Closers, roles, and Chris Reitsma

Most managers — heck, maybe all of them today — have a fairly structured bullpen. There’s a closer and a top setup man, a LOOGY, maybe a righthanded specialist, and two or three guys used in multiple roles to add flexibility. The closer is the glamor role; the setup man, because he is actually more likely to pitch in a pressure situation, is often the most valuable. These are the roles you almost have to fill. Even if the rest of the bullpen is in flux, if these two roles are adequately filled, you work around it.

Now, if your closer is shaky, your life is going to be miserable, even if he doesn’t reach [HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED] levels of ineffectiveness. Braden Looper, for instance, really didn’t pitch that badly last season, and certainly wasn’t the reason the Mets didn’t win, but he made the season a lot less fun both for Willie Randolph and for the Mets’ fans.

Managers, you see, like to simplify their jobs. Managing a baseball team is hard work, and one of the ways to make it easier is to have a reliable closer you can bring in in predictable circumstances. You can pretty much take off the ninth inning when you’re ahead! But if your closer isn’t reliable, you have to make those extra decisions, and a lot of the time the fans are going to get on you for leaving that bum out there to lose the game (even if you come back and win).

Now, take a pitcher like Brad Baker. I like his minor league stats a lot. And most of the time, a guy who strikes out ten hitters per nine innings is going to have a good strikeout rate in the majors. But is he ever going to be a major league closer? Probably not, not for more than a few weeks at a time, because he’s too wild, and worse is streaky wild. If one of your other relievers has periodic wild streaks, you deal with it. You recognize the symptoms, you’re ready to get someone up in a hurry before the situation gets out of control. If it’s your closer, then it kind of defeats the whole purpose of having a closer, which is to simplify the game.

Or take Chris Reitsma. Please. His problem is, at the core, that he doesn’t strike out enough people. If you strike out less than six men per nine, you’re going to have innings when you allow four hits in a row. If you’re a starter, you move on. Guys like Glavine and Maddux, it happened to them, too, they moved on. But for a closer, or a setup man, you just blew the ballgame, buddy. It’s worse even than the guy who loses his control, because those four hits in a row happen like that and you can’t get him out and get another reliever in. Sure, he’s had a couple of injuries, but the thing about a fine-line pitcher, which Reitsma is at the best of times, is that he can’t lose anything or he’ll get slammed. Reitsma has probably been unlucky as well, but a guy like that is bound to be unlucky a lot. Reitsma has pretty good control, he doesn’t allow any homers anymore (ISO last year: .076), but he’s simply reached the limits of what he can do pitching like that.

Strikeouts and walks… There’s nothing very profound here. I guess everyone here now knows how important they are. It’s just that in the small role — one inning, close game — those things are magnified, and a pitcher’s value comes down, basically, to not walking people, and to striking them out.

So a guy like Reitsma, though he’s actually a good pitcher, you just can’t use him in the top roles, not on a good team, anyway. Even though his failures objectively don’t hurt the team very much (everyone blows some games, and you win some games after the save is blown) the magnification of the problem for a good team is going to cause things to get out of control.

You know the phenomenon, not restricted to [HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED], of the guy who pitches well in the closer role out of the spotlight, but who flops in the big time? I’m not discounting the psychological angle — heck, that’s a lot of what I’m talking about here — but another factor is simply that if a guy blows a few saves in Milwaukee, who cares? What’s the worst that can happen, they finish fourth instead of third? Ten games below .500 instead of six? Not only the pressure is magnified, the attention paid to the failure is, too. A guy who goes 40-47 in save opportunities for a team that loses 92 games has a good chance of being a token All Star, even if maybe ten of the saves were “tough saves”, and none of them is really a pressure situation.

So, back to Reitsma. I don’t think his head is messed up or anything. He’s pitching okay, it’s just that he’s not going to thrive in a closer role for a good team. He’s not really ideal for a setup man either, though you could do worse. I do think he could work as a starter, but maybe he can’t hold up there.

