• Something To Consider After Mariano?

    Posted by on October 23rd, 2007 · Comments (8)

    From Tom Van Riper, of Forbes, and his feature Myth Of The Closer:

    Of this year’s eight playoff teams, the four that spent the most on closers–the Yankees, Angels, Cubs and Phillies–all lost in the first round. Combined, those teams coughed up $28 million, or 48% of their bullpen money, on the position. The four first-round winners–Rockies, Diamondbacks, Indians and Red Sox–spent $10 million, or 36%, on their closers. Those four also had the lowest overall relief ERAs, a result of building quantity along with quality in the pen.

    Those veteran closers making millions can thank Tony LaRussa, who ushered in the era of hyper-specialization as manager of the Oakland A’s in 1988. That year, LaRussa decided that his best reliever, Dennis Eckersley, would be used strictly to protect ninth-inning leads. Other clubs soon followed suit, and top relievers found themselves racking up more saves (the biggest stat driving their paychecks) while pitching fewer innings.

    Yet in the 20 seasons since LaRussa’s brainstorm, teams holding late leads have won at about the same rate they did in the 20 seasons before. Since 1988, teams leading after eight innings have won at a .951 clip, according to Baseball-Reference.com and STATS Inc., compared to .948 from 1968 to 1987. That adds up to less than one win per season per team.

    Would the Yankees be willing to be the team to take a new (or old?) approach towards their pen? By this, I mean, use younger and cheaper pitchers in relief and have them throw more than one inning per appearance – even the “closer”? Is that a better way to use your budget? It’s an interesting case.

    But, I doubt the Yankees would be the team looking to set any new trends here. Then again, the Yankees were, according to some, the first team to use OBP as part of their planning instead of batting average. So, you never know….maybe, it might happen with the pen approach too?

    Comments on Something To Consider After Mariano?

    1. Raf
      October 23rd, 2007 | 12:24 pm

      You know, I thought the Yanks would do this in ’97 after Wetteland left, have Rivera work the 8th & 9th innings.

    2. Bob R.
      October 23rd, 2007 | 12:37 pm

      I consider the current way bullpens are used to be among the most stupid and least efficient use of players ever devised. By stereotyping roles and elevating the nonsense stat of the save so that relievers rebel if they are not allowed to accumulate them and thus negotiate fat contracts, baseball has created a monster.

      Relievers should be used according to their ability in given situations. If the game is on the line in the 6th inning, that is when the best reliever should be in. If the team has a 3 run lead in the ninth, there is little reason to waste the best reliever then.

      As for the psychology of getting the last out, or of appearing earlier in the game, that is a self-fulfilling prophesy. There is no evidence that such special talents are rare or that pitchers need such defined jobs because their egos are so fragile. Nothing either in the history of the game nor in the elevation of unknowns to closer roles suggests that pitchers need to be used so dogmatically.

      I doubt the Yankees would try to be rational about this; their success with Rivera would preclude such a public relations gamble. But teams that have less famous relievers should try to use them in a sane manner; if they have good enough pitchers, they will succeed and that might return the game to a sane approach.

    3. j
      October 23rd, 2007 | 12:38 pm

      The point you make is a good one, Steve, but only because the Yankees are looking at another season of question marks out of the pen if they can’t come up with some answers and the younger arms in the organization don’t contribute.

      However, this article is dumb. Is Brian Fuentes counted in this? He makes $3.5M this year and lost his job as the closer. Papelbon is only cheap because he’s not even arbitration eligible – it’s hard to believe he won’t become the highest paid closer when he’s up for FA (if he gets that far), but the point is the Red Sox aren’t paying big bucks for a closer because they have a young one under their control, not because they chose some stategy to not overpay for a closer. The Indians closer isn’t even the best or 2nd best relief pitcher on his team, so why would he be paid a lot of money? Valverde is making $2M, which isn’t chump change to some of the lower budget teams.

      Then they’re comparing this to a group of teams that conveniently includes Mariano Rivera ($10.5M) and Ryan Dempster ($5+M).

      So, I’m not buying this high paid closers and losing correlation. It’s pretty weak.

    4. MJ
      October 23rd, 2007 | 1:05 pm

      Of the four teams that lost in the first round of the playoffs, how many of those teams lost a game because of their closer? I know Rivera didn’t blow any games this year. I know that the Cubs never had a lead to protect. I’m prety sure the same is true of the Phillies. I think K-Rod blew a game to Manny but, then again, K-Rod’s $7M salary in 2007 had nothing to do with that. The Angels had a good bullpen and I don’t think K-Rod’s salary prevented them from doing the two thins they really needed to do: get another hitter to protect Vladdy and find another starter to replace Colon/Santana.

    5. MJ
      October 23rd, 2007 | 1:09 pm

      Having said that, I think the issue isn’t what people are paying for their closers as much as what they’re paying for their setup guys. LaRussa’s specialization created the need for guys to bridge the gap to Eck. We’ve seen it in NY when Rivera was the bridge to Wetteland. Of course, back then, Rivera would pitch two innings whereas now the bridges to the closer only go one at a time.

      If anything, what the Yanks need to do is to cut out the Farnsworth/Karsay/Gordon types of expenditures and continue to let the young arms filter in. The 2007 playoff combo of Chamberlain/Hughes/Ohlendorf/Veras/Ramirez cost the Yanks how much? Maybe $2M total?

    6. Joel
      October 23rd, 2007 | 1:24 pm

      Bob R. makes a great point about the “save” stat and when top relievers should enter games. This issue has troubled me for a long time.

      Rationality in regard to bullpen strategy will come. I think the emotional toll of losing a game in the 9th as opposed to an earlier inning has skewed the sense of what “saving” a game means.

    7. Sherard
      October 23rd, 2007 | 3:43 pm

      Frankly, that article is taking credit for coincidence. I haven’t considered the Phillies, Cubs, etc., but I know for a fact that the Red Sox are not so different than the Yankees and Angels. In all three cases, the closer was originally brought up from the minors, at which point they were making a pittance. In the case of the Yankees and Angels – both with outstanding closers – that move was made 12 and 6 years ago and now those guys are making big money. On the other hand, Papelbon is only in his second year in the bigs. If he continues as the closer, the author can come talk to me in, say, 5 years and we’ll see if the Sox let Papelbon walk, or if they pay him like the Yankees and Angels pay Mo and K-Rod.

    8. October 23rd, 2007 | 11:59 pm

      totally agree with Bob R.

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