Redefining the save rule so that it makes (more) sense.
Last week, I asked the question of whether teams should use their best reliever (the closer?) to protect a three-run lead in the ninth (a "cheap" save) or to prevent a one-run deficit in the ninth from getting bigger in the hopes of scoring and either tying the game or going ahead. Despite the fact that sabermetric wisdom says a closer should be used when the game is... close-er, it actually makes more sense to protect the bigger lead than to chase what is nearer to a lost cause than we might like to admit.
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Dave Dombrowski declared that the Tigers and their deposed closer were never ever getting back together, but they couldn't stay apart.
Jose Valverde recorded a save against the Royals last October 1st, in his final regular-season game of 2012. He also recorded a save against the Royals yesterday, in his first regular-season game of 2013. Between those two games, Valverde lost his job as closer, spent six months looking for work, and finally re-signed with the same team, which supposedly had no interest in bringing him back. Because the trip was so circuitous, it’s worth recounting how he got from point A to point B, even though the two points look so similar.
During the winter, when we’re starved for baseball and wondering where free agents will end up, we treat each new report and rumor as if it might mean something. Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes a signing. Of course, most rumors don’t lead to confirmed reports. They’re based on bad information, or good information that goes stale. They get published, tweeted, and blogged about briefly before being replaced by the next rumor, which usually has just as short a shelf life. It's hard to ignore the mostly non-news in the moment, but when the offseason is over and we know where all the free agents fell, it’s fun (and often illustrative) to sift through the conflicting reports and rumors and wonder where they came from. So that’s what we have here: an annotated timeline of how Jose Valverde wound up at the back of the same bullpen.
Sure, there might be better ways to construct bullpens than the way teams do it now, but change might not be as easy as you think.
The construction of the modern bullpen is silly. It starts with a junk stat (the save) and works backwards from there. There’s an anointed “closer,” his deputy (“the set-up guy”) who pitches the eighth inning, a couple of “match-up” relievers for the seventh inning, and some middle and long-relief guys who suck up innings four through six, as needed. In a close game, the relievers on the team with a lead are generally deployed in the (perceived) reverse order of their effectiveness as the innings unfold, with the apparent aim being to slowly choke off the other team’s chances of winning as the game goes further along. And to record a save.
Dusty Baker feels that Aroldis Chapman's best use right now is as Cincinnati's closer, and a conversation with Jesus Montero.
When Sparky Lyle strode from the bullpen the mound at Yankee Stadium during his days as a premier relief pitches in the mid- to late 1970s, organist Eddie Layton would play "Pomp and Circumstance." That probably wouldn't work as a ballpark song these days, but to hear Dusty Baker tell it, perhaps the traditional graduation accompaniment should be played on the sound system at Great American Ball Park when Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman takes the hill.
Is Kenley Jansen ready to close? Sam analyzes his incipient save celebration's suitability for the ninth inning.
Kenley Jansen pitched his first game on July 30, 2009. He worked a scoreless fourth inning for Inland Empire, struck out one batter, and that was it. Kenley Jansen, whom we had described as “the system’s best hope at catcher” just six months earlier, was a pitcher. Three days later, he allowed two runs in his second outing. Three days after that, he allowed three runs in his third outing, and his ERA was 22.50. Pitching is not supposed to be a simple thing. Experience matters. Making adjustments matters. Kenley Jansen has made a lot of adjustments, and he is a thrilling pitcher, and after I watch him I want to hop in a car and drive really fast and make sharp turns. But closing games isn't just about throwing strikes and getting outs and converting saves. There's the matter of the post-save ritual.
There are all sorts of post-save rituals, and not every closer dodges Matrix bullets like Jose Valverde. Last summer, Jeff Sullivan classified all 30 major-league closers' victory celebrations and grouped them into seven categories: the indifferent; the acknowledgers; the glove punchers; the fist pumpers; the adorable tiny hoppers; the showstoppers; and the other, which included only one closer, whom we might say is in a League of his own. Because he's Brandon League. That's why we capitalized League and said it like that.
While you may be looking for fantasy sleepers for closers, don't let yourself be swayed by this side-armer...
Guys, it’s inevitable. Vinnie Pestano is going to be a trendy late-round draft pick this year as a potential saves sleeper. On the surface, it seems obvious why he would be. Cleveland’s closer entering 2012 will be Chris Perez, whose numbers were bad by middle-relief standards last season, much less by those of a closer:
With all of the big-name free-agent closers off the market, how are things shaking out at the end of each team's bullpen?
Now that the Blue Jays have signed Francisco Cordero, all of the legitimate closer candidates are now off the free-agent market. As such, now makes for a good time to check out how things look now that the closer carousel has stopped spinning.
Is there such a thing as a "closer mentality," or can any effective setup man handle the closer role? The BP staff tries to get to the bottom of the matter.
The following is an edited transcript of an in-house discussion that took place among the Baseball Prospectus staff when one of our number solicited examples of unsupportable baseball arguments for an upcoming article. After Kevin proposed "Anyone can close," the thread took off in a new direction.
Just because you're out in your fantasy league doesn't mean you shouldn't go shopping for potential ninth-inning guys.
For the past four years, I’ve written an article at the end of each season discussing one of my favorite keeper league strategies: stashing potential closers. Today, I’m going to do the same, explaining the strategy and then trying to figure out which middle relievers are poised to step into the ninth-inning role.
The Strategy All keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your leaguemates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you. In these leagues, when auction day or draft day rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven't kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the leftovers, the second-tier closers. By default, their prices will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Kevin Gregg is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $18.
Will a recent change in closers have any impact on the Angels, or is the order of late-inning outings immaterial?
As the season began, Fernando Rodney’s hold on the Angels’ closer job was believed to be tenuous. Other than possessing the “proven closer” label, there wasn’t much about Rodney to recommend him for the role. His “success” as a closer, such as it was, was more a testament to how overrated the role is, not his own ability to pitch.
Despite those concerns, few would have expected him to surrender the title as early as he did: Rodney was removed from the closer role on Tuesday, after just two outings and one blown save. What was it about the one-and-a-third innings Rodney had pitched so far this year that wasn’t already apparent from the previous 398 innings under his belt? Sure, the most recent innings were worse, but anyone can pitch that poorly in less than two innings. A more impressive sign of mediocrity is being able to pitch a hairsbreadth away from replacement level for eight seasons, which Rodney had already accomplished.