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#1
Old 05-03-2015, 09:55 PM
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The role of a closer in baseball

I am confused. Please correct my train of thought. I'm eager to learn more about baseball, but my logic may be flawed. Tell me where I am going wrong, in the following:

The closer, in baseball, is in charge of closing games, which means protecting the team's lead if they are up, and providing a chance for them to come back in the bottom of the ninth if they are down a run or two.

Therefore, his "stuff" must have to be really good for the team to trust him in this role. He's got to be able to shut down the opposition even more effectively than a starting pitcher, because of the late inning.

If his "stuff" is so good, why aren't closers used in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning? Don't tell me they don't have stamina to do it, because at the major league level, how can they have pitch location and control but can't last more than three outs? Does their "stuff" magically disappear faster than a starting pitcher's? What's the difference between a starting pitcher and a closer in terms of skill set? If the closer is immensely talented (for example, Mariano Rivera, wouldn't a manager want that talent against the opposition as long as possible? If it is a question of stamina, how can there be such a difference in endurance between two types of pitchers?

Please enlighten me.

Thanks,

Dave
#2
Old 05-03-2015, 10:11 PM
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Most closers have one damn near unhittable pitch plus one or two others to keep the batter guessing.
You can't go several innings on one pitch.
The closer can go all out for one inning. You can't go like that for several any more than a starter can.
Think of a runner, you can't run a mile at 100m sprint speed.
#3
Old 05-03-2015, 10:19 PM
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I can't answer for all of your questions, but generally speaking, a closer only has to have 1 or 2 pitches that are working for him (and, for the last few seasons of his career, Mariano Rivera only threw ONE pitch, called a cutter, or cut fastball), whereas a starter generally have to have at least 3 pitches working to be effective. And different pitches can take a different toll on the pitcher. Former major league pitcher Kerry Wood, for example, struck out 20 batters in one game, in just his 5th major league start. He later tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and had to undergo "Tommy John Surgery," which involves transplanting a ligament from either a cadaver or another part of the body onto the afflicted area (pitching a baseball is a very unnatural act). Wood's team, the Cubs, told him to stop throwing sliders, as they generate more stress on the elbow that some other pitches do.

So it's not always a matter of stamina and control. Number of pitches working and the types of pitches also factor in.
#4
Old 05-03-2015, 10:23 PM
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Are you asking about starting pitchers vs relief pitchers, or closers vs other relief pitchers, or both?

Relief pitchers in general, and closers in particular, often throw harder/faster than starting pitchers, because they know they'll only be in for an inning or two, and they don't have to worry about pacing themselves. They could, perhaps, come in in the sixth or seventh inning and pitch several innings, but they're typically not used to pitching so many innings in a row, they often have a more limited repertoire of pitches than a starter (which may put them at a disadvantage if the same batter faces them more than once in the same game), and if they're used too much in one game they won't be available in the next.

Some have argued that a manager should be willing to use his best reliever, who is typically the closer, at any crucial moment, rather than always saving him for a "save situation" in the ninth inning. Against this, others argue that managers and pitchers appreciate when pitchers have well-defined roles and know what sort of situations they're likely to be used in. And some believe that there's something about the pressure of pitching in a save situation that not all pitchers are equally adept at handling.

I'm sure that there's a lot more that some of our more knowledgeable posters could say, or link to; but that's a start.

Last edited by Thudlow Boink; 05-03-2015 at 10:24 PM.
#5
Old 05-03-2015, 10:32 PM
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If it's unhittable, then I guess that means it breaks somewhere so fast that hitters can't find it? But then you are implying that if they go for more than one inning, the batters get used to it and can tell where it's breaking?

That would imply that batters must communicate with each other in the dugout and tell each other what the guy is throwing and where to swing when he throws it? Am I correct in this?

But then if they do talk, why can't the first guy tell the second guy on deck or the third guy what his "unhittable" pitch is? Then wouldn't the closer's unhittableness be nullified by the second batter of the inning in which he starts?

Further, with the advent of videotape, can't a guy just look at Mariano and know his cut fastball and where it usually goes? Therefore when he sees a fastball, he knows that it's probably going to cut.

Also, is it more a matter of pitch choice vs. pitch location that gets a batter out? Because even if your batter knows where your "unhittable" pitch will be, if you throw him something he's not expecting, that's just a good a strike as him falling for your best pitch. That would mean that the catcher is really the player in this chess game, because he's giving the signs...?