That doesn’t mean there’s no role for him. He’d be great in a middle relief role, particularly one where he’s the bridge to the back of the bullpen, pitching a lot in the sixth and seventh innings, maybe with a lot of long outings (nowadays, meaning anything more than an inning and a third) when you have a lead or the game is close, but the starter is knocked out early. With starters so often leaving the game before the seventh today, a reliable reliever who can make 40 appearances, 70 innings, most of them the sixth and seventh, that would help a lot.

But nobody does it! That’s the thing. They’re using more and more short relievers to bridge from the starter to the top guys. Your starter leaves after five, these days that means you’re going to use at least four pitchers, even if the game isn’t particularly close. And, of course, a lot of these pitchers are lousy.

Teams don’t like to spend a lot of money on these guys. You can see why — most of the pitchers who fall into the job aren’t any good. But that’s largely because teams don’t focus on those innings. Anyone who does well there, he’s going to get promoted to the rotation or to the top roles in the pen, especially because most teams don’t have seven good pitchers.

Reitsma, frustrating as he is, might actually give the Braves a tactical advantage. He’s a good pitcher, really. He’s not a great pitcher, but in the role I’m talking about — 40 games, 70 innings, medium pressure situations — I think he’d thrive. He might win ten games a year in relief.

For a couple years. Then he’d get too expensive and the Yankees or Red Sox will give him a three year contract to set up. C’est la vie.

73 thoughts on “Closers, roles, and Chris Reitsma”

  1. I have started a Yahoo fantasy league with a draft on Feb 19 at 2:00

    the ID# is 6029 and the Password is smoltz.

    If you need help getting in email me everyone is welcome! I will post this for a few days there is room for 20 people. Mac if you want to help pass the word along, that would be great!

  2. Smitty, yahoo told me this
    Um, yahoo told me this:
    There was a problem:
    ē This league is not registered in this game. (Error #272)
    ē This league is from the free game. (Error #271)

  3. Hi, Smitty. I have joined and registered as Bison. I was thinking about skipping this year, but you guys made me change my mind!

    BTW Smitty, I am not sure if we need that many scoring categories. BB, AVG, OBP, and OPS are kind of repeating each other. Of course, this is your league and I can live with your rules. I just want to point out my observation!

  4. Mac:
    Meant to post this in the Baker thread below, but since this is more current (and still relevant)…I spent last year working in the front office of the Beavers out in Portland (having now moved to the front office of the Potomac Nationals, which BTW is FILLED with Braves Fans)and I can tell you after having seen Baker pitch, night in, night out, he is NOT an option. Unless McDowell can work some magic on his control, and develop some movement to his fastball, he is gonna spend the year in Richmond. Baker had a great first half…he was PCL pitcher of the month for June (i believe…maybe May) was named to the PCL All-Star team. And from then on, calling it a disaster doesn’t do it justice. You just don’t know. God as my witness, when he entered a game, we would take bets to what the score would be when he left it. He was that bad…He would enter a game with us ahead 4-2, and the bet that got the most action was usally 5-4 or 6-4 for what it would be when he left. His second half followed a very similar path to Kolb…he lost the job “temporarily” and went into a setup/mop up roll to “get it back” and never did…he just got worse, and worse. It was actually sad to see him around the park and stuff b/c he couldn’t figure it out before he eventually just sat out in the bullpen for the final month until we were ahead/behind by a touchdown. I’m just going to say it now…Brad Baker should not be on our 25 man…not unless McDowell and co. can work some SERIOUS magic. Seriously…when the news came out back in November that we signed him, I immediately got 4-5 text messages from friends back in Portland who couldn’t stop laughing, b/c they knew what a big Braves fan I was. So the moral of this longwinded story…trust me…Brad Baker won’t be our closer in 2006…but I hope he can prove me wrong…

  5. Ok here is how the league is set up, I made some changes in the scorring:

    -It is head to head to make it more fun.
    -Here is what you get points for:
    Runs, HR, RBI, BB, RBI, AVG, OPS (I took out OBP), Wins, Saves, Shutouts, K’s, ERA, WHIP

    I think the league is full now, I made it as big as I could.

