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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Betzold: Tigers have a chance to prove a big-time closer isn’t necessary

John Hiller just threw back a fistful of pocket-linted Sloprin.

To justify the save, it’s said that a pitcher needs extra guts, or grit, or intangible “makeup,” to pitch in the ninth inning. This is indeed a mystery of faith, with no evidence to prove it. So closers have taken to adopting special behavior and insignia to feed this myth. The facial hair, the stare, the fist-pump, the sprinting entrance from the bullpen, the theme song: closers are circus clowns. (Valverde one of the biggest.)

They perform this act to advance the pretense that even easy save situations are incredible tests of courage. And, amazingly, all of baseball has swallowed it. That’s why piling up easy saves brings in millions of dollars, which is the kind of market inefficiency which should have driven Billy Beane and sabermetric-savvy front-office consultants bonkers decades ago.

Yes, it makes sense to use your best remaining reliever to finish a game with a one-run lead, but you could use anyone in the pen to protect a three-run lead. The dirty little secret is that a team could prosper without a closer and in so doing save itself millions. Of course, they’d be depriving the fans of that climactic clown act. Yet a savvy manager could do what managers did pre-Holtzman: use the reliever best suited for the game situation. Different men would pitch at the end of different games, because in each game the batter/pitcher matchups are unique.

In my opinion, nothing has more degraded baseball than the closer folly. The Tigers could restore some sanity. Of course, I doubt they have the right manager to handle this task. But at the moment they have the right personnel: a mix of live young arms and craftier veterans in the bullpen — and no reliever being paid the market price for closers (which itself compels the manager to use him as one by rote).

Jim Leyland, you have been given free will. Will you shock the baseball world and exercise it?

Repoz Posted: March 05, 2013 at 09:18 AM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Dale Sams Posted: March 05, 2013 at 09:53 AM (#4380972)
but you could use anyone in the pen to protect a three-run lead.


But I wouldn't recommend it.

   2. Shooty Is Disappointed With His Midstream Urine Posted: March 05, 2013 at 09:56 AM (#4380978)
I would argue they didn't have one last year, either...
   3. Nasty Nate Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:01 AM (#4380990)
Why don't they just make Benoit the closer?
   4. ASmitty Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:04 AM (#4380994)
I would argue they didn't have one last year, either...


This. Since Valverde shelved his splitter two years ago, he has been...not a very good pitcher. In reality, the Tigers proved that you don't need a closer in '11 and '12, because Valverde showed that you could rack up a boatload of saves by repeatedly throwing errant, marginally above average four-seam fastballs in situations where you could afford to give up a run or two and still win.

Valverde was a "name" closer, but his R/9 was uninspiring, and his performance in games where he didn't have the margin of error provided by a ninth inning lead was pretty dreadful. Detroit has a hole at closer this year, but it's not a new hole.
   5. Tom Nawrocki Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:06 AM (#4380997)
The Giants lost their big-time closer at the beginning of last season, and things didn't work out too badly for them.
   6. Nasty Nate Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:13 AM (#4381006)
The Giants lost their big-time closer at the beginning of last season, and things didn't work out too badly for them.


And the world series winner's the year before had 8 different guys pick up a save during the season.
   7. ASmitty Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:14 AM (#4381007)
Why don't they just make Benoit the closer?


Because he is a registered and certified "set-up man," duh.

Though in reality, I wouldn't be surprised if there's actual real logic behind the decision not to promote him. It's my recollection that he has had issues with gopher-itis in the past, and if there's one thing you don't want your closer to suffer from, it's that. On the flip side, he IS probably Detroit's best reliever.
   8. AROM Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:17 AM (#4381009)
This. Since Valverde shelved his splitter two years ago, he has been...not a very good pitcher.


I wouldn't say shelved. He's a 2 pitch pitcher, all he throws is fastball and splitter. But he has thrown it less often, in 2010 it was 50/50, the last 2 years he's throwing 80% fastballs. Throwing more fastballs + less velocity is not a great formula.
   9. The District Attorney Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:31 AM (#4381015)
Detroit News:
"This is what I truly believe in my heart," Leyland said. "Phil Coke can save you a game, maybe even two games. Whether he would hold up physically and mentally trying to save games every day, I'm not sure.

"Joaquin Benoit physically, I don't think he can do it. With all due respect to Benoit, he doesn't bounce back.

"If you'll remember, I tried to save a game in Seattle with (Octavio) Dotel — who I love and who did a fantastic job for us last year when the other guys weren't available — but he left me sleepless in Seattle, I can tell you that."

"I know (Jose) Valverde blew some saves at the end, but he was absolutely tremendous here in how he was able to turn the page when he flubbed one."
   10. Crosseyed and Painless Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:38 AM (#4381019)
They have their hearts set on Rondon, which I just don't understand even a little bit. He's a potential future bullpen superstar (relatively speaking, I know relievers are just relievers), but he has control issues. I'm not a believer that you need to have some magical makeup to be a closer, but I wouldn't put that pressure on someone with his potential and his problems.
   11. Nasty Nate Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:39 AM (#4381021)
Joaquin Benoit physically, I don't think he can do it. With all due respect to Benoit, he doesn't bounce back.