Sorry to be so dense, but I'm glad I have you experts.
#6
Old 05-03-2015, 11:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by running coach View Post
Most closers have one damn near unhittable pitch plus one or two others to keep the batter guessing.
You can't go several innings on one pitch.
How does this work? It's not like a pitcher and his pitch are a secret. The game film is out, everyone knows what a pitcher can do. How would a one-pitch pitcher be able to work for 1-2 innings but not 4? Since you play in series, its not as if one batter isn't ever going to get a crack at him again. And since I'm sure they have game film on every pitch, it's not like everyone won't know his tendencies.

Quote:
The closer can go all out for one inning. You can't go like that for several any more than a starter can.
Think of a runner, you can't run a mile at 100m sprint speed.
This sounds like the actual reason.
#7
Old 05-03-2015, 11:29 PM
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When Rivera first got his cutter working, and for most of the rest of his career, opposing batters said they KNEW exactly what he was going to throw, and they still couldn't hit it. Mariano was sometimes, but very rarely, asked to get more than three outs, coming in in the 8th inning.
#8
Old 05-04-2015, 07:16 AM
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In order to hit a ball going near 100mph, it's not good enough to "know" what's being thrown and where it's going to break, you have to practice.

These guys practice against pitches that are not Rivera's cutter. If nobody else (more or less) throws the cutter like Rivera does, their only practice is when they face him in a game.

How often can you face him in a game? He faced about 300 batters per year, if that was all AL batters, then each batter could expect to see his cutter maybe twice a year. You see a starting pitcher more than that in a single game.

Then, if he's got to pace himself for a full game, his awesome cutter is perhaps a lot more average, which means he's not separating himself from the crowd, and the batters will have seen many more pitches "like" his cutter and be better prepared to hit it.
#9
Old 05-04-2015, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by MLS View Post
When Rivera first got his cutter working, and for most of the rest of his career, opposing batters said they KNEW exactly what he was going to throw, and they still couldn't hit it. Mariano was sometimes, but very rarely, asked to get more than three outs, coming in in the 8th inning.
This is what separates a good player from a great player. I'm a Giants fan; for several years Sergio Romo had the nastiest slider you've ever seen (he still does, when it's working...but it doesn't work quite as often as it used to). For a right-handed batter it was essentially impossible to hit, as it would look like it was coming right over the plate, but at the last second it would drop down and outside. Batters knew what pitch he was going to throw, and he'd throw it 3,4, sometimes 5 times in an at-bat, but they couldn't help swinging at it.

For an example from another sport, look at John Stockton and Karl Malone in basketball. They played together for the Utah Jazz for 17 years, I believe, and during that time span they ran the pick-and-roll play about 87,000 times. It's just what they did. Everyone knew what play they were going to run virtually every time they came down the court, and they ran it just as expected, and they were successful with it, again and again, and again and again and again...

It's one thing to know what your opponent is going to do; it's another thing altogether to stop them from doing it.
#10
Old 05-04-2015, 10:06 AM
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In the not-too-distant past, it wasn't at all uncommon for closers to work more than the 9th inning. In 1981, Rollie Fingers won both the Cy Young and the AL MVP for the Brewers. He pitched in 78 innings over 47 games, essentially averaging 1 2/3 innings per appearance. In those 47 appearances, he was 6-3, with 28 saves...so in 10 of his appearances, he wound up not being the "pitcher of record" in any way.

But, today, the conventional wisdom in the game is that you rarely, if ever, use your closer in any other situation other than in the 9th, in a save opportunity.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 05-04-2015 at 10:08 AM.
#11
Old 05-04-2015, 10:16 AM
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Originally Posted by SenorBeef View Post
How does this work? It's not like a pitcher and his pitch are a secret. The game film is out, everyone knows what a pitcher can do. How would a one-pitch pitcher be able to work for 1-2 innings but not 4? Since you play in series, its not as if one batter isn't ever going to get a crack at him again. And since I'm sure they have game film on every pitch, it's not like everyone won't know his tendencies.
As has been noted, it's one thing for a batter to know what pitch it's coming. It's another thing to dial into what it's like to swing against that pitch *today*. When batters get multiple at-bats against a pitcher, they get more opportunities to get their timing down. If you only see that reliever once in this game, you have a limited window to adjust your swing.

And, yes, being able to go all-out for a short period of time (an inning or two) plays into it, as well. The "Baseball Preview" issue of Sports Illustrated this year talked about how there are more and more hard-throwing relievers (not just closers, but set-up men), and teams are using more pitchers per game than ever before. The combination of the two* has helped lead to the lowest offensive numbers in the game since 1968 (after that season, they lowered the mound to reduce the pitchers' dominance).

