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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Posnanski: Candidates That Are Just Shy of Being HOF-worthy

[Julio]Franco faced every pitcher on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Every … single … one… If that doesn’t impress you, then try this one: Franco also faced every single pitcher on the 2004 ballot, except Bruce Sutter…

CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: January 02, 2013 at 12:18 PM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves, cubs, hall of fame, indians, twins, yankees

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   1. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: January 02, 2013 at 01:50 PM (#4336968)
Man, I cannot get the blockquote feature right.
   2. Anonymous Observer Posted: January 02, 2013 at 01:57 PM (#4336975)
Man, I cannot get the blockquote feature right.


Perhaps you should change your handle to CFBF Hates Blockquoting.
   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 02, 2013 at 01:57 PM (#4336976)
Julio Franco

Length of career: 10 million years.

Place in game's history: He played so long (23 years, actually) that the great Negro league spokesman Buck O'Neil once went up to him and said, "I remember you from the Negro leagues"


Holy crap, I want this to be true so badly.
   4. AROM Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:14 PM (#4336992)
Julio Franco got a late start to his baseball career, because the trees that bats are made from had not yet evolved.
   5. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:16 PM (#4336994)
Julio Franco got a late start to his baseball career, because the trees that bats are made from had not yet evolved.

It's not easy to make solid contact with a fern.
   6. BDC Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4337002)
A useful quick chronology:

1. Big Bang
2. Planck Time
3. Separation of the strong force from the electroweak force
4. Julio Franco signs with Phillies
5. Formation of hydrogen nuclei
   7. Ziggy Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:37 PM (#4337027)
We need to bring Primeys back to that we can give them to posts like #5. That was great.
   8. Tom Nawrocki Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:39 PM (#4337031)
To be fair, Franco's development was held back some when he had to adjust to no longer being able to call for a high or low pitch.
   9. The District Attorney Posted: January 02, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4337034)
Poz's lead here is:
In the second part of my three-part breakdown of the Hall of Fame ballot, I look at eight players for whom I would vote "deserves more consideration" if such a thing were an option.
He then lists Franco, Lofton, Mattingly, McGriff, Morris, L. Smith, D. Wells and B. Williams. I guess it's all very hypothetical since there is no "deserves more consideration" vote, so who knows what that vote would mean if it existed... but I'm surprised he thinks that Franco and Wells are close enough to need "more consideration". (And since this is Poz and Morris was really no better than Wells, Morris too, I suppose.)
   10. John Northey Posted: January 02, 2013 at 03:01 PM (#4337054)
Y'know, that would be a good way to allow 'first ballot' crap while still not losing players in their first year who should stick around. List up to 10 who you feel should be in and 10 who you want to stay on the ballot. Then if someone gets 25% in total (combined both ballots) then he stays for another year, if not he is cut - I put a higher percentage as with 20 names (potentially) and voters knowing the 2nd 10 don't count towards getting a guy in just to keeping him on the ballot it would need to be higher. That way the candidates who we know are miles away from the hall (Woody Williams for example) would be cleared off but guys like Kenny Lofton would stick around a few years. It would also give a good idea on who might have a shot in the future - if you don't get 50% between the two you clearly won't make it anytime soon without a Blyleven type campaign.
   11. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: January 02, 2013 at 03:02 PM (#4337055)
"Needs more consideration" would be a useful vote to be able to cast. Kevin Brown, for instance, clearly deserved serious consideration for the HoF. I don't think he belongs in the Hall, but he's someone that can't be dismissed out of hand, yet that's exactly what seemed to happen to him. If I were a voter I wouldn't have wanted to vote for him, but I would have wanted my fellow voters would to approach him with more diligence. A "needs more consideration" vote would've done that perfectly.

Then you have a guy like Lofton, who might both deserve to get into the Hall and not fit on the ballot this year. "Needs more consideration" would help deal with this crunch.