  6. I might take out walks and/or average (accounted for in OPS), and I would definitely include stolen bases.

  7. Nice insight on Baker. You could have gotten away with being Greg McMichael in ’96, but hitters have become significantly stronger and smarter in just ten years. He could be a smart find, but it’s unlikely that he becomes the next Moyer or Hoffman, especially if he hasn’t seen much major league action by now.

  8. I am up for another league :)
    Usually play in one league with friends but might as well play in two this year!

  9. No. There are 21 rounds (21 player roster) and you can take who ever you want. With 20 teams there are going to be some scrubs on every team, the people who do thier homework and can pick the best scrubs, will probably win. My money is on Mac to win it all.

  10. Sorry Smitty, but one more question. How is the picking order determined (ie, whether I pick before you)?

  11. David Stern is going to moderate our draft.

    “With the fifth pick in the draft “I Never WIN,” selects Dan Kolb, Milwakee Brewers

  12. I set the pick up by order people joined. IF you select first in round one you select last in round two and first in round three… so on. That seemed to be the only way to set it up that was fair.

    Here is the order for the first two rounds

    Round 1
    1. Smitty’s Studs
    2. Brooklyn Dod…
    3. 15 in a row;…
    4. The Octagon
    5. I Never Ever…
    6. Nashville CH…
    7. Dwightanator
    8. Chipper’s ch…
    9. Bison
    10. busterbros
    11. Kind of a Bi…
    12. UglierThanOt…
    13. Smokin Smolt…
    14. The Tom Glav…
    15. Big Cat Chopper
    16. Fyde’s Clouters
    17. mraver’s glo…
    18. Not In Last …
    19. Grayhairs
    20. Penningtrons
    Round 2
    21. Penningtrons
    22. Grayhairs
    23. Not In Last …
    24. mraver’s glo…
    25. Fyde’s Clouters
    26. Big Cat Chopper
    27. The Tom Glav…
    28. Smokin Smolt…
    29. UglierThanOt…
    30. Kind of a Bi…
    31. busterbros
    32. Bison
    33. Chipper’s ch…
    34. Dwightanator
    35. Nashville CH…
    36. I Never Ever…
    37. The Octagon
    38. 15 in a row;…
    39. Brooklyn Dod…
    40. Smitty’s Studs

  13. Why don’t you randomize the draft order? Yahoo has an option that will make the draft order competely random 30 minutes before the start of the draft. That way the person that started the league (Smitty) doesn’t automatically have the first pick. It seems unfair to base the draft order on when you joined the league.

  14. Maybe smitty should have an advantage for taking the time to set the league up. Besides I think the reversal of the order every round helps even things out – for example would you rather have picks 1 and 40 or 20 and 21? Probably 6 of one …

  15. It should even out and if anyone has an arm up on anyone I would say it is the people picking 10-11

  16. I am gald this gave us something to talk about for a day.
    I wanted to set up a draft order well before we picked so everyone could do some back ground on the players they want and who they can get. I didn’t want someone to bank on A-Rod and end up getting the 15th pick 10 min before the draft.

  17. Besides I am going to draft Reggie Bush, his football numbers will be good enough to transend to baseball.

  18. Yep – I’ll be spending the next two weeks copiously studing my Hardball Times Annual … no chance of getting any work done.

  19. Smitty – who ya going to take first?? A-rod / Pujols?? … or will you stay loyal to one of the Jones’ …

  20. It is tough, I am going to have some players come over for an evalutation. I will have my doctor look them over and then I will run them through some drills. My evaluation team will look at the results and we will go from there.

  21. I suspect one rule of thumb will to be not take Braves players (sadly) as there will (probably) be a greater demand for them

  22. I can set it where it is NL only, meaning we can only select from NL teams, but with 20 teams that might make it a little too muts.