* - That said, I also suspect that PED testing has also taken a fair chunk of offense out of the game.
#12
Old 05-04-2015, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Suburban Plankton View Post
This is what separates a good player from a great player. I'm a Giants fan; for several years Sergio Romo had the nastiest slider you've ever seen (he still does, when it's working...but it doesn't work quite as often as it used to). For a right-handed batter it was essentially impossible to hit, as it would look like it was coming right over the plate, but at the last second it would drop down and outside. Batters knew what pitch he was going to throw, and he'd throw it 3,4, sometimes 5 times in an at-bat, but they couldn't help swinging at it.

For an example from another sport, look at John Stockton and Karl Malone in basketball. They played together for the Utah Jazz for 17 years, I believe, and during that time span they ran the pick-and-roll play about 87,000 times. It's just what they did. Everyone knew what play they were going to run virtually every time they came down the court, and they ran it just as expected, and they were successful with it, again and again, and again and again and again...

It's one thing to know what your opponent is going to do; it's another thing altogether to stop them from doing it.

Yes, but why can't they just not swing? What closer is going to throw three real fastballs down the middle when they are known for their unhittable pitch? In basketball, you couldn't stop Malone and Stockton because of their athletic ability. In baseball, if you know that the nasty cutter is frequently used, all you have to do is not swing and the pitcher's now at a disadvantage. I am not claiming to know what I'm talking about!!! Please tell me why my argument doesn't make sense?

And if they couldn't help swinging at it, then they need to learn that sometimes you're better off taking a pitch. If the batter's goal is to get on base, and the pitcher's goal is to get you to swing and miss, doesn't that automatically mean the batter should let the pitcher just do his thing and keep getting balls? How much of this is actual skill vs. guessing and psyching out the other player? Like I said upthread, the nastiest slider or cutter in the world means nothing if the batter outguesses you!
#13
Old 05-04-2015, 10:19 AM
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Closers may need to pitch every day and they have a work-out and warm-up schedule designed to keep them from wearing out their arms. They've been extremely specialized and managers don't want to mess around with what works.

Most closers throw heat in one form or another. They may get the side out in a dozen pitches or less, or maybe it will take 20. If they're coming off 20 pitches in the 8th inning and the 9th is running on they may lose that heat. Closers can't choose their pitches to save their arms the way a starting pitcher does.
#14
Old 05-04-2015, 10:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
As has been noted, it's one thing for a batter to know what pitch it's coming. It's another thing to dial into what it's like to swing against that pitch *today*. When batters get multiple at-bats against a pitcher, they get more opportunities to get their timing down. If you only see that reliever once in this game, you have a limited window to adjust your swing.

And, yes, being able to go all-out for a short period of time (an inning or two) plays into it, as well. The "Baseball Preview" issue of Sports Illustrated this year talked about how there are more and more hard-throwing relievers (not just closers, but set-up men), and teams are using more pitchers per game than ever before. The combination of the two* has helped lead to the lowest offensive numbers in the game since 1968 (after that season, they lowered the mound to reduce the pitchers' dominance).

* - That said, I also suspect that PED testing has also taken a fair chunk of offense out of the game.
Is there really that much more difficult to throw at 97 miles per hour than at 90 miles an hour? It's seven miles an hour of difference. How can a player throwing at 90 last 7 innings but a player throwing at 97 can only last one? He should at least be able to go 3 or 4, right?
#15
Old 05-04-2015, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
Yes, but why can't they just not swing? What closer is going to throw three real fastballs down the middle when they are known for their unhittable pitch? In basketball, you couldn't stop Malone and Stockton because of their athletic ability. In baseball, if you know that the nasty cutter is frequently used, all you have to do is not swing and the pitcher's now at a disadvantage. I am not claiming to know what I'm talking about!!! Please tell me why my argument doesn't make sense?

And if they couldn't help swinging at it, then they need to learn that sometimes you're better off taking a pitch. If the batter's goal is to get on base, and the pitcher's goal is to get you to swing and miss, doesn't that automatically mean the batter should let the pitcher just do his thing and keep getting balls? How much of this is actual skill vs. guessing and psyching out the other player? Like I said upthread, the nastiest slider or cutter in the world means nothing if the batter outguesses you!
A straight overhand fastball comes in with little or no movement while a cutter may break (more of a twitch) 3-4 inches. At thirty feet away (when a batter starts swinging), you can't see the difference. The break doesn't become visible until the swing is under way and can't be changed.

