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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Evolving Closer

With the election of Bruce Sutter to the Hall of Fame there has been plenty written about the nature of the work that closers do and how that has evolved over time. There is no question that a closer's job is easier today than when the position was evolving throughout the 1980s.

Today I learned of an article by Gabriel Schechter at the Baseball Hall of Fame that takes a look at how hard closers had to work to get their saves. What he finds is that 43.3% of Sutter's saves came when he pitched 2 or more innings, Rollie Fingers at 40.7%, and Rich Gossage at 40.3%. Meanwhile Dennise Eckersley was at 7.2%, Trevor Hoffman at 1.5%, and Mariano Rivera at 2.4%.

Although I knew there were these diferences, the magnitude of the difference surprised me. The other interesting thing is that Lee Smith spanned the time in which the role became more specialized (circa 1989) and so he falls in the middle at 19.6% with the early part of his career at 34% and the latter at 1.9%. Great stuff.

However, what this analysis fails to take into account as Schechter readily admits is that the score and inherited runners also plays a big role in determining whether and how many saves a pitcher picks up. Some of this is explored in THT's The Bullpen Book.

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