Closers are unusually erratic when they're faced with an unexpected save situation, but are they any less effective?
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at what happens when a closer enters the game in a save situation after his team has handed him a lead with little warning. What we saw was that when a pitcher had only a short time between his team giving him the lead and his first pitch, his velocity and break tended to be a bit more erratic. The effect seemed biggest when the transition from lead to closing situation was near instant, but it quickly fell away and then died out completely around 15 minutes of warning time.
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What happens to closers when they don't know a save situation is coming?
There are two types of days in my world, both marked by how they begin. One day involves my waking up, going downstairs, having a leisurely glass of orange juice, and packing my lunch. Soon enough, my daughters will wake up, so I get breakfast ready for them and mentally prepare for the demands that come with having a three-year-old and an almost-one-year-old. That's a good day.
How should Pat Sajak and Grady Little adjust our view of measuring bullpen management?
In the article on the Archimedes Awards, we developed the metric BMAR (Bullpen Management Above Random) to quantify a key aspect of bullpen management: assigning the best pitcher to the highest-leverage situations. While it helped to isolate some of what we were looking for, especially when we normalized by "the best" that a manager could do with the UBBM (Upper Bound Bullpen Management) metric. The problem was that when one looked at the list, managers with consistent closers still seemed to rise to the top of the list. For gosh sakes, in 2008, Trey Hillman tied Ron Gardenhire for highest BMAR, mostly on the back of Joakim Soria.
Adventures in the anti-save and keeping games close late.
Your team has a bit of a problem. Namely, it’s the eighth inning and you are behind by two runs as you take the field to play defense. Worse, your starter is tired and you need to make a call to the bullpen. The question now is whom you should summon. After all, bringing a pitcher in now affects his availability for tomorrow. Should you bring in your ace set-up reliever, try to keep the deficit at two, and hope your offense can come back? Should you bring in the lesser reliever, figuring there’s no use wasting such a valuable resource on a game that, more likely than not, you will lose? Decisions, decisions.
To pitch well in save situations, or to not pitch well in non-save situations? That is not the question.
For the past several years, the perception that closers perform poorly in non-save situations has increased. These relief aces fail to look particularly sharp unless they're under pressure and have the game's fate in their hands. Our own experiences have helped fuel this idea; we've all been witness to an untouchable pitcher entering a game with a 3-0 deficit and allowing a few more runs to score while pitching an ineffective inning. Unfortunately, with the memory of these negative events in mind, a categorical bias emerges where every example only provides further evidence of closer ineptitude when the game is not on the line. Is this strictly a categorical bias, or are the results and discrepancies in data between save situations and non-save situations real and significant?
Who ends up getting the credit if we let the act define the stat, instead of the other way around?
Two weeks ago I proposed a new way of defining saves. The save had been instituted to reward the evolving role of the fireman, the reliever who came into a game in a tight situation to save the day. However, today's closer rarely faces a game on the line situation, unless he creates it himself. The rule defined the role over the years, turning saves into relatively passive activities. It's time to refine the rule, or introduce a more active statistic to move the closer back to the role intended, the pitcher who saves the day.
Perhaps the time has come to adapt a rule to define who's actually putting out the fires for teams in ballgames.
Back in 1973, in the days when Sparky Lyle and Tug McGraw toiled in the late innings for the New York teams, Bruce Stark of the New York Daily News drew a series of caricatures of the Yankees and Mets. (Here's the Tom Seaver drawing from the series.) When he drew the closers, Stark depicted Sparky and Tug as firemen, a title that stuck to all relievers. That term eventually disappeared from the lexicon of relief pitching-in 2001, the Sporting News changed the name of their award for relievers from Fireman of the Year to Reliever of the Year. By 2000, the closer no longer waited in the bullpen to put out the fire.
Jeff Angus takes a look at how the White Sox' closer usage pattern stacks up against more dominant patterns, and has some illuminating insight into the 2005 Champions' brand of baseball.
The 2005 World Championship Chicago White Sox got the rap of
being a "hustle-ball" or "anti-Moneyball" team.
False. One of the pillars of their success was the ability to
deliver on an innovation that's best known as the failed child of
Bill James and Theo Epstein: The "Closer by Committee."
How Chisox General Manager Ken Williams and Manager Ozzie Guillen
delivered value from the discredited concept is enlightening,
and, because of the team's championship, it's something that's
likely (though not certain) to be imitated. As with most
competitive tools, it wasn't invented from scratch, but diffused--in this case, from the other side of Chicago.
LaTroy Hawkins has blown two saves this year and has a reputation of cracking in high-leverage situations. But is there any evidence in his performance to suggest he can't be a closer? James Click takes a look.
LaTroy Hawkins has no stomach. At least that's how
things sound in Chicago right now as Cubs fans and media lament the
failure of Hawkins to succeed when donned with the "closer" label.
Taking things at face value, it sounds like Hawkins' esophagus runs
directly to his small intestine, a genetic trick leaving him without
ability to finish games he enters when his team is up by three or fewer
runs, when the tying run is on deck, or if those three innings happen
be the last three innings of the game. Otherwise, he's great.
As we chronicled in Baseball Prospectus 2000, the current thinking
on how to build and run a major-league bullpen may be changing. For 20
years, teams have used their "closer"--a term originally used to
designate a team's best reliever--more and more exclusively in what we call
"save situations:" the ninth inning with a lead of one to three
runs. Implicit in this thinking is that the most important situations are
the ones that qualify a reliever for a save if he does his job.
Over time, the design of the save rule led teams to use their best reliever
to pitch exclusively in save situations, presuming that those situations
are the ones in which a top reliever will do his team the most good by
guaranteeing victory in a close game.