Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Closers are overrated

I'm hoping that the next great revolution in manager-thinking will be the avoidance of "closers". There may be no other position as grossly overrated and typically overpaid than ML closer.

If you think about it from a money standpoint first, you are usually paying a top tier closer $8M to $12M to pitch maybe 60 innings. If you extrapolate that to a starting pitcher of any quality who can give you 180 innings, you are paying that closer the equivalent of $24M to $36M dollars!!

From a strategy standpoint, the closer has hamstrung managers and forced them to be by-the-book even more than they normally would be.

If your team is up by 1 run in the 7th inning, with 2 on and 1 out and your original pitcher is spraying gasoline all over the infield, why wouldn't you bring your best reliever in to the game at that point? If the arsonist on the mound blows the lead, you may not have any need for the "closer" in the 9th inning anyway. And don't say "what if you encounter the same situation in the 9th?"

You need to deal with the problem at the immediate hand, not deal with hypotheticals.

Relievers themselves are a fungible commodity. Their performances vary wildly from year to year, typically, and as such no team should tie themselves up financially or to a long term deal years-wise with a reliever.

No reliever should be paid more than $4.5M (in 2009 money) or be under contract for more than 3 years. The $4.5M is the assumed cost per win, as calculated by Fangraphs. Most relievers do not generate more than 1 WAR per season, anyway. The whole concept of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a topic for another post, if you're not familiar with it....

Ideally, a pitching staff should be:
5 starters
1 "long man" who can spot start and eat innings during a blowout
2 left handed relievers, at least one of which you feel comfortable using in a high-leverage situation where you need to protect a close lead or put out a fire
3 right handed relievers, at least two of which are high-leverage candidates

That's an 11 man staff which means that your relievers should all be able to work multiple innings and work both sides of the hitters' box. Pure left-on-left guys are another terrible waste of roster spots and resources. Learn a changeup for god sakes!

That would give the manager 1 more spot on the bench so that the premise of "the backup catcher can't pinch hit...what if the starter gets hurt?!?" can also be eliminated. Not all catchers are great shakes with the toothpick, but some teams have guys who were decent backups this year but never got the pine splinters out of their rear end unless they were starting that game.

So in this one blog post, I helped eliminate the following themes of baseball that are ruining it:
1. Closers are overpaid and not needed
2. LOOGY's are a waste of time and money
3. Use the backup catcher as a pinch hitter. Seriously.

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