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Tom Verducci of SI explains why the Red Sox don't need a star closer

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  • Tom Verducci of SI explains why the Red Sox don't need a star closer

    Casting call
    Red Sox know they don't need star closer to compete

    By Tom Verducci, SI.com

    Red Sox fans take note: the Bears made it to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Many years ago I covered the Miami Dolphins when David Woodley (a.k.a. Wobbley, in honor of the standard mode of his forward pass) was their quarterback. They, too, made the Super Bowl. So did the Ravens with Trent Dilfer, the Chargers with Stan Humphries and the Rams with Vince Ferragamo. Everyone prefers a Joe Montana, but history tells us you don't need a Hall of Famer at quarterback to be a Super Bowl team.

    This being Super Bowl week makes for a good time to examine why the Boston Red Sox are embracing a similar corollary when it comes to baseball and closers. While the closer might not engender the same glamour or responsibility as the quarterback, he does attract disproportionate credit or blame, like a quarterback, for his team's success or failure. But history, especially recent history, tells us a great closer is not a prerequisite for winning.

    The Red Sox, naturally, would love their own version of Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. But because they don't have one in their employ and because the free-agent market did not offer anything close to a reasonable facsimile, the Red Sox have been smart enough to realize, "We'll figure it out and find somebody -- and we can still win."

    "By the end of spring training we will have one [closer] and we will have guys in defined roles," Boston GM Theo Epstein says. "And by the end of the year, who knows who the closer might be? It might be some kid who gets put in that role on the second day of the season, like [Jon] Papelbon last year, or somebody from outside the organization, or somebody who started the year in Double A. We don't know.

    "I doubt even the Cardinals expected Adam Wainwright to get the last out of the World Series, unless maybe he was throwing a complete game. But there he was."

    Rare are the closers who succeed at the job over many years. Otherwise, if you're looking for a short-term answer in today's era of specialization, a decent closer can be found almost anywhere without having to give up players or big money. Here's one way to look at it: Jose Jimenez, Antonio Alfonseca, Mike Williams and Danny Graves all have saved 40 games in a season, but not Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage. Who? Precisely the point.

    Anyone with two pitches (one above-average), a short memory, a decent stomach and a hot hand can close games for a while. No experience necessary. Mark Wohlers once told me the only difference between a good year and a horrible year for a closer is about four blown saves. And just about any pitcher is going to close those games with a three-run lead in the ninth with nobody on base.

    Here's another way to look at how closers have come to be overrated: take a look at the closers for the past six world championship teams and their resume at the time of the title:

    So if anybody tries to tell you this spring Boston can't win because it doesn't have a closer, just tell them it will have one soon. The Red Sox will have a spring training competition among Brendan Donnelly, Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Joel Piniero, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Devern Hansack and a darkhorse, prospect Bryce Cox. (Forget Papelbon. The only way he goes back to closing is if team doctors change their minds that his shoulder needs four days of rest between pitching, that he isn't at least the No. 2 starter the Red Sox believe he is, and the team already had gone through multiple options at closer).


    The more spring training games I see, the less confidence I invest in their results, so I dislike the idea of the kind of "pitch-off" the Red Sox will hold. What does getting the last three outs against Class A players at 3 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon in Bradenton tell you about somebody's ability to get major league hitters out under pressure?

    I expect manager Terry Francona will make the decision on Boston's closer largely on the quality of the pitchers' stuff, as he did with Papelbon last year, and less on hard results. What Boston won't do is repeat the mistake it made to open the 2003 season, when it thought a bullpen could be run with interchangeable parts. That plan came to be known as "bullpen by committee," though it was a bit of a misnomer.

    Epstein admits that the idea of a flexible bullpen -- using the best possible reliever for a particular spot rather than depending on pre-assigned roles -- works better in theory rather than in practice.

    "In reality, most relief pitchers need the confidence and routine of clearly defined roles to operate at peak level,'' he says, adding that he found out in 2003 that the flexible bullpen "can create some instability that can be exacerbated in a high-pressure market by media with constant questions to players with respect to the lack of roles." Epstein also admits, "I definitely didn't do a good job of choosing relievers overall" for that plan.

