In the past few days, we’ve seen Matt Capps add a little more excitement to some Twins games than what we would want out of our team’s closer. He blew the save and lost the game on Saturday against the Brewers, and then nearly blew two more saves if it wasn’t for him being bailed out by Glen Perkins on Sunday and Tuesday.
Despite his struggles, Ron Gardenhire has made it publicly known that he will stick with Capps as the closer, even through these struggles. However, I think it’s safe to say that Perkins could become the team’s third closer this season if Capps continues to have shaky outings in save situations.
Back when he was first acquired, Capps was lauded as being a “proven closer” by general manager Bill Smith. Basically, he had success in the past as a closer, and could be trusted with the job. The Twins felt that Capps was a safer bet than sticking with Jon Rauch – a guy who had been given the closing role in the first place because he himself had experience in the past as a closer – or going with a surging Jesse Crain – who was touted as a future closer when he was young.
In a way, it’s like the old “veteran vs. rookie” argument. You can either stick with the veteran who has the experience and you (most of the time) know what you’re going to get out of him. Or, you can go with the rookie, who carries a little more risk but also could put up better numbers than the veteran. Likewise, teams have to choose between buying a closer with experience (the Mets with Francisco Rodriguez) or just creating a closer (the Athletics with Andrew Bailey).
I find the proven closer argument a little humorous, as all closers had to have been created at some point in their careers. No one enters the major leagues with the “proven” label already attached. Even the guys that closed in the minor leagues face a whole new beast upon coming to The Show. Arguing that the minor league closers are already “proven” is like arguing that any other rookie with success in the minor leagues is a proven big league regular.
What I’m interested in looking at is every single closer that has been used this season, how they have performed in their careers, and if their current team turned them into a closer or if they were acquired after closing for a previous team. To account for injured closers, I will include their respective replacements.
Not all pitchers that have earned a save this season are included, but rather those that have either earned at least 2 saves this season, or were officially named the closer, even if they did not earn a save (Aaron Crow). Also, my definition of the “proven closer” label is not based on if anyone associated with the respective team used that phrase when describing their closer. Instead, I’m operating under the assumption that a pitcher was given the role based on having past experience as a closer with a different team (Jose Valverde).
Note: The following is very long, and I don’t blame you if you’re not interested in reading everything. If you don’t want to look at nearly 50 players’ profiles, I recommend scrolling down to Washington, which is where the more interesting stuff continues shortly thereafter.
J.J. Putz (Proven closer)
431 games, 127 saves, 441 IP, 3.18 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 9.27 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9, 1.16 WHIP
Putz is a little trickier to classify as he was a closer with the Mariners, became a setup man while trying to come back from injury, and then was turned into a closer again by the Diamondbacks. However, his previous experience makes me feel that he belongs in the “proven” category.
Craig Kimbrel (Made into closer)
66 games, 27 saves, 64.2 IP, 1.81 ERA, 1.44 FIP, 15.17 K/9, 4.73 BB/9, 0.14 HR/9, 1.13 WHIP
Kimbrel is insanely good, though should he ever get hurt, his replacement wouldn’t be too shabby either.
Kevin Gregg (Proven closer)
439 games, 137 saves, 567.2 IP, 3.98 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 8.26 K/9, 3.85 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 1.33 WHIP
Gregg is the kind of pitcher that I feel has taken full advantage of the “proven” label in his career. He is by no means a dominant closer (look at the career ERA and 82% save conversion rate), but has had enough success to be given multiple chances. I do find it rather telling that he’s been closing for four different teams (Marlins, Cubs, Blue Jays, Orioles) in the past four years, however.
Jonathan Papelbon (Made into closer)
367 games, 206 saves, 398.2 IP, 2.37 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 10.54 K/9, 2.53 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9, 1.05 WHIP
He’s been struggling in terms of ERA over the past year and a half, but his FIP has been much better.
