The importance of a Major League Baseball closer is right up there with franchise quarterback and shutdown goaltender. If you don’t have a good one, chances are your team will struggle to win games.
A massive change of closers has occurred throughout the Majors this year, as much as any season in recent memory. Whether through injury or ineffectiveness, closers have been replaced on exactly one third of the teams (10 of 30) since the start of the season. Some teams are still searching for permanent closers, while other teams are using bullpens-by-committee.
Those teams are Boston, New York Yankees, Toronto, Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Miami, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco, Washington and, most recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Who knows how many teams were added to the list by the time you read this.
You’d think getting through one inning without allowing a run – or two or three – would be a snap for a big-league pitcher. Apparently not.
The 25th, 26th and 27th outs are always the most difficult to record in a close game. Hitters are more focused and pitchers are more pressured. It takes a special mental makeup for a pitcher to succeed as a closerand to handle the indignation of being the goat, something very few players possess.
Most of the current closers are new to the job, or have little experience as the ninth-inning guys. A few years ago, veterans Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Troy Percival, Todd Jones and Roberto Hernandez were closing out games by the handful, and spent most of their long careers as closers.
The only ones comparable to them today, are the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, who’s likely out for the rest of season following knee surgery, and Toronto’s Francisco Cordero. Los Angeles Angels’ Jason Isringhausen (300 career saves), Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez (292) and Washington’s Brad Lidge (225) are now setup men.
No-names Jeff Johnson (Baltimore) and Chris Perez (Cleveland), baby-facers Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta), Henry Rodriguez (Washington), Addison Reed (Chicago White Sox), Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Rafael Dolis (Chicago Cubs), former setup men David Robertson (Yankees), Grant Balfour (Oakland), Santiago Casillas (San Francisco), Edward Mujica (Miami), Sean Marshall (Cincinnati), Rafael Betancourt (Colorado), and ex-starter Brett Myers (Houston) are closers.
Sure things Cordero, Jose Valverde of Detroit and Heath Bell of Miami are not so reliable this year. Bell, a major offseason free-agent signing, has already lost his closer’s role, but may get it back soon.
However, this is good news for fans — unless your team’s shaky closer is on the mound – as there are a plethora of ninth-inning rallies this year. Proving that this year, no game is over until the final pitch.