    Don't confuse what Boston is doing now to what it tried in early 2003. Says Epstein, "This is a little different from '03 as far as not defining specific roles. This year we make no bones about it. The job is open. We don't have a designated closer. But we will by opening day. Whoever steps up and throws the best will be the one to take the job."

    The Red Sox better hope a few guys come through as reliable setup guys, too. Last season only the Royals, Orioles and Devil Rays gave up more runs out of the bullpen than did Boston. Take out Papelbon's amazingly efficient work and the relievers had a 5.07 ERA.

    In the meantime, too much will be made in the coming weeks about how the Red Sox don't have a "proven closer." They have one of the best offensive teams in the league and one of the deepest rotations with the best pure stuff, so they can withstand some uncertainty about the closer role.

    Closers can fall out of trees: Jenks, Wainwright, Derek Turnbow, Ryan Dempster, Takashi Saito and Solomon Torres are just the latest examples of teams hitting on fliers. The Red Sox will figure it out for themselves. They don't need a Peyton Manning. Somewhere in Fort Myers this spring they'll find a Rex Grossman.
    Agree?????

  • #2
    Yes. I've never thought they needed a closer. Good relievers? Yes. You pitch your best reliever during the most crucial point of the game, whether that's the 7th or 9th inning. I hate the way closers are used.

    Anyway... I've gotten really tired of these SI.com and ESPN.com articles. I always feel like they think they are 'educating' me to the game of baseball. It seems as though the articles are more for the casual baseball fan than the Red Sox fan. "They have one of the best offensive teams in the league" -- Nah, really???

    (this is no knock on you for posting this, Williamsburg)
    Originally posted by Domenic
    The Yankees should see if Yogi Berra can still get behind the plate - he has ten World Series rings... he must be worth forty or fifty million a season.

    Comment


    • #3
      Somehow I don't think they want a Rex Grossman...I know I don't want one.
      "he probably used some performance enhancing drugs so he could do a better job on his report...i hear they make you gain weight" - Dr. Zizmor

      "I thought it was interesting and yes a conversation piece. Next time I post a similar story I will close with the question "So, do you think either of them have used steroids?" so that I can make the topic truly relevant to discussions about today's game." - Eric Davis

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqul1GyK7-g

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Westlake
        Yes. I've never thought they needed a closer. Good relievers? Yes. You pitch your best reliever during the most crucial point of the game, whether that's the 7th or 9th inning. I hate the way closers are used.

        Anyway... I've gotten really tired of these SI.com and ESPN.com articles. I always feel like they think they are 'educating' me to the game of baseball. It seems as though the articles are more for the casual baseball fan than the Red Sox fan. "They have one of the best offensive teams in the league" -- Nah, really???

        (this is no knock on you for posting this, Williamsburg)
        I understand what you mean, although it is nice to see the phrase "They have one of the best offensive teams in the league" as many times as possible.

        Comment


        • #5
          No, and for several reasons. First and formost, Verducci is comparing football to baseball, two completely different sports, with different needs at different positions. Second, let's look at the main closers for the last seven teams who won the World Series:

          2000: Marino Rivera for the Yankess - a star

          2001: Byung-Yung Kim for the D-backs - not a star

          2002: Troy Percival for the Angels - a star

          2003: Braden Looper for the Marlins - not a star

          2004: Kieth Foulke for the Sox - a star then

          2005 - Dustin Hermanson - in between

          2006 - Jason Isringhausen - a star

          More stars then not. Third and finally, the Red Sox main weakness these past couple of seasons has been the bullpen. They all ready have good relievers in Donnelly, Romero, Timlin, Piniero, Taveras, Okajima, and Snyder/Hansack. Your best reliever is almost always you closer, and I don't see how any of our current relievers can be closers. We need someone who has proven himself as a closer, such as Chad Cordero. Cordero would be a perfect option. We can aquire him easily, with out giving up too much, and have a good closer for the next 3-4 years. The Sox do need an above average closer.
          "He studied hitting like a broker studies the stock market, how a scribe studies the scriptures" - Carl Yastrzemski on Ted Williams

          "The greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history has done it again! Big Papi!" - Don Orsillo's call of Ortiz's walk-off single