Matt Thornton (Made into closer)
443 games, 20 saves, 431.2 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 9.72 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9, 1.30 WHIP
Chris Sale (Made into closer)
53 games, 6 saves, 58.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 10.49 K/9, 4.01 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9, 1.29 WHIP
Sergio Santos (Made into closer)
91 games, 19 saves, 92.2 IP, 3.01 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 10.68 K/9, 4.47 BB/9, 0.49 HR/9, 1.34 WHIP
Thornton has been a very dominant reliever over the past few years, but will be the poster child for why it’s better to go with a proven closer as he’s been 3 for 7 in save opportunities thus far this season (a counterexample will come up later). He combined with Sale to go 5 for 10 in save chances before Santos finally stepped in and took control of 9th inning duties.
Carlos Marmol (Made into closer)
354 games, 78 saves, 425 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 11.69 K/9, 5.76 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, 1.26 WHIP
He strikes out a ton of hitters. He walks a ton of hitters. Oh, and he gives up a hit to no one.
Francisco Cordero (Proven closer)
720 games, 307 saves, 752 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 8.96 K/9, 4.14 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, 1.34 WHIP
The man they call CoCo earned a 4-year, $46 million contract with the Reds prior to the 2008 season, and for the most part has done exactly what the Reds wanted out of him.* However, one has to think that they could have gotten the same production out of a cheaper option.
* No joke, while typing this up, Cordero blew his save opportunity Wednesday night live on MLB Network by giving up a game-tying home run to Jon Jay of the Cardinals.
Chris Perez (Made into closer)
199 games, 52 saves, 193 IP, 2.94 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 8.91 K/9, 4.29 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9, 1.19 WHIP
To be honest, I could be talked into going either way with Chris Perez. He had 8 saves with the Cardinals before being traded to Cleveland and turned into the full-time closer, but Ryan Franklin was the #1 closer in St. Louis. Something to keep an eye on is that Perez’s strikeout rate has plummeted to 5.74 this season, compared to his career 8.91 rate.
Huston Street (Proven closer)
396 games, 173 saves, 417 IP, 3.04 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 9.09 K/9, 2.33 BB/9, 0.80 HR/9, 1.05 WHIP
Like current A’s closer Andrew Bailey, Street became a closer with Oakland in his first major league season. He was originally acquired in a trade, and then was given a contract extension starting in 2010.
Jose Valverde (Proven closer)
477 games, 213 saves, 485 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 10.54 K/9, 3.84 BB/9, 0.96 HR/9, 1.18 WHIP
The Dancing Dominican (not an official nickname) and subject of the only Off The Mark contest to date seems to be a shaky closer due to his sometimes shaky command, but his numbers also seem like he’s no worse than some of the guys already mentioned.
Leo Nunez (Made into closer)
289 games, 79 saves, 331 IP, 4.32 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 7.37 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 1.33 WHIP
Talk about a smart trade by the Marlins. They dumped (then) power hitting first baseman Mike Jacobs and received Nunez in return from the Royals. Nunez’s career numbers don’t look spectacular, but they’re skewed a bit by his time in Kansas City. Since arriving in Florida, he’s had a more acceptable 3.77 ERA.
Brandon Lyon (Proven closer)
468 games, 78 saves, 586 IP, 4.22 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 5.82 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 1.38 WHIP
Mark Melancon (Made into closer)
75 games, 6 saves, 76.2 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 7.63 K/9, 3.99 BB/9, 0.59 HR/9, 1.37 WHIP
Lyon signed a 3-year, $15 million contract prior to the 2010 season which may have been a precursor to similar contracts given to Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and Joaquin Benoit. Surgery to repair a torn labrum and detached biceps tendon has opened the door for Melancon, who was acquired in the Lance Berkman trade last season.
Joakim Soria (Made into closer)
273 games, 146 saves, 291 IP, 2.29 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 9.65 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 1.03 WHIP
Aaron Crow (Made into closer)
34 games, 0 saves, 41.1 IP, 1.96 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 8.93 K/9, 4.14 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 1.16 WHIP
The Mexicutioner struggled a bit for the first time in his career, giving Crow the opportunity to close for a bit. However, Crow did not notch a single save during the lone week (or so it felt) he was the Royals closer, and Soria has shown enough to reclaim the role.
