Friday, August 28, 2009

And Now You Know!: Closing Time

Why is Brad Lidge still closing for the Phillies? He is only going to cost them a big game in the playoffs a la Albert Pujols style. It seems inevitable for this Phillies team that how deep they can go in the playoffs depends on the arm of one player. Who said that baseball was a team sport?

Closers have taken on a prestigious role in sports with the spotlight focused squarely on them to get a mere three outs. They are supposed to have ice in their veins and be unfazed during clutch moments. Yet despite the basic prerequisites to be a closer many often fail over a dozen times a year. Imagine if you failed at your job, the key essential of your job over a dozen times a year and caused your whole team or group a setback, where would you be?

The save became an official stat in baseball in 1969 and its been a measuring stick of the most clutch pitchers of all time with Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera atop that list. But what about those guys who simply prove to be not clutch and the teams that stuck with them for an entire season?

The record for most saves blown in a single year is 14. (Goose Gossage has more blown saves in his career than any other player with 112.) It is held by 4 players- Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Bob Stanley, and Ron Davis.

1976- Rollie Fingers: 13-11, 20 saves, 2.47 ERA ( missed playoffs by 2.5 games)
1978- Bruce Sutter: 8-10, 27 saves, 3.18 ERA (missed playoffs by 11 games)
1983- Bob Stanley: 8-10, 33 saves, 2.85 ERA (missed playoffs by 20 games)
1984- Ron Davis: 7-11, 29 saves, 4.55 ERA (missed playoffs by 3 games)

The one thing that all four of these players have in common is a relatively low ERA considering they blew 14 saves. But what about these 8 players.

1979- Gene Garber: 6-16, 25 saves, 4.33 ERA
1979- Mike Marshall: 10-15, 32 saves, 2.65 ERA
2003- Mike Williams: 1-7, 28 saves, 6.14 ERA
2003- Jose Mesa: 5-7, 24 saves, 6.52 ERA
2004- Shawn Chacon: 1-9, 35 saves, 7.11 ERA
2006- Derrick Turnbow: 4-9, 24 saves, 6.87 ERA
2009- Matt Capps: 3-7, 23 saves, 6.38 ERA
2009- Brad Lidge: 0-6, 25 saves, 7.33 ERA

Clearly, Shawn Chacon has had the worst season by a closer, ever. The Rockies missed the playoffs by 24 games. Coincidentally, it was 2004 in which Brad Lidge went 6-5 with 29 saves and a mere 1.90 ERA. But 2004 was the year in which Pujols set Brad Lidge's career back.

And Now You Know! (And Knowing is Half the Battle)

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Crazy Canton Cuts said...

Marshall's season is the best on the list

remember - he pitched 3 innings each save in those days

not the 1 inning they did later

Chris said...

In 1979 Marshall had 90 appearances, lead the league, and threw 142.2 innings pitched. (roughly 1.2 IP per appearance)

He blew 10 saves that year and pitched more that 3 innings just 10 times.

His numbers though, still good for a reliever, with the exception of 15 losses.

Brian Doyle said...

Using ERA to look at the effectiveness (good/bad year) of a closer is really not a good method. Closers have a defined role, which is to come into the game in a save situation and come out with a team win. I think that save percentage (that is, how often they do this) is a much more effective way of defining how good, or bad, of a year a closer has had.

Sure, those listed players all blew 14 saves, but how many save opportunities did they have? 100? 15? Chacon blew 9 saves out of 44 (80% success rate) and you have labeled him as having the worst year because of his high ERA.

Bob Stanley blew 14 saves out of 47 (70% success rate), which is worse when you define the specific purpose of the role. How many runs you allow does play a slight role. It might give you an idea of someone's effectiveness, but it is not entirely indicative of the success within that role. What if he gave up 12 runs in one appearance without recording an out and that was his only blown save but it made his ERA skyrocket? He would have to pitch 12 more scoreless innings just to make his ERA 9.00 for those 13 appearances.

Marshall, based on you saying he blew 10 saves, was only successful 76% of the time. Granted you need to take into account percentage and sample size, but when they all have roughly 45-50 opportunities, it becomes a fair comparison. Chacon had a terrible ERA, but his effectiveness is actually greater than at least some of the others mentioned.