In another way, I sort of wish the HoF voters could avoid dealing with McGriff until they've made up their minds on what to do about the sluggers of the half-generation after him, the Palmeiro/Bagwell/et al generation. Until the voters have decided what the sillyball era numbers mean they're going to have problems dealing coherently with a slugger who peaked right before that era started.
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 02, 2013 at 03:13 PM (#4337063)
List up to 10 who you feel should be in and 10 who you want to stay on the ballot


Why even limit it to ten? Why not just let voters vote for as many players as they think should be in the Hall?
   13. thetailor Posted: January 02, 2013 at 03:16 PM (#4337068)
"Needs more consideration" would be a useful vote to be able to cast. Kevin Brown, for instance, clearly deserved serious consideration for the HoF.

I love Poz, but I'm against that idea.

"Needs more consideration" will just be an excuse for guys to kick the can down the road. The yes vote % would decline precipitiously, and it would postpone the election of worthy players.
   14. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: January 02, 2013 at 03:31 PM (#4337079)
The 'deserves more consideration' idea is nice enough in theory. But the problem with guys dropping off the ballot or as Poz puts it 'not getting a conversation' is due to the simple fact that voters don't use what they have NOW - namely, 10 names per ballot. What's the average on public ballots so far? Something under 7 votes per voter. On this year's ballot! Incorporate the 'deserves more consideration' vote by fiat and nothing changes. The problem with the HOF process isn't the voting options - it's the electorate.

I liken it to NFL wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who retired in 1986 with the career record for most receptions. He was passed by Steve Largent pretty quickly and then, in the next few years, passed by Jerry Rice, Art Monk, Henry Ellard, Andre Reed, James Lofton … but the Hall voters understood that the game changed and Joiner was one of the people who made it change. He was elected to the Hall of Fame.

What I find interesting about this comparison (from the Lee Smith blurb) is that Smith was actually at the opposite end (from Joiner) of a sea change in the game, in a way. Or maybe I should say at both ends. Poz touches on this a few paragraphs later when he talks about the handful of guys that almost immediately passed Smith in the saves leaderboard, hurting Smith's HOF chances, followed by the utter lack of anyone else set to pass him: 'there seems to be no one on the horizon who will come close to him... [Papelbon] seems, by far, to have the best shot at catching Smith, and I'd say he's more likely not to catch him.'

I think what we're seeing these days is the entrenchment of the 'shutdown closer' ROLE at the expense of the 'shutdown closer' PLAYER. Teams are much more willing to use an effective but non-'closer' reliever, a failed/injured/converted starter, or even matchup plays in the ninth inning than they used to be, so it has become much harder to rack up 30 saves year after year than it was when the stat first rose to prominence. Teams are recognizing the inherent unpredictability of relief performance and the massive role context plays in saves totals. We may NEVER see another guy get 500 saves, simply because of modern usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation. And, as Poz points out, Smith was an incredibly consistent closer during the rise of the role and right up until the beginning of its fall as well.

Poz says Joiner made the NFL HOF just in time, as he was either at the forefront of a new approach to NFL offense or one of the last and best of the previous generation. I think this concept is instructive but not particularly analogous to Smith's situation, whose career coincided almost exactly with the majority of what I think we'll eventually see historically as the 'Closer Era' in MLB bullpens. If Smith came along 15 years earlier, he's Fingers or Reardon, 10 years later and he's Cordero or Valverde. Either way he retires with 100-150 fewer saves and 'Lee Smith, HOF' is never even discussed.

But for four years -- 1984-1987 -- [Mattingly] was the sun and the moon. He hit .337/.381/.560 when those numbers boggled the mind. He drove in 110-plus runs each year when the RBI was how you measured a man. He hit 30-plus homers in three of the four years, led the league in doubles in three of the four years, won Gold Gloves in three of the four years and posted a 155 OPS+. He was Donnie Baseball. He was the very essence of what a ballplayer looked like and acted like.

