Despite the barkers, the colored balloons, and Mariano Rivera, there is no Closer Mountain.
As Mariano Rivera tied and then broke Trevor Hoffman’s record for career saves, the YES Network’s Michael Kay kept referring to Rivera being “alone atop the mountain of closers.” Sometimes he said “alone atop the mountain of closers with Trevor Hoffman,” which doesn’t make much sense, because how can you be alone with somebody except in literary depictions of alienated romance, presumably not what Kay was talking about? In any case, Closer Mountain is more aptly described as a pimple, because most closers last about as long as the typical skin blemish and are about as memorable no matter how many saves they have. Compared to Rivera (and Hoffman as well), they are no more than transients traveling between obscurity and obscurity.
Rivera has been the Yankees’ closer since 1997. In that time, he has had eight seasons of 40 or more saves. You well know that saves are a vastly overrated statistic due to the way they seem to indicate leverage but really don’t, so don’t take that as a measure of quality, but rather of the fact that someone felt he was worth running out there with a lead—with the exception of the occasional Joe Borowski ’07, you don’t get a chance to pile up that many saves while pitching poorly.
The saves are the secondary by-product of the two elements of Rivera’s game that make him so valuable: First, he’s simply an exceptionally good pitcher. His current 2.22 ERA ranks ninth all time, 1,200 innings and up division. Literally everyone above him pitched in the Deadball era. The closest pitcher who was primarily a reliever is the Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who had a 2.52 ERA overall and 2.49 in 1872 1/3 innings as a reliever, just about all of which was compiled in a less challenging run environment than the steroidal 1990s and 2000s.
Charting a career course for the young Yankee could take him in a couple of different directions.
Joba Chamberlain is at a crossroads between two different career paths. On one side, there's the path the Yankees have publicly set for him--become a reliever to help the team reach the playoffs this year, and then return to pitching every fifth day. On the other side, there's the plan Chamberlain is creating for himself, by allowing one hit and striking out eight hitters in his first five innings. This path would involve preparing Joba to become their future closer, sort of like the Tigers with Joel Zumaya.
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The White Sox unload Billy Koch. The Rockies' injured outfielders are returning to action. Jose Reyes' return gives the Mets some interesting lineup options. Justin Lehr tries to plug a hole in the Athletics' bullpen. The Cardinals wrestle with a modest catcher surplus. These and other happenings in today's Transaction Analysis.
The White Sox unload a Kochian albatross. The A's wish they could do the same with half their pen. The Phillies flip their erstwhile center fielder the Byrd. These and other news and notes out of Chicago, Oakland and Philadelphia in today's Prospectus Triple Play.
Don't Let the Door Hit You: The White Sox have finally seen
light. The much maligned Billy Koch was dealt to the
Marlins last week for Wilson Valdez who, for the purposes of the deal,
as well have been a bag of baseballs. Never an organization to stray
far from the mainstream, though, the Sox quickly announced that
Shingo Takatsu has been named the new closer.
Moving Scott Schoeneweis into the starting rotation has been a good move for the White Sox. With all due respect to Jermaine Dye, Marco Scutaro has been the A's most encouraging find of the season thus far. And Jim Thome has been the only hitter carrying his weight for the Phillies this season. All this and much more news from Chicago, Oakland, and Philadelphia in your Monday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
No Relief: Maybe because everyone's more comfortable categorizing things, but whatever the reason, the media won't seem to leave manager Ozzie Guillen to make use his bullpen as he chooses and instead require him to label someone "closer" and everyone else as "lacking that secret special closer stuff". The choice for the ultimate fireman is still between Billy Koch and Damaso Marte. Assuming that the White Sox are still stuck in the mode of the classic closer usage--and there's little reason to think that they're not--there's little reason for Guillen to consider Koch the top reliever in the pen.
Since Sunday at 5 p.m., I've watched approximately 417 baseball games, or about half the number of college basketball games I watched in March. The opening of the new season has me more excited than any supposedly grown man should really be, but I can't help it: I'd missed baseball, and it was back in a big way the last few days. So what have we seen so far? Well, I've proven that I can jinx even the best pitchers: Mike Mussina, my pick for AL Cy Young, has now been blasted by the Devil Rays in two hemispheres to the tune of an 11.00 ERA. (Completely random note: Roy Halladay won the AL Cy Young Award last year despite having an ERA of 5.13 after eight starts.)
