Jul 5, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara (19) pitches during the ninth inning of the Boston Red Sox 5-4 win over the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
I’m not sure if such a thing is documented, however I feel confident in suggesting the bullpen is the primary cause of baseball-fuelled rage in homes across the nation. Outside of the umpiring of course. Some day when robot umpires have been rolled out and we’ve all finished laughing at the whole thing, maybe then we’ll understand for sure that all along it was relief pitching that caused us the most headaches. Indeed, I’m getting one just thinking of the converted dumpster fire that was used as a bullpen for the Boston Red Sox in 2015.
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Those last 2-3 innings are critical. Baseball is a game of streaks. One minute you’re hot, the next you’re Pablo Sandoval. It happens so seemingly at random that any change to the status quo or chance for momentum must be seized. It’s up to the bullpen to paper the cracks smoothly after a tiring and perhaps faltering starting pitcher starts to lose command, speed or both.
Behind them all stands the closer, a fancy title for the guy with the ubiquitous task of handling the last three outs from a close victory. Usually the position, in saving the best for last tradition, is the most capable of the bunch from the pen. More than that is required, however. Nerves of steel to handle the pressure and arms of thunder to handle the outs, the closer is the de facto ace of the bullpen, the final piece in the puzzle.
Of course because baseball loves seemingly pointless statistics and is wont to invent them for just about any old reason, we also have the save (SV) count for each pitcher. Every time a reliever closes a game with his team ahead by 3 runs or less, they pick up a Save. The statistic is fairly important in general, but not entirely relevant to our discussion.
I want to sit down with you and look at the top 5 closers in the AL this year, the who’s who of 9th inning specialists in the most lucrative league of the lot. Of course, I will give consideration to how many saves each closer has obtained, however, as the number of saves is somewhat dependent on how well the team has played (giving the pitcher the opportunity to get the save) it doesn’t tell the full story of each reliever’s ability. Call this the Red Sox clause, if you want.
Primarily, I would like to focus on advanced sabermetrics. Chief among these will be each pitcher’s ERA, FIP, WAR and K/9. Lesser importance will be afforded to, as mentioned above, SV (with save opportunities), IP, and opponent’s BA. Also, for fun, we’ll throw in that invisible “It Factor” which exams the unique swag-esque quality, essential for every would-be ace, that each closer brings to the party. Let’s begin.
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