I don't guess Poz meant it this way, but to me this passage read as the best possible summation of the essence of the HOF case for Jack Morris. We say now all the time things like 'we now have the tools to evaluate these players more accurately' and I believe that to be true, and I believe Blyleven is far better than Morris and that the HOF line falls between them, I've drunk the Kool-Aid, etc. - but all that being said, in a way I think this passage really gets at what sportswriters TRULY mean when they say things like 'pitching to the score'. Mattingly played to his era, and by the standards of his era, he was amazing. He drove in runs when driving in runs was what good hitters did. Morris won games when winning games was what good pitchers did. Modern HOF scholarship takes the idea of a neutralized environment as a given, but I don't think the BBWAA yet does. And, to me, that's in a sense the basis of the entire divide between the two groups.
   15. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:00 PM (#4337100)
He was the very essence of what a ballplayer looked like

He was too skinny, and his moustache always looked kind of doofy.
THERE, I SAID IT!
   16. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:05 PM (#4337105)
[Julio]Franco faced every pitcher on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Every … single … one… If that doesn’t impress you


It doesn't. Neither do the Moyerisms, but whatever.
   17. escabeche Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:14 PM (#4337121)
Lofton should get more votes than Mattingly but I fear he won't.
   18. 'Spos Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:15 PM (#4337123)
Neither do the Moyerisms...


I thought they were called Moyeristas, or maybe Moyerites?
   19. Hello Rusty Kuntz, Goodbye Rusty Cars Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:17 PM (#4337126)
Never saw him impressed.
   20. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:34 PM (#4337146)
Then you have a guy like Lofton, who might both deserve to get into the Hall and not fit on the ballot this year. "Needs more consideration" would help deal with this crunch.


I'm impressed at how quickly Lofton's case has been picked up around here as worthy of serious consideration. He wasn't all that durable (135 games a year during his prime on an average of about 157 possible), and his case depends on defensive numbers that are hardly strongly established as definitive, but if he was in his 15th year and BTF voted, he might very well make it.

That said, I don't know if he should go in.
   21. John DiFool2 Posted: January 02, 2013 at 04:35 PM (#4337148)
We may NEVER see another guy get 500 saves, simply because of modern usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation.


[I'm the patron saint of thread topics which get lost in the shuffle, as so many of mine have done over the years, so here you go:]

It's probably more likely that we're just in a random lull where there aren't a lot of veteran guys making a run at 400 saves. I mean there's only 5 guys over 400, ever, so I'm not sure you can make any definite conclusions on this score.
   22. DanG Posted: January 02, 2013 at 05:25 PM (#4337217)
The 'deserves more consideration' idea is nice enough in theory. But the problem with guys dropping off the ballot or as Poz puts it 'not getting a conversation' is due to the simple fact that voters don't use what they have NOW - namely, 10 names per ballot. What's the average on public ballots so far? Something under 7 votes per voter. On this year's ballot! Incorporate the 'deserves more consideration' vote by fiat and nothing changes. The problem with the HOF process isn't the voting options - it's the electorate.

This. So very this.

Every voter for the HOF, to some degree, imagines himself to be a Guardian of the Gates, defending Valhalla from the unwashed. There are as many approaches to the ballot as there are voters, but here are some common types:
--The best voters study who is in the Hall and consider the candidates in that light; these relatively few voters find themselves without enough spots on a 10-man ballot this election.
--Many voters compartmentalize their ballot, looking to vote for "The Best" in personally-significant categories: the best pitcher, the best slugger, the best glove, the best closer, the best Winner (duh), etc. These voters always vote for ~5 guys, regardless of the overall strength of the ballot.
--The classic approach to voting is by "feel". He felt like a hall of famer. I know one when I see one. If I have to think about him he isn't good enough. And so forth. These voters never cast a full ballot, because by leaving a few spots open it feels to them like they're being exclusive. You even see this in fairly thoughtful voters; they just can't bring themself to punch all ten chads because it makes them feel that they're being profligate and licentious, that some kind of code is being violated. If you give these people 20 votes they may go 19, but never 20; give them 2 votes and they'll always vote for 1.

No way to prove it, but I believe this mindset is pervasive throughout most of the electorate.
   23. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 02, 2013 at 05:29 PM (#4337224)
We may NEVER see another guy get 500 saves, simply because of modern usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation.


What "modern usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation" are you talking about? I still see teams handing the ninth and only the ninth to a "proven closer" and spending millions to do so.
   24. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 02, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4337225)
What "modern usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation" are you talking about? I still see teams handing the ninth and only the ninth to a "proven closer" and spending millions to do so.


