Changing My Mind About The Closer Role
I’ve said many times that I think closing a baseball game is the most difficult job in all of sports. And in some ways, especially as it relates to pressure and not being allowed to fail more than a handful of times in a year before you lose your job, I still feel that way about the job. But I’ve definitely fallen victim to over-emphasizing the role as well as not widening my scope of who I think can do the job.
When Bochy decided to go *closer-by-committee* I was bummed. We all were. It doesn’t work! (we all cried). And then he went on to methodically make all the correct decisions in the late innings of August and September to ultimately manage the bullpen to the highest save percentage in the league.
So much for the closer role having to be a single guy…..
Bochy had an outstanding bullpen and that allowed him to go call on more relievers than most managers to close out a game. He put more of a consideration on match ups and intuitively it makes sense that a lefty would have a better chance to get out another lefty than a righty. Almost all of his decisions were correct in 2012 and ultimately the job ended up being taken by Romo, the guy who always had the best *closer worthy* numbers anyway. His strikeout to walk ratio was fantastic (6.3 to 1) and his WHIP was under 1.00 (0.85).
What I’ve come to realize is that there is no need to identify one guy and adamantly declare him to be *the closer*. Earning a save is really a dumb stat if you think about it. Today’s closer usually comes in with the bases empty and pitches one inning. For that, he’s paid as much as a front line starting pitcher who is far more responsible for a win based on the fact that he usually pitches about 7 times as many innings in a winning game than a closer does. Here are the requirements for a pitcher to earn a save according to rule 10.20 of the baseball rule book:
Rule 10.20 in the Official Rule Book states:
Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
- (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
- (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
- (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game.
Rule 3.b is a hoot. Conceivably, a closer could enter the 9th inning with 2 outs and the bases loaded and a 5 run lead, give up a grand slam, walk the next 3 guys, then get one out and still record a save. Does that make any sense?
I realize now why I have over-emphasized the importance of the closer role: It’s one of 5 pitching categories that count in a 5X5 rotisserie format scoring system for fantasy baseball (the only type I ever play). A save is 1/5th of the pitching categories. That’s huge in fantasy baseball and if you decide to punt that category you better not make any mistakes in the other 9 possible categories. Since it’s stupid to punt a category (for the reason I just listed) I have been forced to value the role of the closer as it is presently constructed in today’s game.
Fantasy baseball aside, what I now believe is that you want your best relievers pitching the later innings and I don’t see why that needs to get limited to 1 inning. Or 1 guy. Unless you only have one good reliever. In fact, it makes sense that if you have 2 or 3 stud relievers, they should ALL be used to close games depending on match ups and recent work load. One of the main concerns with Sergio Romo is whether he can hold up to the season long grind that a closer must endure. Most top flight closers are making 60-70 appearances a year—but usually they’re only pitching a single inning (or a fraction of that). What if Romo only made 30 appearances a year but pitched 2 or more innings? And another stud reliever, like Bee-Wheezy, could take the other 30 or so appearances. And if he’s good enough, throw a third guy in the mix. While they would still be pitching the same number of innings they would get more days during the season to rest their arm and i think that would go a long way towards keeping them healthy and effective over the course of a season. Think about the number of times a closer has an ache or pain, or his aarm is tired because he’s pitched 3 games in a row or maybe he didn’t get any sleep the night before or he’s got the flu— why not just send out the other guy to do the job?
Now, it’ll never happen because guys are programmed to believe that if they are closing out a game they should be getting paid the biggest bucks in the bullpen. And it’s tough to make a case for a big salary if you’re only saving 15 games in a season. Plus, most of these guys have created a persona to go along with the role, and 2 big personalities each vying for the save opp might be too much for that bullpen to handle…….
But I have now seen the light on the closer role and it doesn’t have to be reserved for just one guy— match ups, recent workload and always using your best relievers. That should be the criteria for who closes out a game, not who has the longest beard or who has the *wildest eyes* or who has the most intimidating song played as the enter the game………
Now, about that hold stat….