ETA: there's also a difference in velocity. A 1 mph change will mean a miss or weak hit even if the swing is dead on.

Even if you guess right, aiming for where a ball is going has a margin of error.

Last edited by running coach; 05-04-2015 at 10:39 AM.
#16
Old 05-04-2015, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
Is there really that much more difficult to throw at 97 miles per hour than at 90 miles an hour? It's seven miles an hour of difference. How can a player throwing at 90 last 7 innings but a player throwing at 97 can only last one? He should at least be able to go 3 or 4, right?
There's a big gap in the power needed to throw 97 vs. 90. Someone who throws 90 might not even be able to reach 97.
Any pitcher can only throw as fast as he can control the pitch.
Any attempt to force a higher velocity(over-throwing) will decrease accuracy.

A good example was Sandy Koufax. His early career was marred by poor control due to his attempts to deliberately throw hard. When he started easing up, his control improved greatly and he still had an overpowering fastball.
#17
Old 05-04-2015, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
Is there really that much more difficult to throw at 97 miles per hour than at 90 miles an hour? It's seven miles an hour of difference. How can a player throwing at 90 last 7 innings but a player throwing at 97 can only last one? He should at least be able to go 3 or 4, right?
A team has 5 starting pitchers. Each one can throw 100+ pitches in a game because he'll get at least 4 days of rest before he pitches in a game again.

That team only has one closer. He may have to close out 3 games in a row. You can't go max effort, or even almost max effort, for 3 innings (40+ pitches) and expect to throw again the next day.

That's why teams these days try to have a set up guy who is basically another closer to go the 8th inning.
#18
Old 05-04-2015, 11:30 AM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
How can a player throwing at 90 last 7 innings but a player throwing at 97 can only last one? He should at least be able to go 3 or 4, right?
He probably can...but it is, in fact, fatiguing enough that he probably won't be able pitch that hard again in the next day or two (which is what you want your relief pitchers to be able to do).

Many starting pitchers can throw in the mid-to-high 90s, and they typically pitch for 5 to 7 innings in a game. But, then, they get four to five days off, to rest their arms and regain their strength.

Edit: ninja'd by Barkis!

Last edited by kenobi 65; 05-04-2015 at 11:30 AM.
#19
Old 05-04-2015, 11:38 AM
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OK, got it. So now the one outstanding question which hasn't been addressed yet. Can you please look upthread and comment on what I wrote about skill vs. guessing? Specifically:



"Yes, but why can't they just not swing? What closer is going to throw three real fastballs down the middle when they are known for their unhittable pitch? In basketball, you couldn't stop Malone and Stockton because of their athletic ability. In baseball, if you know that the nasty cutter is frequently used, all you have to do is not swing and the pitcher's now at a disadvantage. I am not claiming to know what I'm talking about!!! Please tell me why my argument doesn't make sense?

And if they couldn't help swinging at it, then they need to learn that sometimes you're better off taking a pitch. If the batter's goal is to get on base, and the pitcher's goal is to get you to swing and miss, doesn't that automatically mean the batter should let the pitcher just do his thing and keep getting balls? How much of this is actual skill vs. guessing and psyching out the other player? Like I said upthread, the nastiest slider or cutter in the world means nothing if the batter outguesses you! "


Thanks.
#20
Old 05-04-2015, 11:42 AM
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Because that "unhittable pitch" is likely *still* going to be a strike, more often than not. If a batter just decides to not swing, he's banking on the pitcher missing the strike zone four times before he gets it in the strike zone three times...and, against most major league pitchers (and particularly against elite closers), that's a bad bet.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 05-04-2015 at 11:42 AM.
#21
Old 05-04-2015, 11:45 AM
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That's what I wanted to know! Thanks! Would you care to comment in general about guessing vs. skill?
#22
Old 05-04-2015, 11:50 AM
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The reason to throw something other than the unhittable pitch is to keep the batter guessing. if the batter knows with 100% certainty, then he can time and aim his swing to match. However if he isn't sure if it's a fastball there or a cutter 3 inches away, which do you go for? Remember, the bat is only 2.5 inches in diameter. A swing for a fastball will miss the cutter completely and vice versa.
The swing starts when the ball is still 30 feet away yet 50% of the movement is in the last 15 feet.
Another factor is the batter can't accurately judge to a fraction of an inch as to the arrival point of the ball. And any pitch may not move the same as the previous pitch did. Maybe the curve only breaks 17 inches rather than 18. Maybe the fastball comes in 1 mph faster than usual and is a half inch higher as a result.

