Monday, May 14, 2012


The 9th inning is always purported to be the hardest three outs to get with a tight lead.  There’s some truth to that, because the amount of wiggle room is essentially nothing in some cases, and every occurrence is magnified (One out makes up 33% of the remaining outs, instead of lower numbers from earlier innings).  But, let's be honest here, most major league pitchers should be able to pitch an inning and not blow a lead of 2 or 3 runs.  The best use of closers has been debated for a while.  Some people think you should use Mariano Rivera in the 9th with a save situation no matter what, while some will say that with the 3/4/5 guys due up in the 8th you should use him then.  So why do people pay so much attention to the save, the most arbitrary and useless stat in history (including batting average and RBIs)?  Furthermore, why are closers put such a prominence on?  The only thing I can guess at for an answer that makes sense is that it helps the bullpen have set defined roles, even though the Cards won the WS last year with a closer by committee for the most part of the year.

This is something that runs through my mind a lot when I read articles like this one from Anthony Castrovince.  Overall not a bad piece, but I’m in a picky mood right now (just got done grading some tests and quizzes) so I’m going to pick.

Who is the best closer in baseball?

Mo.  Sorry, was I not supposed to answer there?  It’s Mo.  I’m one of the biggest anti-Yankee people on the planet.  It’s Mo.  No doubts, even with that torn knee.  Maybe he’s being rhetorical, but the answer seems obvious.

The answer, provided you weren't guided by blind allegiance to a particular team or anti-Yankee enough to view even Hall of Famers as ho-hum, was Mariano Rivera, of course.

I even said Mo.  Who’d you think I was going to pick, Jason Motte?

But with Mo on the mend from a torn ACL, we are left with the reality that there is no such thing as the clear-cut shutdown closer upon which all other closers are judged.

Oh, okay.  I see what you’re saying.  We don’t have the sure fire hall of famer, so then we’re going to go through each team (roughly) and pick the best closer?  Sounds interesting.  What criteria should we use?  I’d suggest WHIP, K-rate and FIP.  If we’re feeling really frisky, I’d say OPS against and WAR, too, but the other three should be decent enough.  Can’t just use ERA for a reliever because one or two bad outings can heighten it more than for a starter.  Shouldn’t just use saves for what I talked about above and here.  So where’s our first stop(s), Tony?

Chris Perez is one of three men leading the Majors with 11 saves, but he's blown a pair of opportunities and has an ERA of 3.95. Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies' $50 million man, is the only guy with a track record anywhere near that of Rivera's, and he's 10-for-10 in save situations this season, but he obviously hasn't had as many opportunities as Philadelphia envisioned for him.
Oh.  You went that way with it.  OK.  Well, Perez may have 11 saves but also has a WHIP of 1.17 and a K/9 of 6.6 (with a 3.3 BB/9).  It’s probably not going to be him, he walks too many guys for my tastes and that K-Rate, while higher than last years, is a lot lower than his career rate of about 8.  Paps has a 0.857 WHIP (damn!) and a 9.6 K/9 rate (damn!!).  I’d say he’s a good candidate right now.  To shorten this up, I’m going to just list the closers he mentions below.  In parenthesis will be the stats he quotes for them.

Fernando Rodney (9/9 in saves, miniscule ERA)
Jim Johnson (9/9 in saves, miniscule ERA)
Craig Kimbrel (11/12, 2.77 ERA)
Jason Motte (6/7, .170 OBA)
John Axford (6.10 ERA)
Jose Valverde (7/9, 4.60 ERA)

Now, that is a pretty bad use of stats.  ERA for relievers is terrible.  Saves are also bad, but I’ve whined enough about those.  How about mentioning those miniscule ERAs for Rodney (0.54) and Johnson (0.57)?  That would make your argument stronger, even though using ERA for relievers is stupid.  What should he have used?  Well, I’ll help him out a little bit:

Fernando Rodney (.900 WHIP/8.1 K/9)
Jim Johnson (.766/6.9)
Craig Kimbrel (1.385/15.9)
Jason Motte (.805/10.5)
John Axford (2.032/17.4)
Jose Valverde (1.66/7.5)

I’m too tired to tackle the rest of the article, but to be fair the last bit brings up a lot of good points.  How the bullpens are misused (especially on the road) to try to get closers saves so they can get the big bucks and setup men get holds so they can get pizz-aid.  He also mentions that relievers as a bunch are fairly volatile (The Panamanian Wonder notwithstanding) and that the save conversion rate hasn’t changed much this year, even with all of the injuries to key closers.  The only thing I really objected to was what stats he used.  Don’t use saves and ERA for them.  Please.  It’s embarrassing.

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