Try as I might, I can’t think of another position in the game of baseball that is more overrated than the closer.
Rafael Soriano is going to be a Yankee. This news comes just a couple of days after Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement. For those that are unaware, Soriano led the American League in saves in 2010 (with 45) and Hoffman is the all time saves leader (with 601). So, good for them, I guess.
There’s no doubt that both of these men have some measure of pitching chops, but as time has gone on it has become harder and harder for me to care about closers and saves. They’re just not that important.
For the baseball stupid, let me explain exactly what a save is and how that relates to a closer:
A save is one of the more complicated baseball statistics. Basically, a save is earned when a pitcher comes into a game in a situation where the tying run is guaranteed to bat in that inning.
So, if there are no outs in the 9th inning and a pitcher comes into the game and his team is up by 3 or less runs, then he has an opportunity to ‘save the game’. If he allows the other team to tie the game, then he has a ‘blown save’.
It is common practice nowadays for a manager to use his best bullpen pitcher as his go-to-guy in save situations. This guy is the closer, because he comes in to close games.
The problem that I have with closers is that as time has gone on there has been greater and greater emphasis placed on them. People often talk about Mariano Rivera as the greatest closer of all time. [Some have even gone so far as to say that Rivera’s cutter is the greatest pitch in a generation.] That’s nice for him, I guess, but that doesn’t mean he is the greatest pitcher of all time. Some people still seem to make that mistake, though.
Labeling someone a closer implies that a bullpen pitcher is so much more than he is.
A couple of days ago, Trevor Hoffman said that anyone with 300+ saves should be in the Hall of Fame, since in his mind 300 saves is about the same as 3000 hits.
(If a save is worth about 1/10th of a hit, does that mean that Hoffman has the equivalent of 6000 hits? Take that, Pete Rose!)
I don’t want to take anything away from Hoffman’s accomplishments, but saves shouldn’t carry nearly as much weight as they do. There’s just too many variables involved to allow a stat like that to determine the value of a pitcher.
To earn a save, your team has to be winning, but they can’t be winning by too much. It’s really just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
(For the record, anyone who suggests that a modern closer ever deserves a Cy Young Award should be put in a cage and publicly mocked. There really is no excuse for that.)
As far as I’m concerned, a closer is just another part of the bullpen. If every guy in that bullpen doesn’t do his job, then it doesn’t really matter if you’ve got a good closer or not.
(There was a study done to see if having a reliable closer does anything to increase your chances of winning a game. It turns out that in the pre-closer era a team going into the 9th with the lead won exactly the same amount of the time [percentage wise] as they do nowadays.)
Doesn’t matter, though. No one is interested in listening to reason or common sense.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Soriano signed with the Yankees — not as a closer, but as a setup man — for $35MM/3. So, if you include his $12MM annual salary, the Yankees have the highest paid bullpen in the majors. Higher paid than the entire 2011 Tampa Bay Rays.
Which is kind of sick, but won’t mean a whole lot when CC Sabathia has to start every single game for them.