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View Full Version : The Notion of a Close is one of the Dumbest in all of Sports



Edskin
07-09-2011, 11:30 AM
There are few firmly held beliefs in each sport that drive me bonkers. In almost every sport there is some theory/belief that pretty much every coach/gm/organization follows that makes no sense to me at all.

In football, there are a few. Namely, always punting on 4th down when you are in your own territory. Even if a team needs three inches and are on their own 35 yard line, I'd say close to 99% of coaches punt in that situation. Despite the fact that a QB sneak probably has a 95% chance or better of converting inches every time. It's one of those things that coaches just do regardless of logic, reason, and evidence. There are other, but that one probably frustrates me the most.

In basketball, when the game is tied and there is less than 24 (or 35 in college) seconds on the shot clock, the priority for all coaches seems to be 1)to take the last shot and 2) get a good shot. I think those priorities should be reversed. When a team is trailing in that situation, they usually attack or run a more set play, and wind up with a better look. When tied, they almost always clear out and heave a shot right at the buzzer to ensure the other team doesn't get a crack at it. Drives me nuts. All coaches on all levels do it.

And in baseball, nothing makes me pull my hair out more than the ridiculous way that managers treat their closers.

First of all, yes, I do think there are a few historical exceptions. I would give Mariano Rivera the ball in the 9th inning every time and close my book for the day....let him do his thing and whatever happens, happens. There are certainly a few others closers who have garnered that trust/respect as well.

But there is this notion out there that every team MUST have a designated closer and that that closer MUST pitch in all "close" situations until he either secures the save or blows the save. It's asinine.

For example, last night, despite the fact that Cordero clearly was struggling from his first pitch and hasn't been pitching very well lately overall, and despite the fact that Chapman has been lights out since his return, it was like Dusty just threw his hands up and said "nothing I can do, can't take out the closer...."

It's not even really a criticism of Dusty because all managers do it. It is all so arbitrary. Most managers won't insert their closer when it's a four run lead or a tie game, but will insert him with a 1, 2, or 3 run lead because it has been arbitrairily decided that is a "close" situation.

It's amazing really....let's say you have a one run lead, a righthanded closer who has allowed two base runners and has gotten two outs. Then let's say he is about to face a lefthanded hitter who kills righties and has gotten to the closer before. Then let's say you have a lefthanded reliever in the pen who excels at retiring lefties.

In almost ANY other bullpen situation, the righty would come out, and the lefty would come in...but not if it's the closer....because, well, that's the way it is.

Closers live a charmed life...overvalued and overpaid. Overall, people will look at Cordero's saves in his time with the Reds and surmise that he was a good addition. But my contention is that you could have taken any decent bullpen arm and there is a good chance they would have saved games at a similar rate based on sheer law of averages. Holding a two or three run lead when all you need is three outs really favors the pitchers statistically. The odds are stacked for closers to rack up big save numbers.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that if we have a two run lead tonight, two outs, bases loaded, and Prince Fielder in the box....Cordero would stay in the game, even if Bray and Champman were available. Lunacy. It truly makes me want to smash my TV on several occasions throughout the summer.

mbgrayson
07-09-2011, 11:51 AM
I agree with you 100%. We really need to break out of this 'closer' mentality, and play the percentages. If we did this, we may have a couple more wins to show for 2011.

cincinnati chili
07-09-2011, 12:11 PM
Edskin - I agree with you, and I think most people who have seriously looked at the issue agree with you. The problem is the human element. The best relief pitchers in baseball are convinced that they should be utilized in the 9th inning with a lead of 3 runs or less. If the SF Giants brass went to Brian Wilson and said, "we've looked at this issue closely, and we've determined that if our starting pitcher is tired in the 7th inning in a close game, we should bring you in and let you pitch until you're injured or no longer effective," Brian Wilson and his agent would take that as a demotion.

When the John Henry/Larry Lucchino regime took over the Red Sox in 2003, and hired Bill James as a consultant, they tried very quietly to utilize a committee bullpen and to use their best relievers in high leverage situations, even if that wasn't the 9th inning with a lead. It totally screwed up their bullpen mentally. When they acquired Keith Foulke for 2004, and it was clear he was their best bullpen arm, they reversed course and made him a traditional closer and gave everyone defined roles. And they won a World Championship.

