Siberian Baseball

Monday, May 12, 2008

The long awaited closer post is on its way

A few weeks ago when Frank the Tank and I did our subway series, seeing the White Sox and Cubs in the same day, it brought to light many of the differences between the two ballclubs.

Aside from the overplayed and overhyped socio-economic differences, the teams themselves are built for different purposes. The Cubs are built for power and to score runs in quick flurries, while the White Sox are built for speed to play Ozzieball. Sure, the Cubs have speed and the White Sox see power from a few of their sluggers, but if you need a quick reference guide, that summary will do nicely.

What really struck me that day was what happened in the ninth inning. On the South Side, Bobby Jenks came storming in from the outfield as the crowd went nuts. With the Sox up 4-0, the team looked to its closer to come in with two on to put the A's rally down, which he did promptly on a sac fly and a game-ending double play.

A few hours later across town, Kerry Wood entered the game to the tinny strains of Guns n' Roses - while The Cell has a new, top of the line sound system for ramping up the crowd, Wrigley Field's speakers were wired by Civil War veterans as some sort of work program - and a slightly jumpy crowd.

While no one doubts Wood's talent, it's his arm that has the faithful worried. For better or worse, Cubs fans see Wood as he was a decade ago, mowing down 20 Astros en route to a banner memorializing the feat on the top of the grandstands.

While blind faith is a wonderful thing, most fans aren't that dumb, so they also worry as counts are stretched and a converted starter struggles to make the mental changes necessary to try and become an effective closer.

Wood entered after a homer and a walk and sat down the next three batters in order with a flyout, a strikeout and a groundout to end the game.

While the results were the same, Jenks threw two pitches for his three outs, while Wood threw 15 and I think that helps illustrate one difference between starters and closers. While starters can nibble around the strike zone, sometimes being criticized for being too fine, a closer is better served by going straight to the gas and trying to overpower the opposition.

Given the state of modern baseball, your best pitchers are now likely to be your ace and your closer, the way they go about their business couldn't be more different. This isn't a bad thing - while it's tough to get blown out, it's downright demoralizing to blow a game in the ninth when your closer melts down.

Recently, Frank and I started talking about the closer position and agreed to work up our magic lists where if we could design a closer from scratch, what would we be looking to add to the mix?

That post will be up shortly, but it's an interesting question to kick around - So, what are your five must have traits for a closer?

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