Closer-by-committee: a doomed foray?

Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 03:17 AM EST

Contributed by: Anonymous

As an unabashed socialist, I am very much in favor of spreading out the saves. As one of the proud BB Zombies, I can recognize that the last three outs of the game are just three more outs. As a fan, I see how fun it could be to do in-game pools to guess which co-closer gets the call in the ninth. Maybe, then, it was just my imagination. Maybe, in fact, I was dreaming that Boston's Chad Fox and Alan Embree looked like they had never pitched in Little League, let alone as decent major leaguers, when they squandered that three-run lead against the Devil Rays in the 9th inning last night.

While it was just one game, watching those guys yuck the lead made me think there might be some validity to the "closer mentality" argument. Mike Timlin, for example, looked petrified every time he took the mound, while Rod Beck, even when his fastball could barely break 58 MPH, still thought he could get people out. Four twisted necks later, Beck finally figured out that it didn't matter how much he thought he could get guys out: he simply couldn't. There's also probably some validity to the argument that a Proven Closer puts a certain amount of fear in opposing lineups. After all, it must have been a grim sight indeed seeing Dennis Eckersley warming in the bullpen when you're down 3-2 in the eighth inning.

Like it or not -- and this is hardly a scoop -- I imagine this mentality pollutes 95 percent of people in major-league front offices. Even the A's, those revolutionaries, have, for the most part, used Proven Closers during the Beane era. Although Beane did replace Eck with unproven Billy Taylor, and then moved Taylor for the similarly green Jason Isringhausen, the A's have turned to Billy Koch and Keith Foulke the last two years. To be fair, one of the reasons is because the A's haven't had anyone in the minors to replace Koch or Izzy; but, for example, they could have traded Koch for one of the White Sox's extra outfielders and given the job to, say, Chad Bradford, thus saving some cash to spend on, say, another OF who can actually hit.

So color me pessimistic. I think this is going to be a short experiment -- not at all because the Sox blew one game, not at all because the idea can't work. But with each subsequent blown save, no matter the number of successful saves, the pressure will build on Theo Epstein and Grady Little to abandon the scheme. The media will demand it, the fans will demand it -- and I predict the players will demand it. Some regulars may say "We have to have someone we can depend on down there." A few pitchers will start grumbling about not having "clear roles." Now, it doesn't take a Billy Beane or a Kent Williams to figure out what a pitcher's role is: get hitters out. Period.

I hope I'm wrong; this is a sound idea for Epstein to pursue, but one that needs to be carried out for the whole season so we can gauge its value. Of course, if all goes as I think it will and the Red Sox punt the approach far too early, they'll need a Proven Closer. Trot Nixon for Kelvim Escobar, anyone?