Closers and strikeouts

Just a brief note… Of the top thirty men on the all-time saves list (I don’t really like the saves statistic, but it’s a good way to sort out the guys who have been used in the closer role full-time) 28 are above the league average in strikeouts per nine for their careers. The 29th, Jose Mesa, is (a) not really a great closer anyway, and (b) very close to the average. The 30th, Dan Quisenberry, is well below the league, but made up for it with phenomenal control. Of the remaining 28, 26 are more than one strikeout per nine above the league; thirteen are more than two strikeouts per nine above, and nine are more than three strikeouts per nine above. The best, unsurprisingly, is Billy Wagner, who is more than five strikeouts per nine above.

The walk rates aren’t as universally good (and the top man, Lee Smith, is actually very slightly worse than the league) but only Armando Benitez of the top save men had control significantly worse than league average.

So, in summary, what you want in a closer is generally lots of strikeouts and at least league-average control.

I declare this thread… open.

63 thoughts on “Closers and strikeouts”

  1. I disagree with your conclusion. I think the causality is backwards. People look for high strikeout rates for their closers, so closers have high strikeout rates. If instead of “closer stuff” people thought of “closer control”, we’d have “what you want in a closer is no walks and at least a league average strikeout rate.”

  2. Interesting point, Joey. Is it possible, though, that this is a chicken-egg sort of argument? Yes, you can say that the reason closers have high strikeout rates is because baseball ops guys look for closers who strike out a lot of people. But how do they know that’s what they want? Is it because earlier successful closers had high strikeout rates? Or did they just choose that out of the blue? If they chose it out of the blue, why did they choose it over control pitchers? I guess you could prove that having more K/9 is superior to having less BB/9 and that’s why people want strikeout pitchers, but then that’s Mac’s argument. If that’s the case, then you’re right back to square one.

    Wow, I’ve confused even myself with that.

  3. I should point out that the guys who find themselves in the closer role without good strikeout rates, people like Jose Jimenez, Bob Stanley, or [HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED] have fallen out of the job pretty quickly.

  4. I guess you can see why Kolb was a pile of steaming turd. He walked practically every second batter he faced and couldn’t strike out a word from a page, let alone a hitter

  5. I noticed the same thing Joey did.

    Which is not to say that it’s wrong that closers should have high strike out rates, I believe that is true. It’s simply that, the fact that past closer have had high strike rates is merely proof that coaches have believed that’s what they should have, it doesn’t neccessarily prove that’s the best closer mold, just that they keep getting the work.

    However, clearly coaches believe that’s the best closer mold, and they are reaching that decision based on something. Basically, the reasons that Mac stated in his post. A strike out guy is less likely to run into bad luck than a guy who relies on his defense for outs. And when you’re talking about one inning, you want to eliminate luck as much as possible.

  6. I have a day-by-day Braves trivia calendar on my desk. The question for today: Name the four Braves in franchise history who have won the NL MVP. I won’t give away the answer in case someone wants to guess, but there are really five – my calendar forgot Dale Murphy!

  7. So if the Braves traded for Derek Turnbow from Millwaukee, we shouldnt be upset with his 64 K’s in 67 innings with only 24 walks? How do we factor in your previous comment of lack of pressure?

    Do we assume his K rate and control would translate well out of Millwaukee?

    I think I would answer affirmatively, I think Turnbow will continue to be a good closer.

  8. Skip, that is totally unbelievable. How can anyone hope he’ll get elected into the Hall of Fame if even the people who make Braves merchandise forget all about him?

  9. 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

  10. Skip, I checked Baseballreference, and I think your calendar’s not just wrong but really wrong. There are six different MVP winners in the history of the Braves franchise. Two in Boston, one in Milwaukee, and three in Atlanta. (I have NO idea how the calendar came up with the number “four.”)

    Johnny Evers, 1914, Boston
    Bob Elliot, 1947, Boston
    Hank Aaron, 1957, Milwaukee
    Dale Murphy, 1982 and 1983, Atlanta
    Terry Pendleton, 1991, Atlanta
    Chipper Jones, 1999, Atlanta

  11. Let’s see if I can use the blockquote thing right. From ESPN:

    The Indians, who’ve taken a pounding for trading Crisp, think Marte will be ready to step in as their regular third baseman by 2007. If Aaron Boone is hitting .211 at the All-Star break, as he did last year, Marte’s shot could come sooner.

    Baseball America and other minor-league publications talk about Marte as if he’s a sure thing, but one NL personnel man said Marte has some flaws in his swing that make him vulnerable to breaking balls and pitches away. Marte’s ascent to the majors could hinge upon whether he can make the necessary adjustments. He’s still only 22 years old.

    “By no means is he ready to step in and play in the major leagues right now,” the NL official said.

  12. AAR, despite the B-Ref listing, most historians don’t count the Chalmers Award that Evers won for Boston as an MVP award. It wasn’t part of the BBWAA process that started about a decade later.

  13. Oh, thanks, Bamadan. I hadn’t realized that.

    So–Skip, does that mean that your calendar got Bob Elliot but not Dale Murphy? That’s not just weird, that’s sickening.