Leyland used Benoit more than any of his other relievers last year, both in terms of appearances and innings. Did he say "physically" but meant the opposite, or does he mean that using Benoit so much last year took a toll on his performance and by pushing him to the limit he learned that he didn't bounce back from frequent use?
   12. ASmitty Posted: March 05, 2013 at 10:45 AM (#4381028)
Did he say "physically" but meant the opposite, or does he mean that using Benoit so much last year took a toll on his performance and by pushing him to the limit he learned that he didn't bounce back from frequent use?


Yeah, that one struck me as odd as well. My first impression was that he misspoke, but then I remembered that Benoit did start suffering from shoulder fatigue in the latter part of last season. So I guess either interpretation could be correct.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 05, 2013 at 11:55 AM (#4381095)
I would argue they didn't have one last year, either...

Yeah, but they were paying for one.
   14. Ron J2 Posted: March 05, 2013 at 12:12 PM (#4381112)
#11, I suspect he's talking about bouncing back from failure. See the quote in #9 about Valverde.
   15. Nasty Nate Posted: March 05, 2013 at 12:34 PM (#4381144)
#11, I suspect he's talking about bouncing back from failure. See the quote in #9 about Valverde.


I think that's possible, that's why I was confused by the word "physically."
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 05, 2013 at 12:44 PM (#4381161)
   17. Nasty Nate Posted: March 05, 2013 at 12:50 PM (#4381171)

Tigers looking to trade for a closer


I'm sure Boston would part with Aceves, he was a "closer" last year.
   18. Squash Posted: March 05, 2013 at 12:54 PM (#4381175)
Leyland used Benoit more than any of his other relievers last year, both in terms of appearances and innings. Did he say "physically" but meant the opposite, or does he mean that using Benoit so much last year took a toll on his performance and by pushing him to the limit he learned that he didn't bounce back from frequent use?

Leyland said earlier this spring that he doesn't think Benoit is good pitching back to back days, hence the physically part. Benoit was throwing a ton around the middle of the season last year and then had a bad streak in the fall, which I suspect is what has led to his being branded a non-closer in Leyland's mind.
   19. jdennis Posted: March 05, 2013 at 01:04 PM (#4381185)
given that even middle relievers are getting paid a lot now (mathematically they are more important than closers), why not just sign 8 or 9 starters and use them willy nilly without a set rotation or bullpen? save the extra 2-3 contracts, let your best minor league starters get some shots without hurting the team if he's bad. i mean, is having the exact pitching and conditioning routine and the defined specialized role that important?

   20. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: March 05, 2013 at 01:24 PM (#4381216)

Benoit is not the best reliever on the Tigers. I'd put Alburquerque (who I'd give first shot to close, he Ks everyone and never allows homers) and maybe Dotel ahead of him.

They also don't have their "hearts set" on Rondon... they gave him first crack at the job and are reassessing their options now that he's looked like... a young guy with great stuff who needs more seasoning. I'd be shocked if he starts the year as closer unless his performance improves dramatically.
   21. Dale Sams Posted: March 05, 2013 at 01:30 PM (#4381221)
I'm sure Boston would part with Aceves, he was a "closer" last year.


I would hope Boston would part with ANY of their relievers if it meant getting some real pieces back. Especially given how they have little chance this year and the contract status of Bailey and Hanrahan.

Of course...none of this will happen.
   22. jyjjy Posted: March 05, 2013 at 01:48 PM (#4381243)
You statheads with your snarky smugness... but you can't even follow basic stats! Benoit has blown nearly twice as many saves as he has converted in his career; clearly not closer material and a guy like Leyland can tell these things. That's why he is running a baseball team that, unlike yours, doesn't only exist on a computer in his mother's basement.*


*There are still at least a handful of areas in Detroit that are nicer than your mother's basement.
   23. ASmitty Posted: March 05, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4381245)
Benoit is not the best reliever on the Tigers. I'd put Alburquerque (who I'd give first shot to close, he Ks everyone and never allows homers) and maybe Dotel ahead of him.


Al definitely has the best arm/stuff, but the track record is a little thin, he's coming off of TJ, and he just sort of seems like the kind of guy whose arm could fly off of his body at any time. I would give him a good long look, but there are plenty of question marks there. Dotel is pretty old and can't get lefties out.

The Detroit bullpen, however, really isn't in that bad of shape. Benoit is a solid #2, Rondon has potential, Alburquerque and Villareal have great stuff, Dotel is reliable against righties, and Coke is a very versatile lefty reliever. If the Tigers put Smyly in the 'pen they would be in even better shape, as he, like Coke, is a lefty who can face righties and go for more than one inning.

The raw material for a strong bullpen exists. They just don't have the "closer" part nailed down.
   24. Dale Sams Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4381263)
That's why he is running a baseball team that, unlike yours, doesn't only exist on a computer in his mother's basement.*


So you're saying my baseball team is on a computer in Leyland's mother's basement...AND exists somewhere else?

