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?