From Last Night:
- The Rangers knock Miller around, win 4-2
- Kluber unimpressive, Walters very-not-impressive, as Indians win 8-7
- Greinke goes 8, gives up 1 ER, keeps Quentin off the bases in first meeting with SD since brawl
- Corbin and Leake were brilliant, but Bell and Chapman blow saves as the Dbacks win
- Papelbon blows the game, gets a W as his Frandsen bails him out
- Turner and Zito are both sharp, Giants win in 11
- Myers hits a GS off Sabathia, but the Rays pen gives it away
What I’m Watching Today:
- Matt Harvey day in Philly (1p Eastern)
- James Shields’ hilarious W/L record on display (2p Eastern)
- Cain tries to stay hot (4p Eastern)
- Parker and Bonderman (4p Eastern)
- Wainwright on Sunday night (8p Eastern)
The Big Question:
- How long until we stop idolizing closers?
I wrote earlier in the week that “proven closers” are a myth and that you can very easily invent a 9th inning save-getter with almost no effort. That should be easily on display as many “proven” guys melted down on Saturday. Let’s rethink bullpen usage. This is how I’d allocate the spots:
- Relief ace (pitches in highest leverage situations)
- High leverage righty (can get out both lefties and righties)
- High leverage lefty (can get out both lefties and righties)
- Right Handed Specialist
- Left Handed Specialist
- Long Reliever
- Long Reliever
I want bullpens to be used so that the situation and matchup dictates who comes into the game, not the inning on the scoreboard or whether or not something is a “Save.” If you carry two long men, you can also let them eat up two and three innings at a time so that on nights where there are big leads or deficits, you just don’t go to anyone else after your starter. Most teams barely have one good long man, when they should probably have two. If readers are interested, I’d be happy to expand on how this would work. Last year starters averaged 6 innings per start. Managers should be thinking about how to get 6-12 outs a night from 7 relievers, rather than getting to the 9th inning and their closer.
I’ve written extensively on bullpen usage and the closer role. To catch you up, here are the three big pieces:
I encourage you all to read those piece to catch up, but I’m going to move forward even if you haven’t. I’m going to make a claim and then seek to back it up with real evidence. The claim is this:
Closer experience doesn’t matter. If you put a good reliever into the closer role, he will succeed.
I would prefer managers not use closers at all (see link #3 above), but let’s say managers want to have a closer who comes in during save situations for a single inning. If that is the case, I am here to tell you that you do not need closer experience to be a closer.
I took the 30 pitchers with the most save opportunities from 2012 to test this theory. The group average was 35 save chances from 2012 and none had fewer than 20. Only the Athletics had two players on the list who played for only one team and four players on the list played for two or more teams in 2012. Combined, they averaged 30.3 saves and 910 saves in total.
These are 30 undisputed closers. The took on the closer role in 2012 and accumulated saves. Jim Leyland, who is my target audience right now, would look at their save totals and save percentage and consider them closers.
You with me so far? Good.
Only 10 of them had more than 17 save opportunities in 2011. Only a third of 2012’s best closers would have made the list from 2011. Certainly there were injuries, but Joe Nathan is the only one who was a legitimate closer before 2011 other than Rafael Soriano, who backed up Mariano Rivera in 2011. Maybe I’ll give you Jonathan Broxton, but he had lost his closer tag, so we’ll see. Despite all of this, at most we could say that half of 2012’s best closers had closer experience. Just half.
Half of them had fewer than 10 save chances in 2011 and five had zero save chances in 2011. Half of the best closers of 2012 weren’t even closers the year before.
I’ll cut the group in half and say anyone under 10 save chances in 2011 is non-proven and anyone over 10 chances is proven. I’m being generous.
The non-proven closers averaged 27 saves in 2012 and the provens averaged 33. But they averaged an 87 and 86% save percentage, respectively. The non-proven closers averaged 7 fewer opportunities in 2012, but they converted essentially the same percentage as the proven closers.
These are facts. I’ll go a step further. The five closers who had zero save chances in 2011 converted 84% of their save chance in 2012. There is literally no discernible difference between pitchers with closing experience as it pertains to saves. None. None. None.
It gets better. The proven closers had an ERA of 3.11 in 2012. The non-proven closers had an ERA of 2.73.
