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Entries in closers (3)

Friday
Jul122013

Peter Gammons: The Closer

Closer is the position so often judged by the word “blown.”

Some 29 years ago, as his Blue Jays bullpen decayed down the stretch, Bobby Cox said “a bullpen can infect an entire team,” as in these last two months in Arizona and Boston and Detroit and Los Angeles and places where bullpen fender-benders have occurred at seemingly wrenching times, the cries of “do something” in the name of “an established closer” have echoed into the nights.

Call the Cardinals

At these times, John Mozeliak gets calls from other general managers.

The calls are not inquiries about Edward Mujica or Trevor Rosenthal, but, as general manager of a St. Louis Cardinals team that has won two World Series and a third pennant in the last decade and is back in the run in 2013, people want to talk about the consistencies that have constituted this grounded organization.

“I just like to talk to Mo when thinking about what to do about our bullpen problems,” says one American League general manager. “There’s such a history of stability when it comes to building championship bullpens.”

Indeed, the restoration of the Cardinals in the early eighties was all about Whitey Ball, as a major factor in winning their first World Series since 1967 was when Whitey Herzog signed Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter off the free agent market and won the 1982 World Series.

That, of course, seems like ancient history to a lot of current executives

They know that Adam Wainwright was a 24-year old who’d never saved a major league game who, after Jason Isringhausen went down injured, closed out the 2006 NLCS and World Series.

They know 2011, and that Jason Motte had nine career saves going into September, and closed out another world championship that an extremely talented Texas bullpen couldn’t finish.

They know 2013, and see Muijca as the accidental closer.

“There’s a sense that if something happened to Mujica,” says another American League GM, “that Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha could end up closing down games in October. That’s who they are.”

'Starting' to Groom a Closer

What some of the general managers who weigh in with Mozeliak want to discuss is how the Cardinals groom young pitchers as starters, then bring them up and put them in the bullpen, allowing Tony LaRussa and Mike Matheny to determine their roles.

 “There is no ‘policy’ here,” says Mozeliak. “So much of the success of the franchise is about development, which is a rich tradition here.”

The name George Kissell may not ring to sabermetricians, but for decades he was a giant among baseball men as a Cardinals manager, player, coach and instructor. Now that mantle is passed to Gary LaRocque, senior special assistant to the General Manager, a huge figure in the development of their drafted players. As is pitching coordinator Brent Strom; Astros GM Jeff Luhnow appreciated this and tried to lure Strom to Houston, without success.

“We believe that the more experience young pitchers get as starters, using all their pitches and learning to cope with game situations, is an important part of their development,” says Mozeliak.”When we bring a kid up who’s been a starter and put him in the pen, it’s a good way for him to get experience. We have to be flexible, and this is a way to do it.”

Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Wacha, Martinez and Seth Maness are all examples of the flexibility. Kevin Siegrist and even Shelby Miller could end up late in games come October.

This is not simply a St. Louis Cardinals Strategy

Earl Weaver, a brilliant child of St. Louis, did this in the late seventies with Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor, and after their apprenticeships were up in the Orioles bullpen, they became major starting pieces for the 1979 pennant and 1983 World Series winners.

When Sutter aged, Herzog found Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley to finish games; each had shaky records as starters, but Whitey once said “I watched them pace around the clubhouse before games and realized they’d be better off pitching on short notice.”

Buck Showalter is using that school of thought to develop Kevin Gausman.

It is how the Red Sox are viewing their situation leading into the post-All Star run after injuries to Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and Andrew Miller.

The Red Sox try to be like the Redbirds

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who tends to beat himself up over “failed” bullpen trades for Bailey, Mark Melancon and Hanrahan, is one of those who conferred with Mozeliak. He listened to and read cries to bring back Jonathan Papelbon, but like the Tigers—and one official says there is “no way” they are trading for Papelbon—is not thinking about the historically great closer who was converted to that position by John Farrell in 2006. If the Red Sox had wanted Papelbon on a third and fourth year (at $13M per annum), they would have tried to re-sign him when he hit the free agent market. They see his 5-for-9 rate in closing with one-run leads, they see his velocity is down nearly four miles an hour from 2008, and actually below Bailey in his last couple of outings.

