Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Good Idea/Bad Idea: The Great Closer Debate

Yep, two in a day.  I'm on fire!  And if I were, I'd have to call a Fireman.  And in baseball, the term "Fireman" refers to a closer, or a shut down reliever.  Are there any on the ballot for this year?  You betcha! Let's take a look at the controversial idea of Lee Arthur Smith being in the Hall of Fame.

Most of the decision about Lee Arthur has centered around what most people consider to be how to judge relief pitchers.  Currently in the Hall of Fame, there are  5.  Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage.  All of them probably deserve to be inducted.  The question people have is does Lee Arthur belong in that group?  A lot of it also comes down to how we plan to use the save stat.  As I've opined on here before, it is a terrible stat.  And Lee Smith led the world in saves until Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera came along and blew his number out of the water.  So how does the argument shake out for and against Lee Arthur?

Good Idea: The fact is that saves are a bad stat and it is very easy to accumulate them over the course of a long career.  But Lee Arthur was a great reliever.  He has a higher K/9 than any other reliever in Cooperstown and the best HR/9 as well.  It's tough to do a full comp on him with other relievers in the hall because there are only the five of them and the RP position has evolved greatly in recent times.  While saves may not be a great stat, he did gain almost 500 which was the most for a long time.  He was a great reliever that shut down offenses.

Bad Idea: He struck out a lot of batters, true, but he also had the fewest innings when compared to the HoF relievers except for Sutter, fewer strikeouts too.  He also walked a lot of guys and had a mediocre WHIP, almost 1.3.  In fact, he never had a season where his WHIP was below 1.1, which means that teams had a lot of opportunities to score against him.  It's a testament that he was able to even get all those saves with the baserunners he was allowing, but the fact remains that he was allowing them at a fairly high clip.  Good reliever, worthy to be part of a good team's pen, but not Hall of Fame worthy.

Verdict: It's hard to do a calculation for relievers because there aren't that many in the Hall of Fame.  But, for what it's worth, his score came to 126, which was 2nd best for a reliever to Eckersley.  I don't know what has kept him out, if it's just that stuff I was talking about at the top about closers and relievers and how effective they are, etc.  I would put him in, especially since it tells the story of how relievers have evolved over the years.  Think about it, the best reliever of the pre-closer era was Wilhelm, and then we had guys like Fingers and Sutter and Gossage give way to guys like Eck and Smith, which led to guys like Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera to be great closers.  And it isn't like he is an indefensible choice, like some people currently in the Hall are.  He's a good choice and should be inducted.

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