Last edited by running coach; 05-04-2015 at 11:51 AM.
#23
Old 05-04-2015, 12:05 PM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
How much of this is actual skill vs. guessing and psyching out the other player?
At the MLB level, I don't think there is much, if any, wild guessing done by either pitcher or hitter. Scouts do a ton of work to prepare pitchers and hitters for a game. Part of the skill is making an educated guess at what to throw or what is going to be thrown.

A lot of people think Manny Ramirez used to just show up and do what he did. Actually, he was one of the biggest film junkies. He watched a ton of tape on every pitcher to know their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

Curt Schilling at the end of his career didn't have great stuff, but he was a great scout. He compiled as much data as he could on every hitter to learn their strengths and weaknesses.

As Yogi Berra said, "Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical." His math was fuzzy, but the point remains. Raw skill can only get you so far in baseball.
#24
Old 05-04-2015, 12:15 PM
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Something else to remember in the "closer vs starter" conversation is that, while a closer can pitch 2, 3 days in a row, a starter will normally ice his elbow after an outing to keep inflammation down. A starter will normally rest 3 or 4 days between starts. He sometimes can pitch on shorter rest, but managers are usually reluctant to utilize a starter off of their normal rest period.
#25
Old 05-04-2015, 02:29 PM
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NYT animation video demonstrating in an easy-to-understand way what made Rivera so hard to hit.
#26
Old 05-04-2015, 07:31 PM
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Closers are almost exclusively in the 9th inning, so much so that it becomes news if they pitch for more than one inning. But that's just modern tradition; there are plenty of cases wehre using the closer in the 8th inning makes sense (most obvious, if the 3-4-5 hitters are due up).

However, managers don"t do this because it would be unconventional. If they lose, everyone will call it a bonehead move, and too many bonehead moves get you fired.
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#27
Old 05-04-2015, 07:56 PM
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Bringing in the closer for a 3-run save in the ninth is pretty much a waste of your best reliever, but "it's a save situation" so it just doesn't get questioned by most people.
#28
Old 05-04-2015, 08:39 PM
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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
In the not-too-distant past, it wasn't at all uncommon for closers to work more than the 9th inning. In 1981, Rollie Fingers won both the Cy Young and the AL MVP for the Brewers. He pitched in 78 innings over 47 games, essentially averaging 1 2/3 innings per appearance. In those 47 appearances, he was 6-3, with 28 saves...so in 10 of his appearances, he wound up not being the "pitcher of record" in any way.

But, today, the conventional wisdom in the game is that you rarely, if ever, use your closer in any other situation other than in the 9th, in a save opportunity.
This is important to remember.

A long time ago, when I was a wee lad and closer was an evolving role, a guy named Goose Gossage pitched for the White Sox, Pirates and Yankees. As a Pirate and Yankee, he would pitch 2 or more innings multiple times to earn his save. He was a pure power pitcher, and he threw 100 mph (+- 2 mph) each inning.

Baseball has evolved such that a specialist, like a closer, is worth his weight in platinum. So, you bring him in only in the 9th to do his work.

It has a lot less to do with the pitcher's ability to throw multiple innings per game for a few games in a row, and more to do with the risk to the investment. More work increases wear and tear on the guy's arm, and theoretically can ruin that investment.

Every now and then, you see a premier closer work the last out or 2 in the 8th and continue in the 9th, if it is a play-off game or a must win.

However, many teams now have the "set-up guy" (who pitches the 8th) and the closer (who pitches the 9th). The closer is usually the guy who is more mentally strong, and knows the game is riding on his ability to get the other guys out. Some guys never move out of the set-up role, but most closers were once set-up guys who moved into the closer role after the guy in the closer role moved on, retired, or started getting shelled.

Personally, I think relief pitchers can throw for more than one inning often, but the game no longer permits it. Not officially, but because of the evolution of the pitcher, a closer won't even come out of the bullpen unless there is a save opportunity.
#29
Old 05-05-2015, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by journeyman_southpaw View Post
NYT animation video demonstrating in an easy-to-understand way what made Rivera so hard to hit.
This is an excellent illustration. Thanks!
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Old 05-05-2015, 03:36 PM
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[QUOTE=pianodave;18338809]Yes, but why can't they just not swing? What closer is going to throw three real fastballs down the middle when they are known for their unhittable pitch?[/QUPTE]
Because it's not that simple. You know, you could try watching baseball.