So the Sox will hope to use Bailey and Koji Uehara at the end. They will see what happens with minor league starters Brandon Workman, fireballing lefty Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa and perhaps even Anthony Ranaudo over time...Cardinals style. And look for a couple of other bullpen pieces, either a veteran or perhaps even a struggling starter needing a bullpen venue. Three names immediately come to mind: Mike Pelfrey, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis.

Cherington and Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski are more concerned about the health and effectiveness of starters Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Justin Verlander.

As for the Tigers, Jim Leyland, ever a master of constructing bullpens, has eased Joaquin Benoit into the closer roles. Dombrowski undoubtedly will find one or two additional pieces.

Everybody is talking closers

In the last week, Buster Olney, David Schoenfeld and Dave Cameron have written superb, incisive pieces on the closer issue.

Olney points out that only three teams in the game—the Yankees (Mariano Rivera), Indians (Chris Perez) and Braves (Craig Kimbrel)-- have the same closers they had in 2011. Three of thirty.

Schoenfeld points out that of the 19 closers who saved 30 or more games in 2011, only four are doing the job, one of whom is Papelbon, a US Air stop from Fenway Park.

Cameron warns that the Twins and Mets reluctance to trade Glen Perkins or Bobby Parnell could hurt them the way the Royals fell victims to the siren song of Joakim Soria. Cameron took the top ten under-thirty relievers (by WAR) from 2010. Marmol, Wilson, Kuo, Feliz, Marshall, Soria, Axford, Bard, Venters and Oviedo are all in different places, one way or another.

And yet...

Which brings us back to St. Louis.

Motte is hurt. Mitchell Boggs struggled.

And yet, they’re back in place for yet another October, with yet another closer.

Monday
Feb042013

90/30 Pitchers

It would be a good debate to decide who is more specialized: a closer or a DH?

On the one hand, a closer does all the things a pitcher does, just infrequently and briefly.

On the other hand, a DH basically only does one thing: hits.

Perhaps this is a reason why Lee Smith and Edgar Martinez are still waiting for a call from Cooperstown.

The role of bullpen pitchers have become more and more specialized with closers basically restricted to the 9th inning and teams attempting to more and more compartmentalize their 8th and 7th inning pitchers.

Last season, there were 15 pitchers with at least 30 saves. None threw more innings than Fernando Rodney.

RkPlayerIPSVTm
1 Fernando Rodney 74.2 48 TBR
2 Tyler Clippard 72.2 32 WSN
3 Jason Motte 72.0 42 STL
4 Aroldis Chapman 71.2 38 CIN
5 Jonathan Papelbon 70.0 38 PHI
6 John Axford 69.1 35 MIL
7 Jose Valverde 69.0 35 DET
8 Jim Johnson 68.2 51 BAL
9 Rafael Soriano 67.2 42 NYY
10 Joe Nathan 64.1 37 TEX
11 Craig Kimbrel 62.2 42 ATL
12 Joel Hanrahan 59.2 36 PIT
13 Chris Perez 57.2 39 CLE
14 Rafael Betancourt 57.2 31 COL
15 J.J. Putz 54.1 32 ARI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Does that seem like a lot of innings or a few?

Here's some perspective: Over the last 20 seasons 389 relievers have accrued 30 saves in a season. Rodney's 74.2 IP puts him in a tie with five other pitchers for 121st on the list.

Reaching the 30-save mark is becoming less of a noteworthy feat.

RkYear#
1 2011 19
2 2006 19
3 2005 19
4 2007 18
5 2002 18
6 1996 18
7 1999 17
8 1998 17
9 2009 16
10 2004 16
11 2000 16
12 2012 15
13 2008 15
14 1997 15
15 2010 14
16 2001 14
17 1995 13
18 1993 13
19 1991 13
20 2003 12
21 1992 12
22 1990 11
23 1989 10
24 1988 8
25 1987 7
26 1984 7
27 1986 6
28 1985 6
29 1983 3
30 1994 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

But throwing 90+ innings and earning 30+ saves is truly becoming a rarity.

The last one to do it being Ryan Dempster in 2005. That season, Dempster made 57 relief appearances throwing 58.1 innings, and six starts with 33.2 IP.