  14. The calendar listed Chipper, Pendleton, Aaron and Elliot. I probably wouldn’t have counted Evers in 1914 either. (On another point, Evers must have been some kind of a great fielder to deserve the 1914 award).

  15. Skip, I think you should buy a different calendar. What’s the fun of a trivia game if all the answers are wrong? Not that they’re ALL wrong, of course, but the fact that they forgot Dale Murphy would make me just a tad suspicious about the rest of it.

  16. Skip, you know that the 1914 team was the “Miracle Braves”, right? Came out of nowhere, put on a big second-half run, won the World Series? The writers were going to pick someone from that team, and Evers was as good of a choice as any.

    I would count the Chalmers award. The voters and the points system were pretty much the same as the MVP voting of a few years later. There was one peculiarity, in that you weren’t allowed to win more than one.

  17. I bought the calendar at a mall kiosk for 75% off after New Year’s, so not a big loss. Now I’ll have to fact-check it each day.

    I knew 1914 was the “Miracle Braves”, but I had in my mind that Rabbit Maranville was the leader of that team and it he would be MVP if it had to be somebody. Bill James looks like the best player on that team – were pitchers eligible for the Chalmers Award?

  18. Err . . “Andy H.” is also Skip. There were alot of Andys for a while, so I changed to “Skip”, but my computer when back to Andy for some reason.

  19. Rabbit was a kid at the time (22), just in his second full year. Evers was a highly respected veteran who’d played on the greatest team of all time (to that point), the 1906-10 Cubs. Maranville finished second in the voting.

    Bill James ranks Bill James as the best player on the 1914 Braves (whee, that was fun!) by a wide margin, and in fact as the best player in the league. But no pitcher ever won the Chalmers Award. Recall that it grew out of a contest where they gave a car to the batting champ, so there was an implicit bias. James finished third. The second-best player on the team (and third-best in the league) was another pitcher, Dick Rudolph. Evers tied Joe Connolly as the best position player on the team. Connolly was a 30 year old in his second year in the majors having a fluke season, and not a viable MVP candidate.

  20. Hey, I can’t wait to see the Super Bowl. Not only will there be bone-crushing football action, but I just found out there’s a human interest story. Apparently Jerome “the Bus” Bettis, the backup running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is actually from Detroit, so the Super Bowl is like a homecoming for him! And he’s never even been to the Super Bowl before!

    Hometown hero returns to play his final game as his first Super Bowl. This is such a great story–I can’t understand why none of the major news organizations picked it up.

  21. Hey, my wife and I decided last week that we should go to the Atlanta Zoo today. I’m not too familiar with Atlanta streets, so I printed out directions from their webpage. In hindsight, they could’ve just told me to turn left at Turner Field. Anyway, driving by Turner Field as I did today, we noticed that today was the Brave’s Winter Fan Fest(w/ free admission). My wife suggested we stop by after the zoo, and we did just that.

    Thoughts from today: Lines for autographs are long, and generally not worth it; needless to say, I have no autographs to show for the day. I did get my picture taken with the 1995 WS trophy, and I finally went in the Braves hall of fame. (It was free!) There were a lot of fun things in there. Terry Pendelton, Chipper, and Murphy’s MVP awards were there, Spahn’s Cy, Tom Glavine’s Silver Slugger, and Fred McGriff’s All-Star MVP. The highlight of the experience was the Q&A I attended. It was with John Thomson, and Joey Devine. Now, I didn’t ask any questions, as Joe Simpson asked the ones I had thought of before he even turned it over to the crowd. But I did hear one tidbit that I thought was interesting. Thomson said that the main difference between McDowell and Leo was that Leo always wanted you to go down and away, but McDowell wants you to pitch to the hitter’s weaknesses. That makes me a little nervous, but as with all things we’ll see. Devine seemed cool, I think he was the only reliever there today, so take from that what you will. (Other notable not-there-today’s were Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, and Adam LaRoche. Just about everyone else was there. Smoltz, Hudson, Giles, Chipper, Andruw, McCann, Pratt, hell even Renteria. My wife and I were weary from our long walk around the Zoo, and it was about 40 degrees outside with a strong wind blowing (they did the Q&As outside the Clubhouse store, on that little stage area they have, and it was freezing the whole time), so we left after the Devine and Thomson Q&A. (Smoltz and McDowell were going on an hour later, and as much as we wanted to stay, it just wasn’t worth it.)

    So.. yeah. Good times.

  22. Strikeouts, walks… and homers. The Braves generally are in the middle of the league in strikeouts and walks — a little worse in strikeouts, a little better in walks. The team’s strength has been in the third element of the DIPS troika, not allowing homers. Only two teams (the Marlins and Giants) have given up fewer homers over the last four years, even though the Braves don’t get the park help that the other leaders do.

    Not giving up homers generally means getting ground balls, and the Braves (despite a middle-of-the-road number of runners allowed) have turned the second-most double plays over that span, with only the Pirates (who allow lots of baserunners) ahead.

    That’s largely, I think, because Leo had the team throwing down-and-away. You may see the Braves giving up more homers now. The question will be if they’ll get the strikeouts to make up for that.