  23. So here is my fantasy baseball dilemma. A group of us started a keeper league last year with the following stats in the a basic head-to-head points system: HR, RUNS, RBI, STL, AVG, ERA, WHIP, W, K, SV. Here is a list of my players and I am having a tough time figuring out which 3 to keep:

    D. Lee,
    C. Utley,
    R. Furcal,
    H. Blalock,
    M. Cabrera,
    C. Beltran,
    A. Jones,
    C. Crawford;

    J. Peavy,
    R. Johnson,
    A.J. Burnett,
    F. Hernandez,
    M. Prior,
    D. Turnbow,

    I’m leaning towards D. Lee, Peavy, and M. Cabrera however with the AAA guys that are Miggy’s protection in the lineup I’m not sure if he’ll put up huge stats.

  24. What’s the time limit for making a pick once it’s your turn? How will that work?
    Also, I’m not ready to set it up yet, but I’ll be setting up a roto scoring league sometime in the next couple weeks if people are interested. I have some friends that I know will be joining, but there will probably be a half-dozen or so spots available (out of 12 total). Categories will be similar to what Smitty set up w/ more emphasis on walks/OBP than traditional 5X5 leagues.

  25. No I think we should have AL and NL. Slightly off-track but I have never really understood this NL / AL thing. Why is it that one player is sometimes talked about as “not an AL player, more suited to the NL”? I guess is it because there is a perception that AL has a higher power requirement while NL is more small ball. Complete tosh in my view …. but then what do I know!

  26. I’m sure Smitty will confirm but I think the time limit is 90 secs ….

    R-pat: I reckon that Lee will have a medicore year this year …. didn’t do so well in 2nd half last year

  27. I was just thinking – at 1 min/pick it would take 7 hours! Hopefully it will go much quicker than that

  28. I’d like to make what I hope is a fair request: for those of us who didn’t join the fantasy league, I hope that to the best we can, keep it independent from the Braves talk throughout the season.

  29. Everybody needs to go to the 11 Alive News Website. My school had a massive walkout in honor of the head custodian and it made the news.

  30. Yup agreed – this is supposed to be a braves board. I don’t particularly want to celebrate a Puljols HR (on this board) just because he is in my fantasy league – assuming I can take him in the 8th round.

  31. Hi Jenny,

    Yes – live in London. Been a Braves fan since 1991 when I happened to see highlights of the World Series on telly ….. and then whenever I was in the US the Braves were always on TBS. Now addicted!!

  32. Not to make this a news/politics thing but, from the AP story on the Alabama church fires:
    “The other two churches, Old Union Baptist in Brierfield and Anti-och Baptist in Anti-och, were damaged”

    Does Antioch, AL really put a hyphen in its name or is the AP being stupid?

  33. is anyone else interested in playing? i’ll set up another league if so. me and godot, joeyt? anyone else?

  34. More Gammons again…(Its interesting to look through these and see what was going on then and who people thought were the top prospects:)
    It’s why Shea Hillenbrand may not make it. It’s why Sammy Sosa’s career is on its remarkable ascent. It’s why the Padres think the contrast between D’Angelo Jimenez and Alfonso Soriano is this: Jimenez is the surer thing now that he’s healthy, a line drive, gap power 14-20 home run hitter with patience. But if Soriano learns the strike zone, and he’s had three times as many walks in June as April and May combined, his lightning batspeed, arm and raw talent could make him a 30-homer, 60-steal star.

  35. I created another yahoo league

    league id 14191
    password andruw50

    there’s room for 20 more players, but i’m hoping we don’t have that many…

  36. kyle s?

    i’d think i’d be interested…i’m just concerned that i’d forget to do important things throughout the year. i’m of the ADD generation (think adam laroche forgetting how many outs have been recorded in an inning).

    how much time actually goes into owning a team? is it an everyday deal? Will the draft really take 7 hours? just some of my questions.

