Must-click link: The evolution of the closer

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We talk often about how crazy it is that managers won’t use their best relievers in tight spots, with guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Kimbrel watching like spectators as their teams lose games.

It’s the save star that drives this. The only stat I can think of which actually controls how the game is played as opposed to merely reflecting what happens. It’s a ridiculous state of affairs. But how did we get here?

David Schoenfield answers that question over at ESPN today with a great post, drawing on history and a little Bill James to explain how we got from a world in which starters completed nearly half the games pitched to one in which relief aces through as many as 200 innings a year to today’s state of affairs where managers will only use their best short men if and only if the game is already in hand.

Go educate yourself. It’s great reading. It’s also the basis for a great retort for the next time you hear someone decrying sabermetrically-oriented people for allowing stats to dominate their understanding of the game. Because really, it’s overwhelmingly the non-sabermetrically-oriented people who perpetuate the legend of the closer, and the closer itself is a creature of a statistic.