Even in the case of a pitcher who only throws one or two pitches, the position of the pitch varies. Mariano Rivera might have thrown the cutter inside, or maybe he threw is down and away. Or maybe up and in, or maybe high and outside. If you guessed incorrectly, you missed. The difference between making solid contact and popping the ball up is a quarter of an inch. And if you're against a great pitcher, no, you simply can't take every pitch because most of them will pass through part of the strike zone. In the major leagues, ANY error in how you swing, or don't swing, will mean failure. There is simply no time to not be perfect in your decision and the execution of your swing.
#31
Old 05-05-2015, 03:46 PM
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[QUOTE=RickJay;18342638]
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
Yes, but why can't they just not swing? What closer is going to throw three real fastballs down the middle when they are known for their unhittable pitch?[/QUPTE]
Because it's not that simple. You know, you could try watching baseball.

Even in the case of a pitcher who only throws one or two pitches, the position of the pitch varies. Mariano Rivera might have thrown the cutter inside, or maybe he threw is down and away. Or maybe up and in, or maybe high and outside. If you guessed incorrectly, you missed. The difference between making solid contact and popping the ball up is a quarter of an inch. And if you're against a great pitcher, no, you simply can't take every pitch because most of them will pass through part of the strike zone. In the major leagues, ANY error in how you swing, or don't swing, will mean failure. There is simply no time to not be perfect in your decision and the execution of your swing.
This is why I come to Straight Dope, because I'm curious. Your explanation works for me. Now I understand that there's a lot more strategy that I don't see. Every move and pitch has a purpose. Thanks.
#32
Old 05-05-2015, 04:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by journeyman_southpaw View Post
Bringing in the closer for a 3-run save in the ninth is pretty much a waste of your best reliever, but "it's a save situation" so it just doesn't get questioned by most people.
You're overlooking the mental part of the game. Most closers do better knowing they are the closer and will be pitching the 9th. So you are helping to maximize their success by the modern by the book way of using closers.
#33
Old 05-05-2015, 05:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by What Exit? View Post
You're overlooking the mental part of the game. Most closers do better knowing they are the closer and will be pitching the 9th. So you are helping to maximize their success by the modern by the book way of using closers.
Then why is there no evidence that bullpens are actually more successful now than they used to be? I think I saw a stat that 9th inning leads are preserved 95% of the time, pretty much regardless of era.

Ah yes, here's a discussion: http://joeposnanski.com/the-closer-you-get/

Seems to me that having a specialized closer didn't really change how often teams close out leads at all.
#34
Old 05-05-2015, 07:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by What Exit? View Post
You're overlooking the mental part of the game.
And of course, ninety percent of the game is half mental.
#35
Old 05-05-2015, 08:33 PM
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So teach your kid that cutter. Over his career, Mariano Rivera averaged around $119k per inning pitched.
#36
Old 05-05-2015, 10:26 PM
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I've had a couple of baseball questions that I've posted to the Dope in the past couple of weeks. I've learned a lot about my favorite game, and I just wanted to express my appreciation and thanks to those who have posted in my threads. I now am watching baseball with a keener eye and it is much more enjoyable. So thanks to all!
#37
Old 05-05-2015, 10:55 PM
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Pardon my extreme baseball ignorance, but could a team simply have 9 closer-type pitchers and have them each pitch one inning of the game? Seems like it would make for a dominant pitching performance while keeping everyone's arms and shoulders rested.
#38
Old 05-05-2015, 11:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
Pardon my extreme baseball ignorance, but could a team simply have 9 closer-type pitchers and have them each pitch one inning of the game? Seems like it would make for a dominant pitching performance while keeping everyone's arms and shoulders rested.
Teams have a hard enough time finding one good closer and a couple of set-up men; getting nine on the same team would be prohibitively expensive.
#39
Old 05-06-2015, 12:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
Teams have a hard enough time finding one good closer and a couple of set-up men; getting nine on the same team would be prohibitively expensive.
And even closers can't pitch every night, even if it's just one inning. Even if you somehow managed to accumulate that many pitchers who were good, you'd need other pitchers to eat up innings on the days your starting 9 couldn't go.
#40
Old 05-06-2015, 09:13 AM
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If you wanted every inning pitched by a different pitcher, you'd have no room left on your roster for anyone to play any of the other positions. You'd need 20-25 pitchers, since you'd need at least two sets of nine pitchers, plus fill ins for when someone had a bad day or was hurt.
#41
Old 05-06-2015, 10:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jas09 View Post
Then why is there no evidence that bullpens are actually more successful now than they used to be? I think I saw a stat that 9th inning leads are preserved 95% of the time, pretty much regardless of era.