Yup. No idea what he's referring to.
   25. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: January 02, 2013 at 05:52 PM (#4337250)
It's also less of a stigma to put guys in the closer role early in their career. Look at Huston Street, Kimbrel, Andrew Bailey, etc.--in the past closers tended converted starters, like Bedrosian and Eckersley.
   26. Karl from NY Posted: January 02, 2013 at 06:33 PM (#4337299)
If you give these people 20 votes they may go 19, but never 20; give them 2 votes and they'll always vote for 1.

No way to prove it, but I believe this mindset is pervasive throughout most of the electorate.

Absolutely. The psychology of human decision-making is fascinating. We're a mess of easily manipulated cognitive biases.

http://wynnepirini.com/case-study-price-bracketing-instant-profits/

Check this out. In a market with three comparable products, customer preference could be shifted around as much as 80% for the same product and price just by the presence or absence of nearby options.
   27. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: January 02, 2013 at 06:40 PM (#4337311)
http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2012-standard-pitching.shtml

Sorting individual pitchers by saves recorded. Who are these players?

MLB leader - Jim Johnson, 51 saves. 29 years old, 21 total career saves prior to 2012. Arb 1, made under $3MM. Just a guy.
Fernando Rodney. 48 saves, 35-year old retread who won CPotY iirc. Signed as a free agent for $1.75. Just a guy.
Craig Kimbrel. 42 saves. 24 years old, was handed the closer role his 2nd year in the majors and ran with it. Pre-arb, obviously, was a third-round draft pick in 2008. We'll call this the Hotshot Rookie Reliever role.
Jason Motte. Epitome of 'just a guy'.
Rafael Soriano. Unique in being both an injury replacement for the original closer AND a possible 'proven closer' tag-earner. Had almost two entire seasons prior to 2011 as The Guy, but was signed as a setup man (for ridiculous $$, but this is the Yankees).
Chris Perez. Failed prospect, best of a bad lot of options. Rose to ascendance with a great season in 2010, has mostly pitched poorly since, context-dependent value at best. Super-2 this year, will have a hard time getting a 'closer contract' on the open market. Almost certainly a future Just a Guy guy.
Aroldis Chapman. Sort of a special case. Hotshot IFA signee, being transitioned to rotation now.
Papelbon. Exhibit A for 'proven closer' big-money deals.
Joe Nathan. Exhibit B.
Joel Hanrahan. Just a guy. Best of who was on the team in 2011 after Dotel left.
John Axford. Just a guy. Best of who was around after Hoffman didn't pan out in 2010, had a nice couple of years before crapping himself last season. Future uncertain.
Jose Valverde. Proven Closer. Except not any more!
Tyler Clippard. Just a guy. Setup guy elevated to closer when Storen went down, won't keep the role.
J.J. Putz. Interesting because he went from Just A Guy to Proven Closer to Almost Out Of Baseball back to Proven Closer..? Still only making $5MM/yr.
Rafael Betancourt. Just a guy. Best of who was around while Street was hurt.
Addison Reed. Hotshot Rookie Reliever, except isn't the intention to get him back into the rotation down the line? Either way there was a huge question about the role pre-season and Reed was by no means guaranteed the ninth. Could have been Matt Thornton for all we know except Ventura chose to go with Reed. Chicago's been weird with this the last couple years anyway, Sergio Santos went from failed SS prospect to Hotshot Rookie Reliever in about a week, got shipped to Toronto and got hurt; Hector Santiago was the Hotshot Rookie Reliever in Chicago for all of about 5 minutes himself until he wasn't.
Tom Wilhelmsen. If I didn't play fantasy baseball I literally wouldn't even know who this was.
Jonathan Broxton. Proven Closer resurgence, still not making money.
Alfredo Aceves. Just a guy.
Santiago Casilla. Just a guy.
Kenley Jansen. Hotshot Rookie Reliever who lost his job anyway.
Grant Balfour. Just a guy.
Frank Francisco. Still has a BIT of Proven Closer smell on him, but not for long.
Ernesto Frieri. See Wilhelmsen, though Frieri is both younger and better.
Huston Street. Proven Closer, sorta, though on the verge.
Casey Janssen. Just a guy.
Carlos Marmol. Former Proven Closer though not for long enough to get the big money deal.
Heath Bell. Washed-up Vet.
Brett Myers. Pass
Greg Holland, Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, Brandon League, Matt Capps, Sergio Romo, Ryan Cook, Wilton Lopez: All Just a Guy guys, and that gets us to everyone in the majors with at least 10 saves in 2012.

