When it comes to baseball, I have a few pet peeves. Ron Gardenhire always batting a middle infielder second in the order is one of them. Calling a mediocre pitcher an “innings eater” as an excuse to keep his low 5.00 ERA in the rotation is another. Today, I’m focusing on the “proven closer.”
New general manager Terry Ryan made it clear recently that the Twins will not have Glen Perkins as their closer in 2012. In my opinion, I’m okay with this decision. Manager Ron Gardenhire is typically strict with his usage of his closer. If it’s not a save situation, the closer is not coming into the game, unless he hasn’t pitched in about four days. With how dominant Perkins was last season, being locked into the closer role might actually hurt the Twins more than it would help. Being a set-up reliever allowed Gardy to use Perkins in virtually any situation, including as an occasional closer when Matt Capps started faltering. Yet if he was a closer, Perkins would only pitch in save situations. I’d much rather have the best pitcher in the bullpen come in an 8th inning jam in a tie game than in the 9th inning with nobody on base.
If Ryan had just said that Perkins wasn’t going to be the closer, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. However, he added in a little tidbit. From Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN:
“I think it’s a little bit early,” Ryan said, referring to Perkins’ experience level.
“History says you might want to have somebody with experience… Usually people pitch themselves into that position.”
You have got to be kidding me. Once again, the Twins are looking at someone with closing experience for the closer’s role. They did this prior to the 2010 season when Joe Nathan first had Tommy John surgery, and Jon Rauch’s 26 career saves was enough experience to make him the new closer. They did this in the middle of the 2010 season when Rauch briefly faltered as a closer, and they traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps, a closer that had tallied 93 saves in his career up to joining the Twins. They also tried doing the same thing in the 2011 season, when they were reportedly offering Denard Span for Drew Storen, a second year pitcher that had only 5 saves the previous season.
Simply put, the Twins have a recent history of desiring pitchers with closing experience for the closer’s role. But what if we look back even further? In 2003, the Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski for pitchers Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser. Nathan had accumulated a single save in his career with the San Francisco Giants, yet was named the closer for the 2004 team. Nathan went on to become perhaps the best closer in the past decade not named Mariano Rivera, and he eventually took over as the Twins franchise leader in saves this past season with 260.
Two years prior, the Twins were trying to find a new closer. Longtime Twin Eddie Guardado was thrown into the fire, and he had a 2.91 ERA over his two seasons as the full-time closer. That first season of his as closer in 2002, he was 32 years old.
In 1989, the Twins traded their ace starting pitcher Frank Viola to the New York Mets for a package of five players. One of those players was Rick Aguilera. The Twins allowed Aguilera to remain a starting pitcher for the rest of the 1989 season, but then turned him into a closer for the 1990 season. Aguilera went on to become the Twins career leader in saves with 254, a record that stood until this past season.
There is this myth that exists that pitchers need to have experience or a certain mentality in order to succeed in the 9th inning. LaTroy Hawkins was an example of a pitcher that the Twins tried to turn into a closer but failed, as he sputtered to a 5.96 ERA in 2001, the year he was handed the closer’s role at the beginning of the season. This didn’t deter the Chicago Cubs from making him into a closer in 2004, though, as Hawk had a 2.63 ERA with 25 saves.
What bothers me about this “closing experience” myth is that all closers had to start somewhere. Terry Ryan did seem to acknowledge this a little bit in his quote above when he said, “Usually people pitch themselves into that position.” Well, what more did Perkins have to do last year to pitch himself into the conversation as a future closer? You don’t gain closer experience unless someone gives you that experience!
I want to reiterate that I’m not arguing that Perkins should be the Twins’ closer in 2012. What I’m trying to get at is that I’m worried the Twins will go down the Ramos – Capps path again and overpay for a reliever just because he has closing experience, when they could save a few million dollars and find a career set-up reliever and turn him into a closer. While Terry Ryan might argue that the team needs someone with experience, I feel that they just need a pitcher that can get hitters out. If a Kevin Gregg or Matt Capps has more value in your eyes as a closer than a Glen Perkins or Sean Marshall, then I feel that you’re not properly understanding what a closer should be.
Of course, I guess there’s a reason why Terry Ryan is general manager and I’m just a fan. Right?