View From The Bleachers

May 20, 2013

Closers – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Filed under: Featured,General — Joe Aiello @ 1:43 pm

As I was racking my brain as to what to write about this week, I heard a discussion on sports radio regarding closers and it gave me the inspiration for my rant. We live in a time where the culture of baseball has changed dramatically from how it was just 10-15 years ago. Gone are the days where scouts opinions are the be all, end all evaluators on baseball talent and ability. They no longer are the sole gatekeepers as to who is considered a legit prospect and who is considered an organizational filler. Instead we now rely on multiple evaluations, including those provided by evaluating numbers. As a result, we’ve seen a pretty severe schisim come about between “statheads” and “traditionalists”. The former will claim that their way is the best way to evalate performance whereas the latter will claim that you have to trust your eyes. As a result, there are frequent arguments as to what stats are meaningless and worthless and which are not. Stats that have been traditionally been relied on for decades are not being challenged and subsequently disgarded as rubbish, which has in tern infuruated the traditionalists. Norms widely accepted by the baseball community as long standing truths are no being questioned and teams are beginning to try new things, which leads to my soap box rant today on the opinion of the closer role in baseball today.

The sabermetric standpoint would argue that the save stat is meaningless and that there is no difference in the outs that are required in the 9th inning as compared with those in the 7th and 8th. Managers and players alike become ill at this statement and have argued accordingly. My question is, why can’t they both be right? Let me explain.

I took a look at the leaders for saves so far this season and found the following. Currently 13 relievers have at least 10 saves on the season, with the leader (Jason Grilli) posting 17. I then took a look at the top 10 pitchers in terms of the average leverage index when they entered the game so far this season. Given that closers are typically reserved solely for the 9th inning save situation, we should see the top 15 list littered with closers. After all, the 9th inning is the most important inning according to traditional thinking. Of the top 15 players in terms of that metric, only six were closers. The other nine names in the top 15 were standard relievers. What that tells us is that the majority of pitchers who come into the game in high leverage situations are NOT closers. Seeing that a manager would not use a non-closer in a save situation unless he absolutely has to, we can reason that perhaps “closer” usage may need to be re-evaluated as the most critical inning of a game may not be in the 9th inning. Stat folks love this argument, and it makes perfect sense from a logical, numbers driven standpoint.

However, and it’s a really unfortunate however because I’m a very logical person, we’re factoring out the human eliment. What the stat folks forget to factor in is the human element. It’s easy to package the 9th inning in a nice box with a ribbon on it and say it’s exactly the same as every other inning in the game, but the fact is that until the game is played by emotionless robots, that will never be the case. Humans are riddled with emotion and cause the vaccuum tube to be burst wide open. It can’t be looked at that way. The fact is that players do feel more pressure based on the situation. The mind is a blessing and a curse. It can do wonderful things, but it can also psyche you out of a lot of things, so the argument that a guy needs to have the stomach for a 9th inning role, unfortunately, is true.

So who’s right? Is there a right answer? Not really, but for either side to argue that their right and the other side is wrong is completely irresponsible and ignorant. It’s time we get along on this and stop fighting as if either side is going to abandon their way of thinking. Ideally, every situation would be perfectly setup for the best reliever to pitch in the most critical situation with that situation being the 9th. Until that happens we need to all just shut up and let a manager manage his team the way he feels is best. When you get your shot, do it how you want.

(steps down from Soap Box)

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail

  • Chuck

    The value of a traditional stat varies wildly depending on what the stat is. For hitters, stats such as Runs scored and RBI a irrelevant to how good a player is because RBIs and Runs are more of a function of how good your teammates are and where you hit in the lineup. However, runs scored is absolutely critical to how good a team is. For pitchers, the Win, Quality Start, and Save stats are largely irrelevant while team wins is the most important stat for a team. The pitcher win is probably the one traditional stat that a player has the least control over. You can be throwing a perfect game for 9 innings and not get a win if your team can’t hit. Conversely, you can give up 6 runs in 5 innings and get the win if your team just dropped 10 on the other team in the same game.