Los Angeles (AL)
Fernando Rodney (Proven closer)
406 games, 87 saves, 420 IP, 4.26 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 8.25 K/9, 4.71 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9, 1.44 WHIP
Jordan Walden (Made into closer)
53 games, 20 saves, 52 IP, 2.77 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 10.73 K/9, 4.15 BB/9, 0.35 HR/9, 1.25 WHIP
Rodney was signed to a 2-year, $11 million contract, and it seemed like the Angels focused more on how he converted 37 of 38 saves in 2009 with the Tigers rather than his 3rd consecutive year with a 4+ ERA. However, they wised up and made Walden their closer less than one week into this season.
Los Angeles (NL)
Jonathan Broxton (Made into closer)
386 games, 84 saves, 392 IP, 3.19 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 11.55 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 0.57 HR/9, 1.23 WHIP
Vicente Padilla (Made into closer)
330 games, 5 saves, 1521.1 IP, 4.31 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 6.33 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 1.03 HR/9, 1.37 WHIP
Javy Guerra (Made into closer)
16 games, 2 saves, 16.1 IP, 2.20 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 5.51 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 1.35 WHIP
One of the few things that have been as messy as the Dodgers legal fiasco has been their closing situation. Two things that show how ugly the 9th inning duties have been: Vicente Padilla has been used as a closer after spending the majority of his career as a starter (last time he was used extensively as a reliever was in 2001), and seven Dodgers relievers have notched at least one save this season. Not listed here are Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Scott Elbert, and Mike MacDougal (all with 1).
John Axford (Made into closer)
96 games, 46 saves, 104 IP, 2.68 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 11.68 K/9, 4.24 BB/9, 0.17 HR/9, 1.27 WHIP
Axford’s problem coming up through the minor leagues was keeping his walks in check. Now that he’s solved his command problems, he’s become a solid closing option. You certainly have to be doing something right if you take over for career saves leader Trevor Hoffman.
Joe Nathan (Made into closer)
555 games, 250 saves, 705.1 IP, 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 9.42 K/9, 3.46 BB/9, 0.85 HR/9, 1.11 WHIP
Matt Capps (Proven closer)
379 games, 122 saves, 380.1 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 6.82 K/9, 1.70 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, 1.19 WHIP
Glen Perkins (Made into closer)
112 games, 2 saves, 333.2 IP, 4.53 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 5.15 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 1.16 HR/9, 1.42 WHIP
One of the things that bugs me about the Capps acquisition was that he was touted as being a proven closer, despite the fact that the Twins had turned Nathan into a closer way back in ’04. Now, it looks like Perkins may become the latest “created” closer… or maybe just the first <1 inning closer.
New York (AL)
Mariano Rivera (Made into closer)
1013 games, 580 saves, 1183 IP, 2.22 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 8.21 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9, 1.00 WHIP
Arguably the best closer of all time, and he mans one of the few roster spots the New York Yankees have not filled in the past decade from outside the organization. It’s going to be interesting to see how long he can remain dominant with his cutter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply chooses to retire on his own terms rather than being forced out by a lack of success.
New York (NL)
Francisco Rodriguez (Proven closer)
571 games, 289 saves, 617.2 IP, 2.55 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 11.23 K/9, 3.98 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 1.16 WHIP
Contrast Mo with K-Rod, who was brought in from the Angels one year after setting the MLB single-season saves record. His velocity has been decreasing over the years, but he’s countered that by relying more on a change-up and less on his electric curve.
Andrew Bailey (Made into closer)
128 games, 58 saves, 145.2 IP, 1.67 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 9.02 K/9, 2.47 BB/9, 0.49 HR/9, 0.89 WHIP
Brian Fuentes (Proven closer)
590 games, 199 saves, 561 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 9.63 K/9, 3.83 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, 1.25 WHIP
Grant Balfour (Made into closer)
294 games, 10 saves, 306.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 10.17 K/9, 4.32 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, 1.28 WHIP
Looking at Bailey’s stats, it may not be crazy to believe that he’ll become one of the game’s premier closers as Mariano Rivera’s career comes to an end. Like most players, the only thing that may stand in his way are injuries, and he’s already missed some of this season with a strained forearm. That made room for Fuentes, and despite being 12 for 15 in save opportunities, he’s currently sporting a 1-8 record. Balfour had 8 career saves before this season, but I gave him the “created” tag to remain consistent with my designation for Chris Perez earlier.