Others who should be mentioned: Francisco Cordero signed for $4.5MM/1 to close for Toronto, then didn't. Andrew Bailey got almost $4MM as an arb-1 Proven Closer. Ryan Madson got his one-year deal for $12MM or whatever it was to Proven Closer for Cinci, then got hurt. The aforementioned Drew Storen is still pre-arb. And Rivera.

So, what are we looking at? Papelbon, Nathan, Valverde, Madson have Proven Closer tag (except for Valverde and Madson, whose 2012 seasons have probably lost them that label) and Proven Closer money. And Rivera. Bell makes the money but won't soon. Kimbrel, Chapman, Reed, Jansen, and that kid from the Angels who just got traded are Hotshot Rookie Relievers who could make a long-term run at 400 saves except Chapman and Reed aren't going to be career-long relievers, Jansen has a heart condition and the Angels kid #### himself last year.

Leaving us with about 27 Just A Guys who recorded double-digit saves in 2012.

There's gotta be an easier way to do this, but I'm bad with data. So I just went back to 2002. Look at that list! 9 of the top 10 in saves are CLOSERS (granted, I say this in retrospect - perhaps Jim Johnson will go on to have a career as CLOSER, but I doubt it). 7 of 11-20 are CLOSERS. 80% of the top 20 on the saves board that year were guys who were known for closing, known as Proven Closers, and made Closer Money. Compare to 25% this past year.

In short: Usage patterns, roster construction and payroll allocation. Teams these days are much more likely than at any point during Lee Smith's career to assemble an overall effective bullpen and then pick the most effective guy to close games (and sometimes that guy changes throughout the season) than designate a roster spot and the necessary $10MM/yr+ to a Closer. Teams are more likely to approach an offseason shopping list with 'we need to improve the bullpen' than 'we need to acquire Our Closer.'


Oh, and lest I forget [21]:
It's probably more likely that we're just in a random lull where there aren't a lot of veteran guys making a run at 400 saves. I mean there's only 5 guys over 400, ever, so I'm not sure you can make any definite conclusions on this score.

Thanks for the response. The point I'm struggling to make is that I believe there's less correlation between who records saves from year to year now than there was during the time Smith was closing. It's possible you're right and it's not anything structural causing this, there's gotta be a lot of noise with so few data points, and it's just that there aren't a bunch of guys around that fit that mold rather than a shift in behavior on the part of MLB FO's... but I don't think so.
   28. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 02, 2013 at 07:03 PM (#4337337)
Thanks for the response. The point I'm struggling to make is that I believe there's less correlation between who records saves from year to year now than there was during the time Smith was closing



Most saves last 5 years 2008-2012
1st: 185
10th: 125


5 prior years (2003-2007):

1st: 200
10th: 125

5 prior years (1998-2002):

1st: 217
10th: 144

5 prior years (1993-1997):
1st: 188
10th: 123

5 prior years (1988-1992):
1st: 220
10th: 126

5 prior years (1983-1987):
1st: 162
10th: 92

There might be slight decline in recent years- but today's closers are still racking up saves at far higher rate than the old "firemen" did 30+ years ago

   29. Kruger23 Posted: January 02, 2013 at 07:19 PM (#4337347)
Part of the problem has to be the number of teams he played for. Very few people relate him to a team, except maybe the Cubs, but that was a small percentage of his career. Everyone needs a closer, until they don't. Team after team after team. Goose is the exception due to bonus points for being associated with the Yankees.