If you're anyone other than a key decision maker for most teams in baseball, you're probably aware that you shouldn't place too much emphasis on spring training stats. Besides the obvious (to most) sample-size caveats, there's also a litany of other reasons not to take Cactus or Grapefruit League numbers terribly awfully really very seriously. For one, an inordinate amount of the playing time goes to reclamation projects, prospects not quite ready for competition at the highest level, minor league vagabond types or veteran performers tinkering around with a new pitch or reconstructed swing. It's simply not the sort of premium level of competition you'll find in regular season contests. While spring training numbers should be taken more seriously than, say, laundry instructions or warning labels on beer, they're still not to be imbued with head-slapping importance. All that said, this time out I'm going to take a look at a handful of spring performances that do have a reasonable degree of import for one reason or another.
All that said, this time out I'm going to take a look at a handful of spring performances that do have a reasonable degree of import for one reason or another. One problem, particularly with regard to offensive stats, is the puzzling lack of availability of walk and OBP figures for hitters. So excuse the forthcoming quick-and-dirty analysis, but I'm only firing the gun Daddy gave me. In no particular order...
Following up on yesterday's article, here is the definitive list of every transaction made at last weekend's Mock Winter Meetings in Chicago. The list of moves includes a blockbuster trade for Mark Teixeira, cheap contracts for Trot Nixon and Juan Gonzalez, and a surprise new home for Vladimir Guerrero.
Maybe I'll get a scoop on Milton Bradley this weekend as I make my first trip to the Jake, but in all likelihood, I won't get to see him play. Bradley continues to have problems with his lower back, and if things don't improve quickly, the Indians have made noise about shutting him down. Bradley is an interesting case--a player who had something of a breakout, but someone who could be forced out by a crowded outfield next season, and the economics of a suddenly fiscally conscious franchise. I still see Bradley as Albert Belle Lite, in both the positive and negative senses. On the other hand, I will probably get to see Omar Vizquel play. After months recovering from knee problems, Vizquel will be back in the lineup for the last month, filling in where many thought Brandon Phillips would be entrenched now.
The recently re-signed Scott Hatteberg is dealing with chronic lower back pain. Now there's a sentence you really don't want to see as an A's fan. Hatteburg has back spasms from time to time, usually treatable and not serious in the long-term, but this situation hasn't gone away or even gotten significantly better for any extended period of time. I know many people are at a loss to explain the A's re-upping the star of Moneyball, but from a medhead standpoint, I can't help them with that.
Like always, some good stuff from the reader e-mail, as Richard Dansky checks in with his report on Billy Koch and his first outing at Triple-A: "I saw Billy Koch throw an inning last night against the Durham Bulls. He topped out around 94 mph, but really didn't have a lot of movement on anything he threw and got cuffed around. When Jorge Cantu can get around on a Billy Koch fastball and pull it, it's not because Cantu's suddenly been possessed by the spirit of Vern Stephens." Hey readers--quit being funnier than me. Isn't being smarter enough?
I don't wish harm on anyone, let alone the Yankees. I've heard my dad's tales of Mickey Mantle for more years than I care to count. Still, it's always fun to get an e-mail from my pal Alex Belth anytime something bad happens to the Bombers. He cries, he bitches, he moans--it's like having my own private manic depressive in my Inbox, but he's more entertaining than most people with real mental illnesses. I think there was about a six-second gap between Jason Giambi being hit on the hand by a 90-mph heater and Alex punching out a wailing electronic missive bemoaning the fate of Deodorant Boy. Giambi was hit on the hand by a pitch that wasn't terribly inside--and where's QuesTec when you want to see just how far inside a pitch really was?--and while he's sore and the hand slightly swollen, the X-rays were negative and he reported good progress. Calm down, Yanks fans, he'll be fine.
Adam Riggs gets a well-deserved shot with the Angels. The Braves aim to avoid the mistake made by the '93 Phillies. Neal Cotts could end up being the prize in the Koch-Foulke deal for the White Sox. The Royals and A's designate Febles and Piatt for assignment, drawing mixed reviews. These and other transactions, Chris Kahrl-style, in this edition of Transaction Analysis.
The buzzards are circling over Jerry Manuel, the Cards wouldn't gain much by swapping Vina for Alomar, and the Rangers' pitching woes continue. Plus news and notes on Billy Koch, Eli Marrero, and Colby Lewis.