At some point the experiment may work, but it would take a truly great reliever or two buying into the idea that the best reliever should not necessarily be brought into a game in the 9th with a 3 run lead. So if I were a GM, I'd continue to employ the traditional closer model. It reduces the brain damage of dealing with the human self-doubt and other fallout. If I were a GM of a computer game, there's no way I'd utilize a traditional closer model. In strat-o-matic tournaments, it's my understanding that few successful teams wait to bring in their best bullpen arm in the 9th on a consistent basis.

[Side note] Ed - I haven't taken a close look at your "fourth down and inches" scenarios in football, but there's more to the equation than merely figuring the probability of converting the quarterback sneak. The other factors include "if I get this first down, what is the probability that I'll successfully drive for a touchdown or kick a field goal on this drive?" It doesn't do any good for a team to convert a fourth and inches on their own 30 yard line if there's a 50/50 chance they'll go 3-and-out on the next three downs. Therefore, because the downside of not converting can be severe, it may very well be best to punt and net yourself 40 yards of field position (or more if you have an exceptional punter).

Ron Madden
07-09-2011, 12:18 PM
I agree the notion of a Closer is pretty dumb and the Save is the most over-rated stat in Baseball.

hebroncougar
07-09-2011, 12:18 PM
I think it makes sense. When you closer is your best reliever. And he's supposed to be. I'd use some exceptions, but for the most part, make your best reliever your closer and be done with it. If you're talking about using your best reliever in the 8th, because 3,4,5 are due up, I think that can really mess with some guys mentally. I'd do it, and make it a 6 out save.

Kc61
07-09-2011, 12:46 PM
I believe in closers. I think it is a good allocation of work load to have a specialized guy for the ninth inning. I have no problem with the idea.

I disagree, though, with managers like Dusty who won't remove a closer, who stick to one guy no matter what. A closer should be replaced when he doesn't have it. A closer should be replaced when there is a bad matchup. Last night is a good example.

Years back the Reds essentially split the closer job with Graves and Williamson. I like that idea as well. It removes some of the rigidity of the current set up.

So I do agree with the idea of a closer, but there has to be some flexibility.

Also, I have been a big Coco supporter. I think his contract was worthwhile and he has been a good addition. At this point, however, I don't think he has special closing talent anymore. I think he relies too much on guile and experience and not enough on top-end stuff. I would like to see him replaced in that role.

This guy Boxberger at AAA seems to me a potential closer for this team. Chapman is another possiblity, if his control becomes steadier. And Masset, at this point, is solid enough to close IMO although his poor early season pitching is a concern. Or somebody from the outside.

Griffey012
07-09-2011, 02:34 PM
Well frankly, Cordero HAS been our best reliever so far this season. It's not like it was Masset on the hill we are talking about. And this is not Cordero from last season we are talking about either. Not to make excuses either, but the strike zone shrunk quite a bit during the bottom of the 9th as well.

Can anyone provide historical examples in the last 10 years or so where a closer by committee actually was successful? I know it has been tried a few times but in every case I recall a team ends up with a designated closer, or 2 in the case of ATL with Gonzalez and Soriano.

RedsManRick
07-09-2011, 02:58 PM
Well frankly, Cordero HAS been our best reliever so far this season. It's not like it was Masset on the hill we are talking about. And this is not Cordero from last season we are talking about either. Not to make excuses either, but the strike zone shrunk quite a bit during the bottom of the 9th as well.

Can anyone provide historical examples in the last 10 years or so where a closer by committee actually was successful? I know it has been tried a few times but in every case I recall a team ends up with a designated closer, or 2 in the case of ATL with Gonzalez and Soriano.

It depends on how you measure pitcher effectiveness. ERA is a pretty rough measure, especially for relievers. After last night, of our 6 guys with at least 20 IP in relief (Bray, Masset, LeCure, Cordero, Arredondo, Ondrusek), I find it hard to make the argument he's been our best.