I think the same is true for Fred McGriff, who, by the numbers, should be a lock, but what team to you relate him to? Toronto or Tampa? I think the Hall voters really need to rethink how they deal with he Steroid Era. No one thinks McGriff juiced, here the "eye test" I have been reading so much about should help him. Maybe it was those Tom Urbansky videos...
   30. The District Attorney Posted: January 02, 2013 at 08:12 PM (#4337358)
I do think the Closer Myth has taken some hits in the past 5-10 years, although I dunno if you could tease it out of the stats. Certainly, I dunno, Mike Schooler was Just A Guy who became a closer. But I bet the Mariners were very reluctant to give him the job in the first place, and once he put up 63 saves in two years, they probably thought he was the most amazing thing ever. Whereas nowadays, for instance, I don't think it bothers Pittsburgh much at all that they now "have" to close with "unproven closer" Jason Grilli. And I think the "non-Mariano tier" (Papelbon, Valverde, etc.) isn't viewed with nearly as much esteem as the old "non-Eckersley tier" was. There's more of an understanding that, unless someone is utterly dominant on the Mariano/Eck/Kimbrel/Chapman level, these guys are "just closers" even if they're consistently good and consistently racking up saves.

That lesser reverence for Closer Magic wouldn't necessarily change the leaguewide save numbers, though, as long as it remains true that a closer once established will be closing for someone as long as he keeps pitching well, and that there will always be lots of turnover because it's just difficult even in the relatively "easier" pitching role to be great year after year.

I guess maybe one test could be how long teams stick with an "established closer" when he's clearly not getting it done anymore. If someone were going to attempt to close with Octavio Dotel this year, that'd be evidence that Proven Closerness is still highly valued. I dunno how one would turn that into a study. Or maybe you could look at what closers get traded for. (Trying to look at salary of course introduces various other issues.)
   31. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 02, 2013 at 08:37 PM (#4337372)
Fixed the blockquote in the header.

If Smith came along 15 years earlier, he's Fingers or Reardon, 10 years later and he's Cordero or Valverde. Either way he retires with 100-150 fewer saves and 'Lee Smith, HOF' is never even discussed.


Lee Smith's issue (apart from awful postseason outings) is that he almost perfectly straddled the era that saw the most rapid changes in ace reliever usage. He was more like a Gossage/Fingers type of closer but his career winds up being discounted because he's perceived in the light of Eckersley and Rivera (neither of whom, IMO would likely have been as successful for as long had they been used in the earlier mold). Had Smith come up 10 years earlier he'd likely have been right up there in the Gossage/Fingers discussion, and had he come along 10 years later, while he probably wouldn't have been Eck or Mo, I think he'd have been on the Trevor Hoffman level.

-- MWE
   32. Walt Davis Posted: January 02, 2013 at 09:05 PM (#4337378)
Carlos Marmol. Former Proven Closer though not for long enough to get the big money deal.

Marmol will make $10 M this year, part of a 3/$20 arb buyout. Big money.

Mainly what the list in #27 shows is that there are very few reliable closers which has always been true.

Saves leaders through age 25: KRod #1, Street #3, and Kimbrel/Soria (t8) are all active. Kimbrel and Street are still closers, KRod is sitting on 294 saves.
Saves leaders through age 30: KRod #1, Papelbon #5 and Street #10 are all active and two are closers. Smith, Sutter and Franco are lower on the top 10 list. A million internet dollars to you if you knew that Rod Beck was #2 all-time in saves through age 30. Urbina and Nen hold down the rest of the top 5.

You'll note at this point that Rivera isn't on either list.

It's not until through age 35 that we start to see the names we "expect" -- Smith, Rivera, Wagner and Hoffman are the top 4.

Names in the top 10 through age 30 who are in the top 10 through 35: Nen from #4 to #10, Franco from #7 to #9, Wetteland from #7 to #6, Smith from #9 to #1.

K-Rod needs 20 saves to break the top 10 -- unlikely, not impossible. Papelbon needs 57 so extremely likely barring injury. Street is still only 28 and will almost certainly pass Urbina for #3 (he needs 27 saves) and has a shot at the #2 slot (60 saves ... but he hasn't hit 30 saves since 2009).

Teams these days are much more likely than at any point during Lee Smith's career to assemble an overall effective bullpen and then pick the most effective guy to close games (and sometimes that guy changes throughout the season) than designate a roster spot and the necessary $10MM/yr+ to a Closer.

