Guesties: Closing time for closers

Posted: August 3, 2011 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

By Hayden Goethe
Guest blogger

If Larry David played for the Minnesota Twins, he would have had a field day with Matt Capps earlier this season.

The Seinfeld co-creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm star could no doubt have some fun with the modern-day closer.

“Nobody must disturb the delicate genius.” It’s not that hard to imagine him saying that, with the emphasis on “disturb.”

When it comes to baseball, I am a purist on most things. I embrace change throughout my life, as long as it’s not on the diamond.

But my take on the closer’s role is this: I loathe it.

Let’s turn back the clock to July 15. The scene: Target Field. The situation: Top of the ninth inning. Twins are up 1-0. Two outs. Tying run on second base. At the plate is Kansas City Royals rookie first baseman Eric Hosmer. Like most left-handed hitting rookies, Hosmer struggles mightily against southpaws. His slugging percentage drops nearly 300 points against lefties, and all 10 of his homers this season are against righties.

Capps – being a right-hander – is left in to face Hosmer, despite Glen Perkins – the Twins best reliever, who happens to be a left-hander – remaining unused in the bullpen. Capps is the closer, right? Nobody must disturb the closer on the mound.

You probably already know how this ends. Hosmer mashes a two-run homer to center field, the Twins offense fails to score in the bottom of the ninth, and Minnesota fans leave Target Field disappointed following a one-run loss.

This is by no means an indictment specifically aimed at Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who I still think – despite his team’s struggles this season – is one of the best skippers in the game. It’s an indictment of the entire managerial fraternity, which uses the closer’s role as a crutch. It’s much easier to tell the media, “Hey, he’s my closer. That’s my guy,” rather than do the right thing and yank that closer when matchups suggest it should be done.

Gardenhire after the blown save had this to say of Capps: “We have all the trust in the world in him.”

The issue isn’t about trust though. If it’s the eighth inning, my guess is Gardenhire replaces whatever right-hander is on the mound with Perkins to face Hosmer. But in the ninth, impossible. It’s blasphemy to suggest such a thing.

As time has passed, the purist in me learns to embrace changes in the game like the wild-card playoff spot or certain aspects of interleague play. But the closer’s role as it is known today will never be one of them.

About the author: Goethe is the assistant sports editor at The Forum newspaper of Fargo-Moorhead. He is most passionate about his hometown of Thief River Falls, Minn., and Earl Boykins. Check out his work blog.

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Comments
  1. Mike says:

    I completely support your loathing of the closer’s role. It can backfire in two ways: trusting close games to “proven closers” who are not your best bullpen arm, or saving your best bullpen arm for the save situation regardless of other situations within the game. The Twins themselves have shown both sides. For awhile, Capps was the closer but the third best arm (at best) in the bullpen behind Perkins and Nathan. Because Capps was our closer, he was relegated to pitching 9th inning save situations only. That meant that in higher leverage situations, i.e. 8th inning, one out, two men on, Gardy put in his best available pitcher.

    In my humble opinion, the save statistic itself has created the closer role, which, in turn, has cost teams wins. Managers have an incredible amount of pressure to make sure the closer tallies up saves. If a more progressive manager tried to use his best reliever in the highest leverage situations, the first time it backfired, which it inevitably would, people would be calling for his head.

    It took me awhile to find the link (http://tinyurl.com/3fbn42r), but Clint Hurdle of the Pirates is a perfect example. In one week, the Pirates lost a 19 inning game and two 10 inning games. Guess how many innings were pitched by Joel Hanrahan, their closer and best bullpen arm? None. Why? Because there was never a save situation.

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