  37. Evidently Im a retard. The reason i couldnt get into the first league was bc i entered the league name in the “yahoo plus” (ie-pay for it) fantasy thing instead of the regular.


  38. Mac, I was just wondering if the city of Antioch acutally saw fit to put a hyphen in its name or if the AP did that on accident.

  39. Kyle S.,
    I registered. I’m sort of a lurker here, but I’ve been tempted to join a fantasy league for the last few years. Should be fun.


  40. Lets take the winners of the two leagues and keep that stats maunally the last week of the season, like a World serise.

  41. johnb, i hope you do not support chelski, cheatski, or chavski, whatever you want to call them. matt in boston, I was in a baseball fantasy league, and was amazed at how much you have to pay attention to detail, they play just about everyday, so you have to constantly set your lineup, and check the waivers, and all that other crap. It was terrible, I would only join now for the trashtalk.

  42. Kyle S,
    I’m officially in…I’m a little behind on things around here and am just lucky to get in.

    You can call my team ‘Anybody But Kolb’

  43. good to know, guys.

    one thing about our league setup – i have it as head to head and weekly roster changes. one thing i hate is having to adjust starters every day. none of that.

    my plan is to use counting stats mostly because i think it more closely tracks the “real world”. hence, i have tb, bb, h, rbi as categories. for pitchers, outs, Ks, wins, saves, era, whip, also 5 starter/2 reliever spots. if the league is huge, closers could be unfairly valuable.

    i’m willing to adjust the rules if given good reasons.. i didn’t put a ton of thought into it.

  44. I think daily roster changes makes more sense. If you do not want to change your roster everyday then it’s the same thing as if you just set it one time on Sunday and didn’t look at it again until next Sunday. So allowing daily roster changes would permit those managers that want to make more frequent changes. Also, if someone goes down with an injury you can go in and put someone in rather than losing that roster spot for the week. I was in a leauge where we had weekly roster changes and it was not only boring but also frustrating. (Think Chipper going down as much as he did last year…)

    To counter balance teams making too many roster moves that would unfairly shift the competitive balance between more active managers and less active managers (Ex. They would have more starting pitchers going weekly since they add and drop pitchers daily) you could set a limit on the number of roster moves for the season (ex. 100).

  45. Me in as Charlie Brown :)
    thanks Kyle for setting it up..

    and now me out for a nice long weekend!

  46. Kyle, I have also joined your league using the team name of Bison. I like your idea of using the weekly lineup. If anyone can not join either one of the league because they are both full, please let me know and I will drop out from one of the two leagues. Thanks.

  47. I think that If McDowell gets him to mix and match his pitches and Throw his fast ball 96-98 with 2 strikes on more occasions like he can….then he should drop at least .5 a run of his era….

    He can throw his fastball anywhere from 93-98
    He has nice Curveball
    His change us one of the best in the Bigs when it’s working….

    I’ll say around 35 saves w/ an era around 3.35 if he’s the closer all yr long……..

  48. The guy Reitsma is most likely perform like in 2006 imo is the 2005 version of Francisco Cordero of Texas 3.39 era, 37 for 45 in Saves…. I don’t expect Reitsma to get that many save opps probally will end up in the 35-40 range, and I don’t expect Reitsma to blow quite as many saves but you’ll still probally get around 3-6 blown saves out of Chris…

    how about

    72 ip
    71 hits(.247 opp avg,.280 opp obp,.338 slg,.618 ops)
    3.38 era
    57 k’s
    13 bb’s
    33 for 39 in Saves
    14 2b’s
    4 hr’s72 ip
    71 hits(.247 opp avg,.280 opp obp,.338 slg,.618 ops)
    3.38 era
    57 k’s
    13 bb’s
    33 for 39 in Saves
    14 2b’s
    4 hr’s

  49. I wouldn’t agree on the King part….King was ineffective because he sucks with runners already on base when he came in…he wa good with no-one on or when he allowed the runners

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