Name IP* K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP
Bill Bray 28.2 8.5 3.5 0.0 .243 2.20 2.22 3.57
Sam LeCure 22.1 8.9 1.6 0.4 .236 0.81 2.37 3.00
Nick Masset 46.0 8.8 4.3 0.6 .281 3.13 3.28 3.38
Logan Ondrusek 42.0 6.6 3.2 0.9 .215 1.71 3.86 3.77
Coxo Cordero 38.0 6.2 3.3 1.0 .194 2.37 4.14 3.97
Jose Arredondo 23.2 8.0 5.7 0.8 .266 3.04 4.18 4.42

As for the closer by committee, don't confuse the approach for the quality of pitchers used. When committees have been used, it's because the teams don't have good relievers -- and that's why the fail -- because mediocre relievers are mediocre. And because among them, one of them will have a good year.

As for effective committees, try the 2009 Rays. Six different relievers finished at least 10 games. Even a committee approach isn't going to spread the "saves" around equally.

But really the "closer by committee" idea misses the point entirely. The definition of closer is fundamentally flawed. Simply use your best pitchers in the highest leverage situations. That's it. When the score is close and holding the other team down while you tack a few on significantly improves your chances of wining, that's when you should be using your best pitchers. A 2 run in the 9th lead is a much lower leverage situation than a tie game in the 7th.

But all you really need to know is to look how bullpen use has affected game outcomes over the years. Check out this study by Joe Posnanski: http://joeposnanski.si.com/2010/11/26/the-age-of-the-setup-man/

Big Klu
07-09-2011, 03:42 PM
I always preferred when a club used a tandem of relievers, usually one LHP and one RHP, to share the closer duties, like Randy Myers and Rob Dibble in 1990, or Dibble and Norm Charlton in 1992, or Rawly Eastwick and Will McEnaney in 1975. Other examples include Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell of the Mets in 1986, and Guillermo Hernandez and Aurelio "Seņor Smoke" Lopez of the Tigers in 1984. Danny Graves and Scott Williamson in 1999 would also work--even though they were both RHP's, they were different styles.

Edskin
07-09-2011, 04:10 PM
I don't have an issue with having a guy that you normally save for the 9th inning and beyond--- that makes some sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is turning the keys over to said player every time he enters the game and ignoring all situational factors simply because he's been designated a closer.

Edskin
07-09-2011, 04:12 PM
Chilli-- we could completely derail the thread if you want to get into the going for it on 4th down debate--- one of my favorite sports discussions :) you are exactly right with what you said which is why I don't advocate ALWAYS going for it on 4th and short-- again all about situations and circumstance.

cumberlandreds
07-11-2011, 09:19 AM
I don't have an issue with having a guy that you normally save for the 9th inning and beyond--- that makes some sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is turning the keys over to said player every time he enters the game and ignoring all situational factors simply because he's been designated a closer.

I totaly agree with this part. I can't tell you how many times I have seen the "set-up" man just mow down hitters in the 8th and then the manager bring in the "closer" in the 9th only to blow the game. This is just not the Reds but many others. I think more than anything you almost have to go with hot reliever who is most effective at the time. Like you said there are some you do turn the keys over to like Rivera,Eckersly and a few others from the past. But most you don't. I think most closers get worn down mentally and physically. It's a managers job to notice this and take action when this happens. Obviously Dusty doesn't or Cordero would have never been out there yesterday.

Sea Ray
07-11-2011, 09:42 AM
Well frankly, Cordero HAS been our best reliever so far this season. It's not like it was Masset on the hill we are talking about. And this is not Cordero from last season we are talking about either. Not to make excuses either, but the strike zone shrunk quite a bit during the bottom of the 9th as well.

Can anyone provide historical examples in the last 10 years or so where a closer by committee actually was successful? I know it has been tried a few times but in every case I recall a team ends up with a designated closer, or 2 in the case of ATL with Gonzalez and Soriano.

Anybody who's seen Cordero pitch in the last week should have known he was not capable of protecting a one run lead. He's been walking and hitting batters at an alarming rate and you can't do that and protect a one run lead without a lot of luck. Managers who rely on luck are not wise