Siberian Baseball

Monday, July 03, 2006

Case closed

I'll spare you the All-Star rant right now. The rosters have some ugly spots as always, but I don't have the strength right now and it's passable on the whole.

Still, it was interesting to see that the top names in the bullpen for the AL were new kids with Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon. I've been thinking about closers for a few days now since Joe Nathan notched his 100th career save against the Cubs last weekend in Minneapolis.

Frank the Tank and I have gone back and forth about closers and what we'd be looking for if we were GMs.

Seeing Joe Nathan on a more consistient basis makes me appreciate what he brings to the table, but I still contend (and not necessarily against Frank's opinions) that while every team has a guy at the end of the bench, it takes a special breed of cat to close out games.

Even more rare are guys who can come in and break a team's spirit. That list more or less began and ended with Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne.

Leading the majors in saves (and yes, I know that it's a pretty artificial stat and that the A's have figured out ways to exploit it for cash considerations) as of today are Jenks (25), Papelbon (25), Jason Isringhausen (24), Derrick Turnbow(23), Todd Jones (22), BJ Ryan (22), Tom Gordon (21), Trevor Hoffman (20), Brad Lidge (20), Chris Ray (20), Francisco Rodriguez (19), and Rivera (18).

I had to expand that to a top 12 to get K Rod and Rivera in there. Huston Street is 13th and the list goes on from there.

The truth is that no one is really going out there and terrifying teams right now. There are a few guys you really don't want to see, but no one on par with Rivera in his untouchable prime. For me, that's the key - it's not so much a matter of how well you're throwing as much as what the batters are seeing.

Begining as a throw away position at a time when relievers were starters who couldn't hack it and were used only when a starter couldn't pitch the whole game, relievers started to come into their own in the 70's.

Some guys will never pull off the requisite swagger. See Exhibit A, LaTroy Hawkins. After doing well as the set up man in Minnesota he was given the keys and got his ass handed to him for the better part of two seasons. I was there when he was booed at last year's home opener and saw him implode again this year in the Metrodome as a long reliever.

Now look at Jenks and Papelbon who aren't world-beaters yet, but after being thrown to the wolves have thrived.

All of this swirls about in the debate over closers, ranging from pure stats to my favorite indicator - do you want to hit the reset button on the PS2 when that guy comes in at the end of the game against you? As it stands from looking at the saves leaders right now, I'm still waiting to see who steps up as the next big closer in the majors.

The way I see it, there are a few key factors here:

* Strong arm
* Short memory
* Reputation
* Mean streak
* Winning team (no brainer as without save situations, there's little reason for a closer)
* Fan confidence
* Cool song

Who will be the next Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Mo Rivera or Lee Smith? Smart money says it's not going to be any of the middle relievers in circulation right now. Gagne is having a hard time staying in the lineup and Rivera has lost his untouchable status (but remains one of the top few closers in the league despite his demotion from unhittable god).

Who'll be next? Who has the lack of brains or abundance of stones to step in and shut down games day after day? As the Tank is fond of pointing out, it's probably not going to be Ryan Dempster (see number 5).

(Image from wrigleyball.com)

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3 Comments:

  • Yeah, Dempster is definitely losing it - giving up a game-losing homerun on Saturday to A.J. Pierzynski, of all people, did not help his reputation whatsoever in Wrigley Field.

    To me, the short memory and psychological aspects are the biggest factors to being a great closer. Why is Bobby Jenks so successful? Well, if he weren't playing baseball, he'd be either living in a trailer or a jail cell (kind of sounds like the reincarnation of Rod Beck), so he's going to out there with reckless abandon and won't give a crap if he has a bad game every once in a while.

    Contrast this with Keith Foulke, who has been eaten alive by both the White Sox and Red Sox fan bases despite being the guy who was standing on the mound when the Bosox finally won the World Series. He has always let the fans get to him (granted, Chicago and Boston are the two most inhospitable environments on the planet to go through a slump outside of the Bronx), which has created a pattern of him following up a stellar season with a stretch of games that's so horrible that he ultimately loses his closer job. My money says that Foulke will have a great season with whomever he lands with after his stint in Boston is over, followed by a year where he blows 75% of his save situations.

    It's all in the head with these guys.

    By Anonymous Frank the Tank, At Wednesday, July 05, 2006 1:38:00 PM  

  • Yup, Dempster is definitely messed up in the head now. He's done.

    http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/cs-060705cubsgamer,1,3554116.story?coll=cs-home-headlines

    By Anonymous Frank the Tank, At Thursday, July 06, 2006 8:38:00 AM  

  • My favorite Rod Beck story (other than asking a nosey fan if anyone had ever been put on the DL for pulled fat) is during his attempted comeback with the Cubs when he got a trailer in the parking lot at the stadium in Iowa and having fans over for beers after the game.

    Bobby might be an illigitimate kid or something. You know, assuming someone wanted to sleep with Rod in the first place.

    By Blogger Minneapolis Red Sox, At Friday, July 07, 2006 12:17:00 PM  

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