Ah yes, here's a discussion: http://joeposnanski.com/the-closer-you-get/

Seems to me that having a specialized closer didn't really change how often teams close out leads at all.
I think that article actually hits on the key point in the very beginning. The role of the closer hasn't changed the outcome of baseball games, it's just changed the structure of baseball teams. I blame it all on the save stat. Saves and save percentage give relief pitchers a nice, shiny thing to put on their résumé come contract time. Teams pay a guy a lot of money to close out games and rack up those save stats, so they want him to close out as many games as possible. That means fewer innings per outing. The dirty secret is that it's not actually that special. If you're winning a game in the 9th, especially by more than 1 run, something disastrous has to happen for you to lose. Thus, the blown save is the ultimate blemish.
#42
Old 05-06-2015, 01:09 PM
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While I agree that closing is overrated, I think some people don't take into account that the 9th inning is different. Not that it being "the 9th Inning" in some mystical way makes its more challenging, but more that a manager will pull out any remaining stops to try and win a close game - using his best pinch hitters, trying for better matchups, etc. In theory that should make the 9th tougher.
#43
Old 05-06-2015, 03:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Barkis is Willin' View Post
Teams pay a guy a lot of money to close out games and rack up those save stats, so they want him to close out as many games as possible. That means fewer innings per outing.
I don't see how that can be blamed on the save stat, because it's increasingly rare for any relief pitcher to pitch more than one inning--not just the closer. Once a team goes to the bullpen, it's almost a given that they'll be trotting out a new reliever every inning.

The only exception is when a starter gets injured or shelled and has to come out early. Then, you might see a long reliever go two or even (gasp) three innings. And of course, that pitcher will be unavailable the next night.

Last edited by Freddy the Pig; 05-06-2015 at 03:05 PM.
#44
Old 05-06-2015, 04:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freddy the Pig View Post
I don't see how that can be blamed on the save stat, because it's increasingly rare for any relief pitcher to pitch more than one inning--not just the closer. Once a team goes to the bullpen, it's almost a given that they'll be trotting out a new reliever every inning.
Or even more often than that. Witness the rise of the LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY), a left-handed relief pitcher who is often brought in specifically to face a left-handed batter who struggles against lefties (but whom the other team is unlikely to pull for a pinch-hitter), and very likely then pulled for another pitcher after facing that one batter.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 05-06-2015 at 04:26 PM.
#45
Old 05-07-2015, 08:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freddy the Pig View Post
I don't see how that can be blamed on the save stat, because it's increasingly rare for any relief pitcher to pitch more than one inning--not just the closer. Once a team goes to the bullpen, it's almost a given that they'll be trotting out a new reliever every inning.

The only exception is when a starter gets injured or shelled and has to come out early. Then, you might see a long reliever go two or even (gasp) three innings. And of course, that pitcher will be unavailable the next night.
It can be blamed on the save stat because the closer is usually the best relief pitcher the team has, and orthodox strategy these days requires that he only be used during save situations. Probably 90% of the time, this means pitching the ninth with a 1-3 run lead. There are those who would argue that this is because the ninth inning provides a unique set of challenges unlike those of any other inning, and they may be right (although every single study looking into this has found no effect whatsoever).

But even if they are, I think it's hard to argue that pitching the ninth with a three-run lead is more critical to a win than (to go to the most extreme hypothetical) getting three outs with the bases loaded in the 7th inning, when you're clinging to a 1-run lead. The latter is a FAR higher-leverage situation. And yet, because it's not a "save situation," managers routinely leave their best reliever languishing in the pen and bring in their second-best (or even third-best, for the managers who really adhere to the "7th inning guy/ 8th inning guy" role playing stuff). Which makes zero sense strategically, and pretty much only happens because saves = money for closers, and thus closers get pissed when they're pitching innings other than the ninth.

In other words, the save statistic not only makes no sense from a bookkeeping standpoint, it actively sabotages intelligent strategy in the game by creating a perverse incentive for managers to use inferior pitchers in higher-leverage situations.

Last edited by Tanbarkie; 05-07-2015 at 08:25 AM.
#46
Old 05-07-2015, 09:15 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barkis is Willin' View Post
If you're winning a game in the 9th, especially by more than 1 run, something disastrous has to happen for you to lose. Thus, the blown save is the ultimate blemish.
As a Cub fan, I take exception at you unfairly singling the northern Chicago team as an example.