    If I gave you the following records you could not tell me anything useful about the players at all.
    Player A: 6-2
    Player B: 3-4

    I will say that pitching in the 9th inning of a close game is inherently different that being a middle reliever. There have been many good middle relievers that could not hack it as a closer.

  • Joe Aiello

    Chuck, I agree to a point. The wins argument is always the same. They show the record and say how it’s meaningless. What we have to remember is that EVERY stat taken completely by itself is sub par. To cast a net and say the win stat is useless is silly. It has value, but not alone.

  • Norm

    What value does it add? You can leave out the pitcher W of every discussion and you won’t be missing anything about the quality of the player’s pitching.

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    Definitely don’t leave out the pretend wins above made-up players though.

  • http://twitter.com/HClark717 Holden Clark

    I feel the same way about the lefty reliever versus lefty batter, right versus righty. You need the guy with fortitude. Not the guy who statistically is going to have a better chance. Yes, probability shows that he has a high change of success. A closer is someone who has ice in his veins. That is why Mo has been so good for so long. Everyone knows what he is going throw, cutter-cutter-cutter-cutter. Yet he is psychologically in a better place then that batter.

  • Joe Aiello

    Norm. I agree with you. However, if they were completely meaningless, it would seem like there would be no correllation when it comes to record and pitcher success. I did a quick google search on worst starting pitchers in MLB history. Here is what I found:

    http://www.stevepinto.com/Baseball_Knowledge/Baseball_History/19865.html

    Every pitcher on that list had a losing record.
    A google search on the opposite scenario reveals all pitchers with winning records. I don’t think Wins is a stat you’d want to use as a metric to predict success, but there has to be some correllation as to why good pitchers overall have good records and poor pitchers do not.

  • BLPCB

    Over a particular start W-L is meaningless because it’s dependent on run support. However, over the course of a career, W-L would matter because we have the law of large numbers. The larger your sample size, the more likely numbers will play out to their averages.

  • Norm

    I can turn around and say that the amount of LOSSES a pitcher has is directly correlated with how GOOD the pitcher is because if you look at the career leaders in pitcher losses, 12 of the top 14 are in the Hall of Fame.

    That list isn’t looking at W/L and determining the worst pitchers of all time. He’s including a Jack Morris season where he went 7-12, but Morris had another season where he was 6-14…but is not on that list.
    And Nolan Ryan had a year where he was 8-16, but isn’t on that list. He’s using other information to come up with his list of “worst”.

  • Norm

    Bet you $1 that WAR by itself correlates better with the quality of pitcher than W’s by itself does…

  • Chuck

    Wins are only important for a team, and then they are critically important. However, for a pitcher, wins are irrelevant to how well they pitch.

  • Joe Aiello

    What you’re forgetting, and I’ve not pulled up that list to verify this, is that pitchers used to factor in the decision much much more because of how much deeper in games they used to work. The evolution of the modern day bullpen means the starters record means less and less. I agree with you that the stat is not good. It has to mean SOMETHING. What that something is, I couldn’t tell you.

  • BLPCB

    W-L record is dependent on run support. If you lose a game 1-0 you still had a better performance than the pitcher that won a game 10-9. How did the guy who gave up 9 runs find a way to win? Because his team scored 10 runs and he kept fucking up? How did the guy who lost 1-0 find a way to lose? Because his offense couldn’t get him any runs and he kept them in the game and gave them a chance? Or how about when a pitcher throws great and gets a 10-0 lead, leaves after 7 innings, and the pen blows it and they lose the game. He doesn’t get a decision, but since his team lost, that must mean that he fucked it up. Right?

  • Jedi

    Some people watch the game by reading a box score, some people watch the game by watching the game.

  • Norm

    Great point!

  • Jedi

    Do you even like baseball? Sometimes I think you just fell in love with your TI-82 in high school and baseball is the outlet for your statistical bent.

  • Jedi

    Eh, I think irrelevant goes too far…18-3 is still a good pitcher, 3-18 is still a bad one.

  • Norm

    Some people like watching, some people like watching and analyzing.

  • Jedi

    Some people like watching, analyzing, and pretending.

  • BLPCB

    The preferred tool is a TI-83+

  • Jedi

    Thanks for the pop culture update – maybe you can check Norm’s age and see which model was the hot item when he was in HS…then I can abridge my comment appropriately.