I hate quantum string theory.
   25. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:17 PM (#4381270)

given that even middle relievers are getting paid a lot now (mathematically they are more important than closers), why not just sign 8 or 9 starters and use them willy nilly without a set rotation or bullpen? save the extra 2-3 contracts, let your best minor league starters get some shots without hurting the team if he's bad. i mean, is having the exact pitching and conditioning routine and the defined specialized role that important?


I always thought it was kinda weird that in most sports, you want your best players on the field at the end of games, but in baseball, you typically do not have your best pitcher in the game.

I'd imagine you'd get a ton of pushback to your plan. TLR in the mid-90s when the A's were terrible, had a unique plan where 2-3 pitchers would piggy back off each other for 3-4 innings at a time. It lasted like five games because starters complained about not being eligible for the win. If someone with the gravitas of TLR couldn't get buy in from pretty fringy MLers, I doubt anyone else could implement this anytime soon.
   26. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:33 PM (#4381288)
I'd put Alburquerque (who I'd give first shot to close, he Ks everyone and never allows homers)

Cespedes is going to take him deep the first time they face each other this year. Write it down & underline it.
   27. jyjjy Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:34 PM (#4381292)
I hate quantum string theory

I believe it's now considered more of a foam than string if that helps any.
   28. dr. scott Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:54 PM (#4381317)
given that even middle relievers are getting paid a lot now (mathematically they are more important than closers), why not just sign 8 or 9 starters and use them willy nilly without a set rotation or bullpen? save the extra 2-3 contracts, let your best minor league starters get some shots without hurting the team if he's bad. i mean, is having the exact pitching and conditioning routine and the defined specialized role that important?


This may sound logical, but maximizing human performance and logical are not always intertwined. Getting that to work would require fantastic managerial skill, and you would have to program a ton of young athletes to think completely differently than they have their whole lives. Maybe possible, but highly unlikely.

Also what #25 said.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:57 PM (#4381320)
You guys skipped over the important question: do any setup men have entrance music?

but he left me sleepless in Seattle, I can tell you that."

Who are you and what have you done with Jim Leyland?
   30. ASmitty Posted: March 05, 2013 at 02:59 PM (#4381321)
you would have to program a ton of young athletes to think completely differently than they have their whole lives.


Not arguing this point per se, but aren't high school and college pitching staffs handled quite a bit differently than professional staffs? Legitimate question by the way, since I honestly have no idea.
   31. cardsfanboy Posted: March 05, 2013 at 03:06 PM (#4381326)
The funny thing, is that I don't think I've ever seen an article written that says a big time closer is a necessity. I've seen dozens of articles written arguing that it's not, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone say "Team B is a really good team, and should have one of the best records in the league, but because they don't have a top notch closer, I'm going to project them to finish out of the running."

Plenty of teams have competed or even won, while starting the season off with no real closer, or finishing the season with a different closer than projected. Teams find a closer if they need one. It happens every year, and I think that every year a team makes the playoffs with a closer that nobody would have projected them to have at the beginning of the season.
   32. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: March 05, 2013 at 03:07 PM (#4381328)

If the Tigers put Smyly in the 'pen they would be in even better shape, as he, like Coke, is a lefty who can face righties and go for more than one inning.

I agree that Smyly would be an excellent short reliever. He Ks a lot of guys, doesn't walk many. But Smyly is too valuable as a potential mid-rotation SP to put him in the pen when, as you say, the Tigers have a bunch of cromulent RP options to choose from. Using Phil Coke against righties isn't one of them though, no matter how well he did last October. In 2012, he allowed a 1.050 OPS against righties in 115 PAs. The year before it was .806.
   33. JJ1986 Posted: March 05, 2013 at 03:09 PM (#4381329)
The funny thing, is that I don't think I've ever seen an article written that says a big time closer is a necessity.


There were definitely articles about the 2003 Red Sox.
   34. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 05, 2013 at 07:06 PM (#4381583)
Did he say "physically" but meant the opposite,


Just like about 96% of people's usage of the word "literally."
   35. Tom Nawrocki Posted: March 05, 2013 at 09:00 PM (#4381627)
You guys skipped over the important question: do any setup men have entrance music?


Joe Beimel had "God's Gonna Cut You Down" by Johnny Cash, but I think he's retired now.
   36. Barnaby Jones Posted: March 06, 2013 at 03:07 AM (#4381727)
Jonny Venters comes out to some Jason Aldean song.
   37. Howie Menckel Posted: March 06, 2013 at 07:18 AM (#4381746)

[deleted: The Anthony Young/Beck/"Loser" joke didn't quite work.]
   38. Joe Bivens, Minor Genius Posted: March 06, 2013 at 07:34 AM (#4381748)
Jonny Venters comes out to some Jason Aldean song.

Must be a show tune.
   39. The District Attorney Posted: March 06, 2013 at 08:05 AM (#4381759)
Aaron Heilman had "London Calling."

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