Category Archives: Links

The Search for a Closer

Chris McShane over at Alderson Avenue took a look today at some potential free-agent/non-closer relievers who might be able to serve as the Mets’ closer next season. There are some interesting names on the list, and I think that is going to be the direction Sandy Alderson goes to find his ninth inning guy.

I wonder sometimes if being a closer is easier than being an set-up reliever. It would seem that on the mental side, closing would be more difficult because if you blow the game, that’s it — there aren’t any more inning for the team to get the lead back. It’s all on you. But if you’re the closer, you’re also pitching the same inning every night, rarely asked to get more than three outs, and often protecting a sizable three-run cushion. When you show up at the ballpark, you know what you’re going to be asked to do every night. And those factors all favor a pitcher, maybe more than we often acknowledge — if you go on Baseball-Reference and look at the most effective pitchers, as measured by ERA+ (500 inning minimum), 11 of the 20 most effective pitchers are closers (or have a lot of saves). Eight of those 11 closers have pitched in the past ten years. We’re talking about every pitcher over the last 111 years who has thrown 500 innings; more than half of the elite, elite ones are closers. The modern closer role has let teams take a pitcher who otherwise wouldn’t be good enough to even start, and turn him into Pedro Martinez for 65 innings a season.

Meanwhile, setup men sometimes pitch multiple innings, often come into games in the middle of an inning with runners on base, never know which inning they’re going to pitch in when they come to the ballpark . . . there isn’t necessarily the stress of the ninth, but there’s still stress, and it’s compounded by an uncertainty. There’s an argument to be made that pitching setup is more difficult.

The Rays took the much-maligned Kyle Farnsworth and turned him into an effective closer this season. I wonder, if someone studied the issue deeply, if relief pitchers are actually more effective working as a closer than as a setup man. Are the best relief pitchers used as closers because they’re the best relievers, or is there something about the usage pattern that makes closers the best relievers? Because the closer role is the only relief role in history that has a regular usage pattern associated with it, and there might be something to that.

I guess the point is that the Mets might be better off signing a non-closer on the cheap, sticking him in the ninth, and then watching him transform into an elite reliever. Maybe it’s just the usage pattern.

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Changeups and BABIP

Josh Weinstock over at The Hardball Times took a look at pitcher’s repertoires and found that pitchers who throw a lot of changeups tend to give up fewer hits on balls in play. It’s not an enormous difference, something like four or five hits over a full season for starting pitcher. But it looks like there is a real difference, and helps explain why changeup-happy Johan Santana consistently gives up 15-20 fewer hits than expected every season.

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LoMo: Marked for Life

The wonderful Amy K. Nelson has a touching piece up today for ESPN about the Marlins’ Logan Morrison, his relationship with his late father and recent conflicts with his team. A great look at what goes into making a baseball player and highly recommended.

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Someone Had an Even Better Time at Star Wars Night

As it turns out, Jason Fry of FAFIF had a way, way more awesome time at Star Wars night. He actually got to be a stormtrooper. I guess I’m only really surprised by the fact that he didn’t already own stormtrooper armor.

Stay tuned for further coverage of Star Wars night. 

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Negro League Statistics

Awesome. The excessively useful Seamheads.com has their first batch of Negro League statistics up, covering the years 1916 through 1922, and some Cuban Winter League stuff before that. There’s batting average, on-base percentage and all you’d expect, and then even wOBA and wins above replacement. It passes the sniff test, too, with Oscar Charleston — widely regarded as the greatest Negro Leagues player ever, and by some as the greatest baseball player ever — coming out as the greatest player in the database so far.

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Something Screwy

The OG Ted Berg talked to new reliever Daniel Herrera and the Mets’ catchers about the diminutive lefty’s screwball yesterday. Interesting stuff on an interesting pitch — and it also means that next time I’m at Citi Field, I won’t have anything to ask Herrera. Other than hair care tips, I guess.

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DFW: Federer as Religious Experience

If you’d like to read one of the better pieces of sports writing, and/or have a thing for commas, might I recommend this re-print of David Foster Wallace’s “Federer as Religious Experience” over at Grantland today. (I guess they’re out of new material already.) It’s about tennis, which is not baseball, but I don’t even really like tennis and I liked this the first time I read it.

Also: ESPN commercials are informing me that Grantland is pronounced “Grant-lund,” like the “land” in “England.” I say “Grant-land,” almost as in “Ireland.” Is this some sort of New York area, alternate pronunciation on my part? Or is either acceptable? I’ve lived in New Jersey and Connecticut, and my father is from Long Island, so I suspect there’s bits of all three in my speech. I know I say “water” incorrectly, for one — “waw-der” instead of “waw-ter” — among other things . . . How did Grantland Rice pronounce his first name?

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