RkYear# 
1 1984 6 Bill Caudill / Willie Hernandez / Dan Quisenberry / Dave Righetti / Lee Smith / Bruce Sutter
2 1985 5 Willie Hernandez / Bob James / Donnie Moore / Dan Quisenberry / Lee Smith
3 1987 3 Tom Henke / Dave Righetti / Todd Worrell
4 1986 3 Dave Righetti / Lee Smith / Todd Worrell
5 2002 2 Danny Graves / Billy Koch
6 2000 2 Danny Graves / Derek Lowe
7 1988 2 Bobby Thigpen / Todd Worrell
8 1983 2 Dan Quisenberry / Bob Stanley
9 2005 1 Ryan Dempster
10 1997 1 Jeff Shaw
11 1992 1 Doug Jones
12 1991 1 Jeff Montgomery
13 1989 1 Mark Davis
Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.

Here are the 28 pitchers since 1983 who have thrown 90+ innings and earned 30+ saves

RkPlayerYearSVIPTmG
1 Billy Koch 2002 44 93.2 OAK 84
2 Derek Lowe 2000 42 91.1 BOS 74
3 Danny Graves 2000 30 91.1 CIN 66
4 Jeff Shaw 1997 42 94.2 CIN 78
5 Doug Jones 1992 36 111.2 HOU 80
6 Jeff Montgomery 1991 33 90.0 KCR 67
7 Mark Davis 1989 44 92.2 SDP 70
8 Bobby Thigpen 1988 34 90.0 CHW 68
9 Todd Worrell 1988 32 90.0 STL 68
10 Todd Worrell 1987 33 94.2 STL 75
11 Dave Righetti 1987 31 95.0 NYY 60
12 Tom Henke 1987 34 94.0 TOR 72
13 Todd Worrell 1986 36 103.2 STL 74
14 Lee Smith 1986 31 90.1 CHC 66
15 Dave Righetti 1986 46 106.2 NYY 74
16 Lee Smith 1985 33 97.2 CHC 65
17 Dan Quisenberry 1985 37 129.0 KCR 84
18 Donnie Moore 1985 31 103.0 CAL 65
19 Bob James 1985 32 110.0 CHW 69
20 Willie Hernandez 1985 31 106.2 DET 74
21 Bill Caudill 1984 36 96.1 OAK 68
22 Willie Hernandez 1984 32 140.1 DET 80
23 Dan Quisenberry 1984 44 129.1 KCR 72
24 Dave Righetti 1984 31 96.1 NYY 64
25 Lee Smith 1984 33 101.0 CHC 69
RkPlayerYearSVIPTmG
26 Bruce Sutter 1984 45 122.2 STL 71
27 Bob Stanley 1983 33 145.1 BOS 64
28 Dan Quisenberry 1983 45 139.0 KCR 69
Provided by Baseball-Reference.comView Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/4/2013.
Friday
Oct152010

Mariano Rivera's Pitch Frequency

With the first game of the ALCS less than an hour away, let's take a quick look at the pitch frequency for a player that has been so instrumental in the New York Yankees postseason success: Mariano Rivera.

As the heatmap below shows, Mariano Rivera has an amazing ability to command the strike zone.

Mariano Rivera's 2010 Pitch Frequency vs. All Major League RHP Notice how Rivera barely touches the middle of the plate.

Here are Rivera's Righty-Lefty heatmaps vs. the rest of the league:

Mariano Rivera's 2010 Pitch Frequency against LHB (439 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League PitchersMariano Rivera's 2010 Pitch Frequency against RHB (476 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League PitchersAs you can see from the top map, Rivera lives on the inside corner to lefty batters.  In fact, the majority of his pitches fall outside the designated strikezone.  Meanwhile, the rest of the league favors throwing down and away to LHB.

Against RHB, Mo spreads out his pitches a bit more.  However, notice how he barely ever throws to the middle inside part of the plate to righties.  He also busts righties up and in, again in contrast to the rest of the league.

As a matter of comparison, here are the pitch frequency heatmaps for 3 other AL closers:

Rafael Soriano's 2010 Pitch Frequency (890 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHPJoakim Soria's 2010 Pitch Frequency (1086 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHPNeftali Feliz's 2010 Pitch Frequency (1072 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHPAll three of the above closers tend to pitch to the middle of the plate, a striking contrast to Rivera's pitch frequency.

Lastly, here's a look at Rivera's pitch frequency since 2008:

Mariano Rivera's Pitch Frequency since 2008