Brad Lidge (Proven closer)
567 games, 222 saves, 574.2 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 12.00 K/9, 4.12 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, 1.27 WHIP
Jose Contreras (Made into closer)
275 games, 9 saves, 1154.1 IP, 4.54 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.78 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, 1.36 WHIP
Ryan Madson (Made into closer)
460 games, 35 saves, 600.1 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 7.78 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 1.30 WHIP
Antonio Bastardo (Made into closer)
65 games, 5 saves, 73.1 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 9.82 K/9, 3.93 BB/9, 0.86 HR/9, 1.20 WHIP
The Phillies closing situation has been just as messy as the Dodgers’. Lidge started the season on the disabled list, so the Phillies turned to Contreras, who has been pitching at his best since being converted into a reliever. However, he also got hurt, which paved the way for Madson, who can be the counterargument to Matt Thornton when it comes to creating a closer. But when Madson himself got hurt, then Bastardo was given a shot and he’s been doing well also.
Joel Hanrahan (Proven closer)
259 games, 45 saves, 308.1 IP, 4.06 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 9.95 K/9, 4.32 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9, 1.43 WHIP
Hanrahan briefly closed for the Nationals (14 saves) before being traded to the Pirates, and he didn’t become their closer until late in 2010 after Octavio Dotel was traded to the Dodgers.
Heath Bell (Made into closer)
408 games, 117 saves, 456.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 9.27 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.51 HR/9, 1.20 WHIP
Bell once was with the Mets, and wasn’t a very good pitcher. Yet since joining the Padres, he’s turned into a very good closer. Some of that may have to do with playing in Petco Park, but that’s not going to stop teams from inquiring on him this summer, which could eventually turn his label from “created” to “proven.”
Brian Wilson (Made into closer)
296 games, 158 saves, 303.2 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 9.60 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, 0.47 HR/9, 1.31 WHIP
I still remember Wilson’s first season as a closer with the Giants, and it was interesting. It felt like every time he was shown on SportsCenter, the tying run was on base and he was trying to pitch himself out of the jam. He had a 4.62 ERA that year, but has evolved into a good closer. Now if only he could evolve back into a normal human being.
David Aardsma (Made into closer)
254 games, 69 saves, 265.2 IP, 4.20 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 9.08 K/9, 5.05 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 1.43 WHIP
Brandon League (Made into closer)
277 games, 31 saves, 318 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 6.65 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, 0.85 HR/9, 1.27 WHIP
League took over this season as closer when Aardsma started the season on the disabled list, and is one of the few closers listed here that does not have an excellent strikeout rate. He makes up for that with a mid-90s sinker, though.
Ryan Franklin (Made into closer)
532 games, 84 saves, 1201 IP, 4.14 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 5.01 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, 1.30 HR/9, 1.32 WHIP
Mitchell Boggs (Made into closer)
113 games, 3 saves, 192.2 IP, 4.30 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 6.73 K/9, 4.30 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9, 1.52 WHIP
Eduardo Sanchez (Made into closer)
25 games, 5 saves, 28.2 IP, 1.88 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 10.36 K/9, 5.02 BB/9, 0.31 HR/9, 1.05 WHIP
Franklin had been a decent closer over the past 3 years for the Cards, but lost his job this season after converting only 1 save in 5 opportunities. He was released in late June. Boggs took over for a little bit, but then was demoted to Triple-A to become a starting pitcher. Sanchez is yet another hard thrower handed a chance to close by an MLB team, and he’s had the most success out of this trio (and others) this season.
Kyle Farnsworth (Proven closer)
751 games, 44 saves, 871.2 IP, 4.30 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 8.92 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, 1.25 HR/9, 1.37 WHIP
I think Farnsworth’s label could be debatable here. He did get 16 saves between the Tigers and Braves in 2005, but his ’06-’09 seasons appeared to solidify his future as a run-of-the-mill middle reliever. The Rays seemed to take a gamble on him after a good 2010 season, and he has rewarded them well.
