The Jays Do Not Need a Closer


If I see one more rumor about the Jays' need for a closer, I will go...never mind, I'm already crazy. But seriously, the Jays do not have a strong need for a closer. Is Alex Anthopoulos likely trying to upgrade the bullpen? Yes, I'd say he is. But that's because he's always trying to upgrade every single part of the team. Okay, he's not likely actively searching for a right fielder, third baseman, shortstop or catcher, but he is always trying to find valuable players who he can get for less than what he perceives those players are worth. I very much doubt he's looking for a closer, or even worse, a "proven" closer. Yes, he traded for Frank Francisco and signed Jon Rauch, but that was all about acquiring draft picks. Without those draft picks (and the Elias System which valued Saves), AA is likely to place less value on relievers.

'Proven' closers are rare

Actually, there's just one in baseball at the moment that I can think of. Yes, Mariano Rivera. Are the Jays going to acquire him? Nope. What about Francisco Rodriguez? Off the field problems, and besides, he had a negative WPA as recently as 2009. Jonathan Papelbon has already been signed, and his performances have fluctuated enough that I would hesitate to call him 'proven'. Francisco Cordero is available, but his 2010 was even more unworthy of a closer than K-Rod's 2009. Is Andrew Bailey 'proven' after just three seasons in the role, two of which were significantly shortened by injury? Come now, calling Bailey 'proven' is simply admitting that the grass is always greener on the other side. Billy Wagner has retired. Joe Nathan has been injured (and already signed). Joakim Soria is coming off a down year, whereas 'down year' would be an understatement to describe Rafael Soriano's season. Heath Bell's strikeout rated dropped off a cliff, he's old, and he's pitching in spacious PETCO Park in the weak NL West. In short, the margin of reliability (which is what I assume people mean with 'proven') between the possible closers out there and, say, Casey Janssen is slim. And Casey Janssen is already with the club. If AA can bring in Andrew Bailey for spare parts, sure, but is Billy Beane a stupid man? I think not.

Assigning a closer is wasteful

Why would you limit one pitcher, your best even, to appearing in a specified inning? The game of baseball is played over 9 innings. Runs can be scored in all of those innings. Runs will count the same, regardless of which inning the run was scored in. Hence, there is no reason to hold back on an opportunity to throw your best reliever into a tight situation in the 6th, 7th or 8th inning. Let him face the opponent's best hitters. With runners on base. In tight games. A 6-3 lead in the 9th inning against the Orioles counts as a "save situation", but statistically, you're better off saving your best reliever to pitch against a good team when you're up by just one run, even if it's not the 9th inning. Or with the scores tied in the 10th. Also, assigning a closer means you can't play matchups. And I don't mean Farrell's small sample pitcher vs. batter matchups. I mean using a slider specialist (Litsch or Carreno for example) against guys who can't hit sliders. A changeup specialist (Villanueva perhaps) against a guy who can only hit fastballs. And, of course, exploiting weaknesses in lefty/righty splits. Don't throw your closer in there against three opposite-handed batters if you can let a specialist do that job with the same efficiency.

Closers are often 'created' from 'scraps'

Until his 28th, Joe Nathan was a failed starter for the Giants. Then, they made him a reliever and after one good season (2.96 ERA) traded him to the Twins. Where he would proceed to become a spectacularly good closer. Joakim Soria wasn't a "failed" starter, but he was a Rule 5 draft selection after two clubs had given up on him. Andrew Bailey was a starter in the minors, and so was Jonathan Papelbon. Billy Wagner, you guessed it, was a starter too, same story K-Rod. Heath Bell only became good in his age 29 season after having been traded to the Padres. So even if Farrell insists on having one man pigeon-holed into a closer role, it makes no sense to go out there and get a guy who is already known as a closer, if you can just put any failed starter who does well in relief in that spot. I don't have to remind you that Casey Janssen is a 'failed' starter, right? And that Scott Downs was one, as well? Joel Carreno, well...

In my next article I'll look at which minor league pitchers could potentially turn into 'closers' in the future.

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