Now that we’ve all chewed on Keri’s post, here are some highlights and extended thoughts that I'll eventually get around to relating to the Red Sox 2013 bullpen:
- Jerome Holtzman, a Chicago sportswriter, in 1959 created the save statistic, inadvertently creating the way major league teams have structured their bullpens for over fifty years. Professional pitchers fight for their careers to get into a sacred closer role to accumulate this statistic created by the Chicago sportswriter, in order to cash in on the huge contracts bestowed on successful closers. Rafael Soriano and Jonathan Papelbon get over $10 million a year, Koji Uehara gets 1 year $4.25 million. Are Papelbon and Soriano three times better pitchers than Uehara? Or do they just have better entrance music and happen to get the 25th-27th outs in a game rather than the 19th-21st? The baseball powers that be has added incredible importance to the final three outs, and the established closers have a vested interest in keeping it that way. Managers, for their part, are afraid to go away from the traditional model, lest they be labelled as trying to use a “bullpen by committee” when guys don’t know which inning they may be used in and when the approach results in a blown save or two by Holtzman’s statistic, the manager gets shamed back into announcing a “closer”.
- The biggest argument for the traditional closer role is that there are certain pitchers who can handle the stress of the “clutch” situations with the game on the line getting those 25th-27th outs. That there is an “ice in the veins” mentality to great closers that some guys just don’t have. I don’t buy this argument. I think it would be more stressful to come into a game in the 7th inning with the bases loaded and only one out than it would be to enter the 9th inning with the bases empty and no outs. The key is to have your best pitchers on the mound during those moments when a game can potentially swing dramatically to one side or the other (or a team’s Win Probability begins to swing).
- Two of the best closers in the game last year, according to Keri’s statistic SD/MD, which we’ll get to in a moment, were Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson. Both were AL East pitchers, and both came into 2012 with huge question marks. Johnson had been a middle relief or setup guy for most of his career and Rodney had sucked so bad in Anaheim’s bullpen the year before they let him go. Were these two guys known for having ice water in their veins? No! For whatever reason, they fixed their control a year ago (Johnson and Rodney had a sub-2.00 BB/9 for the first time in their careers a year ago, Rodney down from 7.9 in 2011. 7.9!!!). These two guys were not good closers in 2012 because they have ice water in their veins, they were good because they threw strikes.