Neftali Feliz (Made into closer)
122 games, 59 saves, 132.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 8.98 K/9, 2.92 BB/9, 0.75 HR/9, 0.93 WHIP
Darren Oliver (Made into closer)
628 games, 5 saves, 1790.1 IP, 4.63 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 5.78 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, 1.46 WHIP
Feliz will probably end up as a starter in the future, but he will likely remain the Rangers’ best option at closer in the present. When he went on the disabled list in late April/early May, Texas turned to a closer-by-committee between Oliver and Arthur Rhodes, with Oliver getting 2 saves and Rhodes 1.
Frank Francisco (Proven closer)
305 games, 42 saves, 307.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 10.06 K/9, 4.10 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 1.32 WHIP
Jon Rauch (Proven closer)
451 games, 54 saves, 504 IP, 3.73 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 7.23 K/9, 2.80 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9, 1.24 WHIP
Although Rauch started the season as the Blue Jays closer, it was always Francisco’s job when he was acquired from the Texas Rangers for Mike Napoli. Like several guys mentioned above, Francisco started the season on the disabled list, and was handed 9th inning duties upon his return.
Drew Storen (Made into closer)
97 games, 27 saves, 100.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 7.60 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9, 1.13 WHIP
Storen was the unofficial closer last year once the Nationals traded Matt Capps to the Twins, and was given the full-time role this season. He has teamed up with Tyler Clippard to form a solid 1-2 punch in the back end of the Nats’ bullpen.
Well, here we are after taking a look at just about every pitcher that has been given an opportunity to close this season, or would have had the opportunity if he was healthy (such as Brad Lidge and David Aardsma). We have 15 “proven” closers, and 34 “created” closers. To be honest, the size of these groups is not surprising, as it’s more expensive to have a “proven” closer as they were acquired through free agency or in a trade. Also, when a current closer becomes hurt, the team will just plug in their next-best reliever, even if he’s lacking experience as a closer.
If we look at the average contract for all of these players, we have:
Proven: 2.07 years, $15,536,667
Created: 1.56 years, $6,639,696
At first glance, it appears as though the “created” closers sign for a shorter length of time, but we need to look past the numbers. In the “proven” group, only 3 of 15 closers are in their pre-arbitration or arbitration years. Meanwhile, the “created” group has 20 of 34 closers in their pre-arb or arb years. Because I designated the pre-arb/arb players as having a contract length of 1 year (since they can be non-tendered any year), and because of the large number of pre-arb/arb players in the “created” group, we see that the contract length appears to only be 1 1/2 years. In actuality, the average contract length for the “created” group is probably at 2 1/2 years or higher, since most players that reach their arbitration years are not non-tendered.
Since there are so many pre-arb/arb players in the “created” group and so few in the “proven” group, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the “created” group have a collective younger age, and that is correct (each player’s age was at Opening Day 2011).
Proven: 31.8 years old
Created: 28.6 years old
We probably could have hypothesized that the “created” group would be younger, cheaper, and under team control for much longer at the beginning of this post. But are they just as effective?
Proven: 3.60 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 9.07 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 1.28 WHIP
Created: 3.66 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 7.78 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, 0.86 HR/9, 1.28 WHIP
How about that? Despite a sizable difference in average salary, our two groups are not much different when it comes to getting results.
What I feel that we can conclude from this study is not that any reliever can be thrown into the closer’s role and be expected to succeed. Instead, we see that a collective group of new closers can be expected to pitch just as well as the veterans. This is interesting to note because as I already mentioned above, the “created” group is both younger, cheaper, and under control for a longer period than the “proven” group.
Relating this back to the Twins, it could be argued that acquiring Matt Capps was not really necessary. It seemed like the team overreacted to a rough stretch of games by then-closer Jon Rauch, and they didn’t want to have him switch roles with Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain.
Now, the stats I have above reflect the pitchers’ career stats, and not their stats when in the closer’s role. Perhaps it is possible that the “proven” group is indeed better than the “created” group. However, I think this does show that if a team needs a new closer, it doesn’t necessarily take a special breed of pitcher to save a game.
Since the Twins will likely be needing a new closer in 2012, I feel that this shows that they should focus more on a solid pitcher that can come cheaply, instead of overpaying for a reliever that might not be any better. They will have some money to spend this offseason, but if they can fill a sometimes expensive hole inexpensively, that will allow them to spend their money on other holes on the roster.