 05

Help me out here, I'm struggling with the concept of the designated closer only being around since 1987 and that LaRussa somehow came up with the idea. Seems to me that Jeff Reardon was doing that in the mid-80's, and that was his role when brought to the Twins in 87. I'm sure there were others. Am I off base on that? (really bad pun, sorry). As to the money, it is no different that any other signing. Big money on a player that produces is money well spent. A lower amount on a guy that does not produce is wasted cash.

posted by dviking at 07:41 PM on November 05

It's not necessarily about head to head matchups, didn't mean to give that impression. A better way to phrase it is this. If you've got 30 teams, and only one of them has a closer (or more specifically a shut-down reliever), this study does not prove that the non-closer teams aren't at a disadvantage. It merely proves that if all teams have closers, they are no better off than if no teams have closers, which really doesn't say a damn thing about the efficacy of closers. AGNP

posted by AaronGNP at 07:48 PM on November 05

look at the Sox in 2003 with their patented bullpen by commitee. A. "Closer by committee". All bullpens are committees. B. You have to have the personnel, regardless of organization. The Sox didn't in 2003.

posted by yerfatma at 08:03 PM on November 05

I agree mostly with the article - in the sense that the save is a most over valued statistic. But that doesn't necessarily mean there aren't really good late game pitchers out there who just as obviously make an impact. One really shouldn't compare guys like Borowski with guys like Rivera and Papelbon (and there are others, for sure).

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 08:33 PM on November 05

dviking- your not mistaken. I don't know how LaRussa got distinction of installing closer in late innings. Herzog was doing it in St. Louis with a fellow named Sutter. You may remember in 1982 World Series, the fans in Milwaukee were chanting "We want Sutter" , and after the game, Harvey Kuenn was asked about the chant. His response" Wish the crowd would shut the hell up, he's one of the best closers in the game".

posted by brickman at 09:07 PM on November 05

Help me out here, I'm struggling with the concept of the designated closer only being around since 1987 and that LaRussa somehow came up with the idea. Seems to me that Jeff Reardon was doing that in the mid-80's, and that was his role when brought to the Twins in 87. I'm sure there were others. posted by dviking I did a little looking at Reardon, Eckersley, Fingers, Quisenberry and somebody else, I forget, about that same question. It seems that everybody pre-88 (not counting, Eck, obviously) was working an average of 1.5-2 innings per game. Now, Reardon was more like 1.3-1.5, but there is a marked reduction in innings per game for Reardon in 88: 1982 - 1.45 1983 - 1.39 1984 - 1.28 1985 - 1.39 1986 - 1.44 1987 - 1.27 1988 - 1.16 1989 - 1.12 1990 - 1.09 1991 - 1.04 1992 - 0.97 So there seems to be a definite shift in Reardon's usage by these quick and simple calculations.

posted by bobfoot at 09:57 PM on November 05

Help me out here, I'm struggling with the concept of the designated closer only being around since 1987 and that LaRussa somehow came up with the idea. You have a very good point there, dviking. You reminded me that Boston had the late Dick Radatz (the original "Monster") in the 60s. His role was to finish the game when the starter faltered and the Sox had a lead. Unlike today's specialists, he was often called upon for 3 or 4 innings of work.

posted by Howard_T at 10:02 PM on November 05

Pointing to closer roles before it became so specialized, as others have pointed out, ignores that closers today are basically used for an inning or less. Any decent pitcher that pitches only the ninth and has the lead is more than likely going to get the save. 2 or 3 innings would give more time to allow the difference between a pitcher with dominant stuff and one with average to become apparent. You have to have the personnel, regardless of organization. The Sox didn't in 2003. Yet that bullpen was lights out in the 2003 playoffs and could have very well gone to the world series if a certain manager had given them a chance in game 7.

posted by justgary at 10:32 PM on November 05

Yeah, the modern closer is a guy who comes on in the 9th with the bases empty. Typically. Firemen of the '60s, '70s and early '80s never had it so good.

posted by yerfatma at 06:17 AM on November 06

You can't base anything in baseball on one short series. Of course not. I was just refuting the earlier suggestion that the Rockies bullpen was bad in the World Series. In fact, you could argue that the bullpen and Matt Holliday were their lone bright spots. They were terrific after the All Star break and throughout the playoffs save game 1 of the WS (Brian Fuentes being a notable exception).

posted by drumdance at 07:12 AM on November 06

dviking (and everyone else) - The closer existed long before Tony LaRussa. But Tony was the first manager to employ a 1-inning guy (Eckersley). Before that, guys like Suter and Lee Smith and Dan Quisenberry used to go 2 or 3 innings on a regular basis. The set-up man, by association, was also a LaRussa "invention" because he was also the first one to primarily use the same guy in the 8th inning on a consistent basis.

posted by Cameron Frye at 01:12 PM on November 06

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