  • Doc Raker

    I think it is an excellent point to understand the toughest three outs for the bullpen may not be in the 9th inning. The toughest outs are when facing the best hitters in the opposing line up and those best hitters aren’t always hitting in the 9th inning. Sure, one can feel more pressure in the 9th but isnt there more pressure facing Castro and Rizzo in the 8th verse Barney in the 9th?

  • Norm

    Pretending what?
    Great additions to this discussion by the way.

  • Jedi

    Pretending that baseball plays occur in a vacuum for starters.

  • Norm

    This has to do with pitcher Wins….how?

  • Norm

    I was a TI-81.

  • Jedi

    Oh, so I’m only allowed to talk about pitcher wins? This was a post about the closer role, right?

  • Chet

    There are tough save situations and their are easy save situations. There are tough at bats and their are easy at bats. The best players are the best because they come in to the game in the tough situations and come through. When I think of closers, I think of guys that have the mentality and the stuff. The ninth inning is purely psychological in difference to the rest of the innings and that is a trait that some guys have and some don’t. Hence the main difference between the closer and a reliever.

    I will say this, anybody who is evaluating players on a purely statistical basis is missing stuff. You need both the stats and the eyes to evaluate.

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    ^_^ =3

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    I’m still evaluating my pitchers solely upon height. Sad to see Volstad go, but Feldman and Shark both stepped up being tall and are pitching quite well.

  • Darlin_Starlin

    Regardless, the cubs bullpen blows.

  • Doug S.

    On pitcher’s W stats, some are completely bogus as in Marmol, but to me a guy getting 300 Ws over a career is one of the more impressive records in baseball.

  • Norm

    Nice trollin…As you can see the discussion in this thread was pitcher wins, but you just felt the need to troll. I get it. Trolls will troll.

  • BLPCB

    I don’t care if you were using slide rules in your high school days. In 2013, the preferred tool is a TI-83+

  • Chuck

    Let go of the past. Free your mind. A good example of this is Shark. He is 2-5. Pretty terrible record, no? However, looking at his numbers (3.49 ERA, 1.2 WHIP, 113 ERA+, 9 starts) you can see that he has been pretty good. The record lies.

  • Jedi

    And WAR.

  • BLPCB

    What is it good for?

  • Chuck

    Is the pitcher good because he won 18 or do good pitchers win 18? Phrased in another way. What is the cause of being good? I don’t think you can determine who was the better pitcher between the following players based purely on record.
    Player A: 18-3
    Player B: 15-10
    I am sure that there were some pretty mediocre pitchers sporting gaudy W-L records for the early 00’s Yankees. David Wells comes to mind. Pretty good pitcher, but the Yankees were a run scoring machine.

    Greg Maddux in 1996 was 15-11. Pretty meh record. His underlying numbers were as follows:
    ERA: 2.72
    WHIP: 1.03
    ERA+: 162
    5th in Cy Young voting

  • Eddie Von Whtie

    In answer to your question, Joe: No, we can’t all just get along. And why would we want to? If we all had the same opinion, you would have to change the title to “BFTB” (Bland From The Bleachers).

    Everyone wants to be right, some people insist on it, but that doesn’t change that they’re wrong anyway.

  • Doc Raker

    I can argue that a starter that earns a win deserves it, while also arguing that some wins that go to the bullpen belong to the starter. So the starter’s W’s are under reported making 300 wins that much more impressive.

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    BFTB refers to Vogelbach “Hefty Dan” and thinks Shark has a Cinemax-stache.

  • Seymour Butts

    Uh Huh.

  • Seymour Butts

    I have no use for TI-83+

  • BLPCB

    Do you have use for a slide rule?

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    Does that mean he needs to get a box of popcorn and Junior mints everytime he sees the Shark?

  • BLPCB

    Why would you buy that crap at the movies?

  • Eddie Von White

    Because that crap tastes good and when you go to the movies it’s like a mini-vacation for three hours.

  • BLPCB

    It tastes like garbage, and it isn’t good for your wallet or your waistline. I almost never buy the food at the movie theater, even when I’m going to see 2 movies. I spend enough on the ticket as is.

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