So basically, this is the argument I’m making. Closing experience does not predict future success in that role. The 30 best closers from 2012 prove that pretty nicely. The 15 proven guys were no more successful at converting saves and had a worse ERA than the non-proven closers. If anything the unproven closers pitched better.
Jim Leyland and the Tigers have placed an extremely high value on closing experience. They signed a reliever who was past his ability to pitch in MLB because he had saved games before and they won’t turn to better pitchers because they “can’t close.” Leyland has been clear on this. I have never heard a clear explanation about what makes the 9th inning different, but I can tell you very clearly that pitchers have been placed in the closer’s role as recently as last season and had absolutely no problem handling it.
No problem at all. So while I don’t advocate using a closer at all, if managers insist on defined roles with specific limits can we at least accept the fact that you can put anyone who is reasonable competent into the closer’s role?
Leyland doesn’t want to use Smyly or Benoit in the closer’s role and has repeated said the “9th inning is a little bit different,” but there is just no evidence that is true.
You can create a closer by putting a good reliever into the role. The Tigers have good relievers and should just put one of them into the role if Leyland insists on having a closer. It really is that simple. You can invent a closer. Fifteen teams did it last season.
I’ve included an Excel File (Closers) with the the data I used. The stats to the right of the yellow divider are from 2012 and the left side is from 2011.
At New English D we do not approve of the way modern bullpens are managed. We don’t appreciate the way managers chase “saves” and only go to proven closers in perfectly aligned save situations. We believe this to be an inefficient and illogical use of resources. If you’d like to catch up on the theory behind these views, here are three pieces we’ve publish this year on the subject that tell a pretty complete story:
But for now, as an exercise in the ridiculousness of closers and an exercise in fun baseball history, I present to you, The Nine Worst Seasons by Closers.
The rules are simple. Since “Saves” became an official statistic in 1969, there have been 5088 individual qualifying reliever seasons and among those there have been 557 relievers to get 30 or more save opportunities in a given season. Full disclosure, “Blown Saves” are not recorded in the first few years of the sample, so it’s possible I’m missing a few relievers who had 30 save opportunities because I added saves and blown saves to get save opps. The rankings below are determined by Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) because I believe that to be the best measure of pitcher performance because it takes into account strikeouts, walks, and homeruns without punishing anyone for bad defense or rewarding anyone who allows inherited runners to score. xFIP isn’t available for all of the years in question and WAR is a counting stat, so it would be misleading when comparing pitchers who threw a considerably different number of innings. (FYI: The average number of blown saves among pitchers who had at least 30 SVO in a season is 6. The average SV% in the sample is 85%.) You can find full stats for the relievers below here (Worst Closers).
9. Bobby Thigpen (1991 White Sox)
30 for 39 in SVO, 3.49 ERA, 5.18 FIP
8. Jorge Julio (2003 Orioles)
36 for 44 in SVO, 4.38 ERA, 5.20 FIP
7. Rocky Biddle (2003 Expos)
34 for 41 in SVO, 4.65 ERA, 5.26 FIP
6. Brad Lidge (2009 Phillies)
31 for 42 in SVO, 7.21 ERA, 5.45 FIP
5. Jeff Montgomery (1996 Royals)
24 for 34 in SVO, 4.26 ERA, 5.67 FIP
4. Jason Isringhausen (2006 Cardinals won World Series)
33 for 43 in SVO, 3.55 ERA, 5.70 FIP
3. Ambiorix Burgos (2006 Royals)
18 for 30 in SVO, 5.60 ERA, 5.89 FIP
2. Jose Mesa (1999 Mariners)
33 for 38 in SVO, 4.98 ERA, 5.92 FIP
1. Shawn Chacon (2004 Rockies)
35 for 44 in SVO, 7.11 ERA, 6.57 FIP
I’m fully aware that a list of the worst people to ever do something doesn’t prove much, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Seven of the nine worst closers in baseball history got 30 saves during their worst season. That has to tell you something about how easy it is to accumulate saves.
Also of note: The worst closer on this list who only blew one save is Fernando Rodney of the 2009 Tigers. He was 37/38 despite a 4.40 ERA and 4.56 FIP. Ah, the good old days.