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Closers are Over-Rated!

Updated on December 9, 2012

Wouldnt you want 200 innings of this guy as opposed to 80?!

A Little Rant on Pitcher Usage

I was on my way home from school today listening to MLB radio. The subject was should Aroldis Chapman continue to be the Reds closer. The announcement was made this week that the Reds were going to move him to starter. This to me is an obvious move. A starting pitcher is infinitely more valuable than a relief pitcher. But apparently to the talking heads on the radio, "They should leave him there! He's lights out in the 9th!" Stupid. Let me explain.

To begin with to quote my hub title, "Closers are Over-Rated." Period. I don't actually agree with the way managers handle bullpens to begin with, but that's a story for a different time. The Save is the dumbest stat in professional sports. And really damned easy to get. If you have a 4 run lead, and two outs but there's a runner on 2nd. You can bring in your "closer", he gets one out and he gets a "save." Dumb. Why does it make any difference if your best lights out reliever pitches the 9th, instead of the 8th? Do runs count more in the 9th than they do the in 3rd? No. This isn't to say that having a shitty bullpen isn't like having a bad goalie in hockey. Far from it. Having a bad bull-pen has ruined many an otherwise good team.

And before you say it, for every player that says, "Theres just something different about pitching in the 9th." There is another that says that there is no difference. I mean honestly most of the time in a save situation its not even that drastic. You probably have a 2 or three run lead, and even if its a 1 run lead you start with the bases empty. Your average start has more stress in it for the pitcher than your average save. Hes going to be in trouble way more often.

But I digress. The real point I'm trying to make is a reliever, regardless of if they are a "Closer" or not, is dramatically less valuable to a team than an above average starter. To Prove my point I'm going to list two players that nicely match up in this particular debate. Lets have a look at two players career WAR (Wins Above Replacement)


PLAYER A: CAREER WAR 39.3

PLAYER B: CAREER WAR 39.3


Didn't tell you much did it. Well I will be nice and shed a little light.

Player A is Mariano Rivera. Pretty much in-arguably the best closer in baseball history. And not over only a few seasons. That's an 18 year career! For 16 seasons from 1996 until 2011 he had over 30 saves in all but one year when he had 28. Funny thing is, according to Fangraphs WAR his most valuable season was '96, before he became the closer because he pitched more innings that year. Of course he was more valuable that way! Wouldn't you rather have that cutter for 100 innings than the 70 he averaged thereafter!


Who is Player B? Justin Verlander. Who managed to have an equal value to the greatest closer of all time in only 7 years. That's only slightly more than a 3rd of Rivera's career. And in one of those seasons Justin was 11-17. So If Verlander plays at a decently high level for another 7 years its reasonable to think that even if he doesn't end up with a double career WAR value compared to Rivera it will be significantly higher. I could dig up dozens of more examples. Its simply more valuable in the W-L category to have a pitcher throw 6 innings a game than it is to have him throw 1 inning.


Back to Chapman I think I have mostly made my case. Will he translate as a starter? Who knows? But I think its a no-brainer to give it a shot. How do you not take a young arm and let him try his hand in the rotation. Especially an arm like Chapman's. Its been pretty well proven that there's not going to be a big drop off if you put your 2nd best reliever in your 9nth inning role. (regardless of if I think it should be there or not) However, there's probably a big difference between a 20 game winner and your 5th starter in the rotation. And if the Reds think Chapman can be that 20 game winner, you have to let him try. Its not like if you put him in the rotation and it doesn't work he can never go back to the bullpen.


Funny side-note. Matt Holliday was a guest on the show this was happening on. He agreed that they should leave Chapman in the bullpen. All I could think was, "Yeah I'll bet you do. That way you only have to face him once a game rather than 3 times!"

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    • Robb Hoff profile image

      Robb Hoff 4 years ago from Cincinnati, Ohio

      Once Mario Soto teaches the Cuban Missile to add a two-seamer to his 4-seamer and slider, the question about whether or not Chapman is a starter or closer will be a foregone conclusion.