          Comment


          • #6
            Code:
            Closer---------Year------Team---Age------Saves--All-Star App.
            Byung-Hung Kim	2001	D'Backs	22	34	0
            Troy Percival	2002	Angels	32	250	4
            Ugueth Urbina	2003	Marlins	29	206	2
            Keith Foulke	2004	Red Sox	31	175	1
            Bobby Jenks	2005	W. Sox	24	6	0
            Adam Wainwright	2006	Cards	24	3	0
            They might have been stars after the season, became stars during the season, or had success at other pitching pos., but most of them wern't in ST.
            Last edited by Williamsburg2599; 02-03-2007, 04:40 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              I'm telling your guys. Don't sleep on Javier Lopez closing next year. He closed in AAA last year, and pitched quite well for us in the few games he was in. He's definetely an option.

              Comment


              • #8
                I agree that closers are overrated, but it wasn't that long ago that the Sox we're going with the "closer by committee" approach with mixed results at best. I think at the very least, the team needs to identify someone to fill that role and hope he can do at least an adequate job for a season.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by DoubleX
                  I agree that closers are overrated, but it wasn't that long ago that the Sox we're going with the "closer by committee" approach with mixed results at best. I think at the very least, the team needs to identify someone to fill that role and hope he can do at least an adequate job for a season.

                  That's the thing. It's not as if the team has to have a pro-closer, but I do tend to think it's important for a team to hand the ball off consistently to a certain guy for saves. Knowing one's role is huge in sports, and it can go a long way towards ensuring some amount of success, IMO.
                  "Anything less would not have been worthy of me. Anything more would not have been possible." - Carl Yastrzemski

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SoxSon
                    That's the thing. It's not as if the team has to have a pro-closer, but I do tend to think it's important for a team to hand the ball off consistently to a certain guy for saves. Knowing one's role is huge in sports, and it can go a long way towards ensuring some amount of success, IMO.
                    Yup, I agree. Looking around baseball the past few years, it seems like decent one-year closers are a dime-a-dozen. I suppose pitching in Boston in a more pressured atmosphere might require a little more mental fortitude from a closer than normal, but the Sox have plenty of options in house that they can take a look at during Spring Training, and there's always the possibility for a trade, so I think they'll find their guy for this year.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by keepthefaith3
                      We need someone who has proven himself as a closer, such as Chad Cordero. Cordero would be a perfect option. We can aquire him easily, with out giving up too much, and have a good closer for the next 3-4 years. The Sox do need an above average closer.
                      I'd love to see the Sox get Cordero, since he is a proven closer with a lot of talent. But I doubt we can aquire him easily.

                      Washington is not a very good team and are rebuilding (again) with youngish players, Cordaro is only 24, so they might want to keep him. If the Sox want to trade for him, it will cost them a lot.

                      That being said, now the Drew has finally been signed, giving us five outfielders, I believe that a trade may happen before the close of Spring Training with either Crisp or WMP to obtain a proven closer. Whether Washington is willing to trade Cordaro remains to be seen. But I'd love the Sox to aquire him.

                      We do have some prospects that might fit the role, eventually anyway. Jon Lester once he is 100% healthy is a possibility. Craig Hanson or Manny Delcarmen might have a breakthrough year. Edgar Martinez from what I've read looked very good in the Venezuela Winter league and Bryce Cox is an up an comer.

                      And who knows, maybe Joel Pineiro will rebound and close for us successfully.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        we need to designate a closer...i don't care who it is, but that guy needs to know he is the closer. You can't have a guy close for 2 days and then bring him in, in the 7th for another game. Players need to know where they stand in the whole scheme of things. So when the 7th inning roles around, players X and Y know they should be getting prepared for a possible appearance. Your set up guy knows when he needs to start his routine and so on.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by DoubleX
                          I agree that closers are overrated, but it wasn't that long ago that the Sox we're going with the "closer by committee" approach with mixed results at best. I think at the very least, the team needs to identify someone to fill that role and hope he can do at least an adequate job for a season.
                          Closer by committee certainly isn't the way to go - you need to have a set guy. But that doesn't mean that you need your ace closer going into April 1. Try things out for the first month or so and see where the bullpen guys fit - they're so inconsistent that you never know who will be good enough to close and who won't.

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