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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Minor and Major Closers

A couple odds and ends today.

Not being a fantasy league player, this is the first year I've purchased Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I especially enjoyed his Toolbox which condenses many sabermetric ideas into a short space. Here was one that while I had heard before, I had never actually seen the numbers.

"Projecting Saves: Origin of Closers
...From 1990-2004, there were 280 twenty-save performances in Double-A and Triple-A, accomplished by 254 different pitchers.

Of those 254, only 46 ever made it to the majors.
Of those 46, only 13 ever posted a 20-save season.
Of those 13, only 5 ever posted more than one 20-save season: John Wettland, Mark Wohlers, Ricky Battalico, Braden Looper, and Francisco Cordero.

Five pitchers out of 254, a rate of barely 2%."

Intuitively, this is what you'd expect but not, I don't believe, for the reason Shandler notes. He says in this section that one of the reasons "that minor league closers rarely become major league closers is because, in general, they do not get enough innings in the minors to sufficiently develop their arms into big-league caliber."

While this may be a small contributing factor, my first thought is that generally young pitchers with the best stuff come through the system as starters. As a result pitchers who are relievers in the minors are generally less talented and therefore have a much smaller chance of making the big leagues. They also pitch fewer innings of course which is a result of their inferior talent, not a reason their arms don't develop. And of course the reason the most talented pitchers remain starters in the minor leagues is that teams want to see their prospects throw and because having a great closer in the minors is far less important than it is in the majors.

Also, just noticed today that version 5.3 of the Lahman database is now available for download. I couldn't live without it.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that former Cub Bruce Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame today by being named on 76.9% of the ballots. He'll go in with Tracy Ringolsby who received the Spink Award.

Sutter is the first "pure reliever" to be elected, meaning a pitcher who never started a game in his career. He finished 512 of the 661 games he pitched in racking up 300 saves exactly. It should be noted, however, that Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Rollie Fingers would not have been elected had they not been converted to relievers.

Former Cubs Rich Gossage, another started later converted to a reliever received 336 votes, good for 64.6%, Andre Dawson was at 317 and 61%, and Lee Smith came in with 234 and 45%.

It's interesting that Sutter was elected on the strength of just eight seasons (1976-1982,1984) out of the 12 seasons he played. His Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor ratings you can find on are mostly low with the exception of the HOF Monitor but of course being a pure reliever makes it difficult to use these tools.

With Sutter now in one can make an excellent case that Gossage should be elected as well. He also had seven or eight excellent seasons and pitched more and worked harder for his 310 saves. Smith should also get more consideration, if only because he record 178 more saves than Sutter. In the end though, Sutter was elected not primarily because of his raw statistics, but because he helped usher in the new reliever usage pattern that is dominant today where closer is a defined role and relegated to the ninth inning and because he popularized the split-fingered fastball.

It was unfortunate that "The Hawk" didn't get more consideration since next year Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mark McGwire are eligible. Gwynn and Ripken are shoe-ins of course but I'm betting that McGwire will have to wait a few years. I always liked Dawson as a player despite his penchant for chasing bad balls and not walking (never more than 44 times). He was a good fielder and I remember marveling at his cannon arm when we would visit Wrigley Field in the late 1980s. Once he even almost killed me with a line shot foul ball down the left field line. Only the seat in front of me saved me as I was mesmerized by the speed and curve on the ball.

His stats say he's a marginal Hall of Famer at best but the Cub in me was pulling for him.

Update 1/11: Here's Aaron Gleeman's take on the balloting. He makes a good case for Gossage. I think that perhaps Gossage and Sutter are closer than their career numbers would imply since the Goose's effective seasons ended after 1985 and so his last 450 inning were basically league average. He also recorded just 26 saves after his 1988 season with the Cubs. So roughly, their peak years were very similar.


Ron Hostetter said...

In today's KC Star, Joe Posnanski makes a case for Dan Quisenberry. He's compared Quiz and Sutter, and he feels that if Sutter's in, Quiz deserves another shot.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Thanks for the note on the Lahman database. I was hoping you could give me some advice.

I've never used the database but would like to start. Very introductory statistical knowledge but know enough to do simple type of stuff. Obviously don't have statistical package nor do I have a regular database package (I do have an old copy of Improv plus Excel and if I dig around can find a copy of Filemaker to use).

What would you suggest I use to do analysis on the Lahman database? Any tips or lessons learned you can share?

Thanks and take care, best wishes for a good 2006.