Posted by: furmanbisher | October 15, 2009

T’Hell with Closers!

Look, it’s not that we expect to go back to the days when Phil Niekro would pitch 20 complete games—or more. Or Robin Roberts , who pitched 365 of them—but take a look at what happened to these hotshot “closers” so far in the playoffs, and they’ve only played the first of three legs.

(The World Series, one “leg” of a playoff? How demeaning can that be?) The “blown save” is a statistic in the daily box scores, but not in the official major league stats. Which should give you a view on how the major leagues rate such a farce. Check out some of the casualties in the first round playoffs: The Cardinals were in prime condition when Ryan Franklin came in to clean up. Granted, Matt Holliday didn’t make it any easier when he dropped a fly ball, but Franklin still had only one Dodger to put away. He couldn’t. Dodgers blast him, Cardinals lose a game that Adam Wainwright had gifted them, a 3-hitter when he left. Cardinals spend the rest of the autumn on Holliday—so to speak—and Franklin.

Joe Nathan is considered unhittable in Minnesota. Twins gave him a two-run lead when he came out of the bullpen. Yankees nail him, score three and another closer bites the dust.

Red Sox bring in Jon Papelbon, present him a 3-run lead, two men on base. Both score. Then that other famed closer, Billy Wagner, follows and closes the door—on the Red Sox. Angels win.

One of the saddest scenes was that of Huston Street sitting alone in the dugout, distraught, the Rockies having their last gasp because Street had blown another lead, two in a row. In Denver, Phillies take the series and down goes another closer. Street had one pitch, a fastball that kept winding up in the outfield. Basehits.

Far as I know, nobody kept the book on how many games the Braves bullpen let get away. Javier Vasquez would have been a 20-game winner. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were other victims of inept closers. There’s something wrong with a situation in which three pitchers work over 70 games out of the bullpen— and Peter Moylan worked over 80.

Major league managers have gone closer-crazy and sent the fans away from the ball park in grief. Two pitchers, Lincecum and Cain, both Giants, pitched four complete games. Vasquez, who might have had ten, was able to collect three. To hell with closers. Baseball is a 9-inning game. Do you ever see an NFL coach go to his “bullpen” to “save” a football game? Of course not.

I just want to emphasize that “saves”and “blown saves” are NOT official major league statistics. So there!



  1. Exactly Furman! Been saying this for years, have never understood why you take out a starter who is hot and put in an unknown quantity. To hell with it indeed!

  2. This part of the Major League Baseball web site sorts pitchers by saves. Every official scorer is required to fill out a box to award or not award a save for every game. I just want to emphasize that “saves” are an official major league statistic. So there!

  3. I couldn’t agree more. During that Twins/Tigers playoff game, I was astounded at the pitcher micromanaging that the Twin’s Gardenhire performed in the 7th inning.
    Rauch got two relatively easy outs, yet Gardy pulled him for a lefty-lefty matchup. He tossed Mijares in, who didn’t record an out, before settling on Guerrier, the third pitcher of the inning. Guerrier, who I’m assuming came in relatively cold, gave up a run in the 8th, forcing Gardenhire to go to Nathan, the 4th pitcher in the course of 6 outs. Is it me, or is that overkill?
    Sure, it’s not the closer situation you’re talking about, but it’s just another example of how managers are managing to conventions, not trusting their players, and playing the most conservative brand of baseball I’ve seen in years.
    Why not let the guy who’s getting the job done stay in the game? Let starters go another 30 pitchers and stretch their arms to 130 pitch games. It’s wishful thinking at this point in the game, but we can still dream of a day with no strict 3-out-left-bring-in-the-closer rule.

  4. Agreed. Even if a “closer” is effective, what’s to say he is going to be on a particular night? If your starter is cruising along, getting people out, leave him in until he runs into trouble or shows signs of tiring. You know your starting pitcher is pitching well but no matter how good your “closer” is, you don’t know what he has until you bring him in the game.

    I’ve also noticed over the years, that with a few notable exceptions, the life span of a good closer is about 2-3 years. They don’t stay hot long.

    The trend to 5-6 innings out of a starting pitcher is exposing how thin a lot of teams pitching staffs really are. And don’t even get me started on the “quality start”. Three earned runs in six innings? That’s a 4.50 ERA.

  5. Problem as I see it, to many teams and to many games, diluted player pool results in few player who can go 9 innings any longer. Greedy owner syndrome still exist, playoffs in 30-40 degree weather, empty seats in Yankee Stadium.

  6. I think I’m liking “Bisher Unleashed”, give ’em hell Furman . . .

  7. The NFL coach doesn’t go to his bullpen to hold a lead.

    He goes to the “prevent-defense.” With the same results!

    But really, while the blow save stats are interesting, is there any indication that the starting pitcher would have fared better? And all those closers with the impressive stats — they earned those stats by actually saving games, didn’t they?

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