You might want to look at the Yanks, Reds, Jays bullpens of the 70s and 80s. (Just to name three off the top of my head.) But I'm not sure you understand Smith's "era" (which did last for nearly all of the 80s and 90s). Smith broke in during the fireman era, had 3 seasons over 100 IP and another two over 90. He led the league with 29 saves in 1983 ... just 29. Teams backed off the 100+ inning model and Smith then pitched a regular 75-85 innings -- still averaging well over 1 inning per appearance, still getting around 30 saves a year. Smith didn't become a "modern" closer until 1991 in St Louis -- his saves took a big jump, his total innings came down and he basically pitched only 1 per appearance.

Lee Smith pitched under three "premier" reliever usage models -- the multi-inning fireman, the 4-5 out "closer" model and the modern closer model. Only 5 years at the end of his career were spent as a modern closer. Those 5 years produced 40% of his saves but less than 25% of his innings. His ERA+ during those years was slightly below his career average as was his K-rate.

To equate Lee Smith with the modern closer is a mistake. Let's look at Gossage. From ages 25-33 (which skips his year as a starter and also his massive reliever season at 23), Gossage threw 833 innings. From ages 24-32 (his first full 9 seasons), Smith threw 830 innings. Gossage had 227 saves to Smith's 264. (Gossage had a much, much better ERA+ but I'm trying to compare usage, not quality ... and their peripherals are quite close anyway.) Smith did appear in 100 more games as (a) Gossage was injured for about two half-seasons and (b) Smith still wasn't getting quite the number of long appearances that Gossage was (Smith about 1.4 innings per appearance, Gossage about 1.6). After this stretch, Smith was shifted into a modern closer role (by Torre).*

Again, not to equate Smith's career and Gossage's career, but to try to capture their usage and the usage in that era. Gossage's 25-33 is 77 to 85; Smith's 24-32 is 82 to 90. That's how top relievers were used in those days (unless they were fragile).

Sutter: 77 to 85, 895 IP (9 seasons)
Henke, 86-90: 417 (5 seasons)
Franco, 85-90: 516
Garber, 77-85: 851
Tekulve, 77-85: 922
Quiz, 80-86, 806 IP (last of the firemen?)

I'm sure there are plenty more those are just the ones that occurred to me (and Lyle and Hrabosky were mostly too early). Not many could survive that usage though.

In comparison, Papelbon is probably one of the more heavily used closers and over his first 7 full seasons he's got 465 IP. He just set his career regular season high with 70 IP.

*Well, he was kinda modern closer in Boston but got extended a bit again on first arrival in St L.

   33. Howie Menckel Posted: January 02, 2013 at 09:16 PM (#4337383)

Good stuff there, both Mike and Walt. I recall Smith's whole career and kind of "got it" already, I think - but never quite as clearly as after those posts. His career can confuse...

   34. beer on a stick Posted: January 02, 2013 at 10:59 PM (#4337495)
There might be slight decline in recent years- but today's closers are still racking up saves at far higher rate than the old "firemen" did 30+ years ago


Well, of course they are. Getting a save now in much much easier than it was when a guy like John Hiller set the saves record with something like 27 in one season. MLB keeps changing the scoring rules to make it easier to collect meaningless stats like this. Which is really stupid because when its contract time, The agents throw the bogus stats right back in their faces and demand "closer money", or "ace money", or whatever.

Pitchers claim to be creatures of habit, and need to pitch in the same role all the time. It's not a load of crap, but it is an exagerration. Pitchers can and will pitch in any role, if their staying with the team depends on it. If they are used correctly they will succeed more often than not. If they don't, well...

The smart teams have learned that you can take pre-FA relievers, and the one-year contract guys and pretty much tell them where they are going to be in the pecking order. The FO knows that this years 'pen stud has a good chance to be next year's 7.85 ERA long man, so why get locked into one spot with him?

The fact is RPs are inconsistent, and if they weren't they would be in the starting rotation. That inconsistency translates right into the the 'pen. Therefore, you use them in the spots they can be most effective in. One week it may be closer, the next it may be LOOGY or 6th inning guy.

Petunia is right. Most of them really are just another guy.

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