#47
Old 05-07-2015, 11:01 AM
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Relief pitching has evolved and changed a lot just in my lifetime. Believe it or not, many teams DID put their best relievers in the game a lot earlier back in the Seventies.

Things weren't always as they are now, and they don't have to STAY the way they are now. But the conventional wisdom has solidified now, and it would take a VERY gutsy manager to try a different approach with his relief aces.

A lot of interesting thinkers have suggested different ways to use a Mariano Rivera (why not use him to quell a Red Sox rally in the 6th, rather than waiting until the 9th)... but doing things differently from the herd is often a good way to get fired.
#48
Old 05-07-2015, 02:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Tanbarkie View Post
Which makes zero sense strategically, and pretty much only happens because saves = money for closers, and thus closers get pissed when they're pitching innings other than the ninth.
I disagree that this is why managers do this. I really don't think managers mind pissing off their players; after all, pitchers are promoted/demoted to and from the closer role all the time.

Rather, I think there's two things in play here:

1. I think managers believe, and to some degree correctly, that players thrive better if they know what, specifically, their role is and when they will be asked to do it. I acknowledge that it's the case the closer role shows little evidence it helps win ballgames, but I think it is generally true in baseball - and probably in ALL sports - that athletes perform better with routine and predictability. That general impression will lend itself towards set bullpen roles.

2. Managers, for the most part, do not make decisions to win games. They make decisions to keep their jobs and avoid criticism. Most of what helps them keep their jobs is winning games, but not all of it, and this is one example. Managers who stay to conventional wisdom will be criticized less. If the manager uses Clive Closer in the ninth and Clive blows it big time, the blame largely falls on Clive. The manager was simply doing his job by sending in the closer. If, however, the manager tries something unorthodox, and it fails, the manager will be blamed more than the player. The manager is risk averse, and he avoids risk by sticking to conventional wisdom.

My perception that most strategic innovations have been largely pioneered by managers who either had the political capital to do whatever the hell they wanted - what beat writer is going to challenge Tony La Russa? - or who were left with nothing to lose.
#49
Old 05-07-2015, 02:52 PM
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The closer doesn't have to be better than anyone else at closing a game, he serves a purpose by saving the arms of the other pitchers. Your middle relievers may have a limited number of pitches and you don't want them going deep into the ninth. You don't want to pull guys out of rotation just to take care of the ninth. A good closer just has to be as good as the other guys would in the ninth inning, but maybe more often, and sometimes that one good inning is all they have anyway so it's best to get some use out of them.

Also, the Save stat is really useless. The Blown Save stat is what you have to pay attention to.
#50
Old 05-07-2015, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by RickJay View Post
I disagree that this is why managers do this. I really don't think managers mind pissing off their players; after all, pitchers are promoted/demoted to and from the closer role all the time.
Well, sure, they don't mind pissing off players who aren't performing, which is the biggest reason anyone would be demoted from the closer role.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay View Post
1. I think managers believe, and to some degree correctly, that players thrive better if they know what, specifically, their role is and when they will be asked to do it. I acknowledge that it's the case the closer role shows little evidence it helps win ballgames, but I think it is generally true in baseball - and probably in ALL sports - that athletes perform better with routine and predictability. That general impression will lend itself towards set bullpen roles.
I agree that defined roles can help a pitcher's mentality. However, it doesn't really explain how we got to this structure in the first place. If save percentages were the same before anyone cared about save stats, and pitchers were used differently back then, why change? Unless pitchers and managers cared about racking up saves, why change a system that was already successful?

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay View Post
2. Managers, for the most part, do not make decisions to win games. They make decisions to keep their jobs and avoid criticism. Most of what helps them keep their jobs is winning games, but not all of it, and this is one example. Managers who stay to conventional wisdom will be criticized less. If the manager uses Clive Closer in the ninth and Clive blows it big time, the blame largely falls on Clive. The manager was simply doing his job by sending in the closer. If, however, the manager tries something unorthodox, and it fails, the manager will be blamed more than the player. The manager is risk averse, and he avoids risk by sticking to conventional wisdom.

My perception that most strategic innovations have been largely pioneered by managers who either had the political capital to do whatever the hell they wanted - what beat writer is going to challenge Tony La Russa? - or who were left with nothing to lose.
Agree completely, which is why every team is entrenched in what is now a standard bullpen structure that highlights 1 inning guys.

Last edited by Barkis is Willin'; 05-07-2015 at 03:43 PM.
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