  23. BTW… The worst pitching over the period was by the Devil Rays. Third-most homers allowed (only one fewer than the Rockies), the most walks allowed, and the third-fewest strikeouts.

  24. Latnam,

    Weird. I was at the zoo today too, and only saw about 4 other people, so one of them must have been you. (Ok, a slight exaggeration.) If you remember 4 adults, 2 wild toddlers and a baby, that was us.

  25. Mac: That’s exactly what I meant when I said it made me nervous. I mean its hard to take a down and away pitch outta the park. A hitter might be weak against a pitch middle in, but once in a while he’s gonna take that pitch down the line and out. But yeah, if it wasn’t so cold and miserable out, I would’ve tried to stay for the Smoltz/McDowell session to try and get more information about the differences between his and Leo’s philosophies. That’s life, etc.

    Oh, another thing: Someone asked about the WBC and Devine’s and Thomson’s thoughts on it. Thomson said it was a good idea just a wrong time of year. He mentioned Renteria and said that he and the other pitchers wouldn’t get a chance during spring training to talk with him about positioning, and that he(Renteria) wouldn’t have a chance to work with Marcus at turning DPs, etc. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about. I’d put more thought into players just getting ready to hit(pitch, whatever, not into their on field interactions with teammates not in the WBC.

  26. “not too familiar with Atlanta streets, ”

    Nobody is. Even if youve lived in the city for an eternity some parts of it are planned in a such a crappy way (What? Atlanta? bad city infrastructure and planning? nooo way) that its impossible to figure out

  27. Leo Mazzone has also said that if everyone pitched down and away, no one would play baseball because it would be too hard.

    So maybe it’s good to have alternate philosophies.

  28. I am also expecting that we will not see the Braves pitchers aiming for the low and away corner strikes as much as the “Leo period”. I think Mac’s point is great as I am also hoping there will be more strikeouts to compensate for the potential increase in the hr rates.

    For some reason, I think part of Kyle Davies’ struggle in the second half of the season is his inconsistency in throwing that low and outside strikes. He seems to be aiming for that corner and missing it most of the time. However, he was very aggressive in pitching the inside part of the plate in his earlier starts when he was having more sucess. Kyle is one Braves pitcher who I think will perform better under McDowell than under Leo. Perhaps I am wrong, but that’s my observation. Personally, I think it will be very interesting to see how the other Braves pitchers will pitch differently in the coming season.

  29. latnam, I believe it is the players’ and the management’s consensus that the WBC should be held in November rather than in March. However, I guess Bud Selig was interested in listening to the others…

  30. i think davies has to work on his mechanics and getting his release point consistent. to be honest, i’m not sure how good leo was at that kind of thing. his style seemed more toward coaxing extra mileage out of chris hammond/john burkett types rather than helping young players (other than glavine, smoltz and avery of course…)

  31. I agree Kyle. On the other hand, I think Leo can be very good at fixing pitchers’ mechanics as Sosa credited Leo with that and Hampton sorted out his problem. I think Leo is a great pitching coach, but it seems to me that some pitchers are not too receptive to Leo’s aggressive communication style, especially the younger ones.

  32. I know I complained a couple of times last season that Horacio Ramirez was throwing the same pitch, a fastball down and away, every time. It was getting ridiculous, and what would happen was that the hitters knew it was coming, would foul off the pitch if he was throwing it for strikes, take it if it was a ball, and wait for him to hang one. Which he did…

  33. If HR had tried to pitch on the inside would the results really have been any different? Unliklely.

  34. On the plus side, at least Horacio Ramirez is not a drunken lout and criminal like Sir Sidney Ponson.

  35. Let’s all hope Mac is wrong, because that game will get really boring really fast.

    I’ll go with Steelers 24, Seahawks 20.

  36. Steelers 28, Seahawks 14….count it!

    Sorry, Smitty….I’ve been waiting for just the right moment, and it felt right….

  37. Seahawks dont have a chance. Heres to Hines having a big game (and Verron getting more than 2 damn carries)

  38. Ya’ll are smokin’ something! I want some…
    I have a soft spot in my heart for Holmgren and Hasselbeck from their Packer days, but the Steelers are going to win by 10 – 27-17.

  39. I was at the fan fest right after it oppened. Saw John Schuerholz answer questions and then left shortly after 11 so that me and the wife could make it to the aquarium @ noon (too fucking crowded that one).

    Also, I did see Francouer there despite someone saying that he wasn’t. He was right out front and inside of the Braves clubhouse prior to the begining of the question and answer periods. He also signed a few autographs to the people around him.

  40. Gotta go with the team with more big Dawgs & Polamalus. Pitt wins, Seattle covers: say, Pit 27 Sea 24.

  41. Do the Seahawks have any Dawgs? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. The Steelers have two Hoos (James Farrior and Heath Miller) as well – yet another reason to root for them. Hope they win.

  42. Steelers are gonna win to cap one of the greatest (at least the hardest) playoff runs ever – beating the #1, #2, and #3 seeds on the road and the knocking off the #1 seed from the other conf. Plus I heard that somebody on their team is actually from Detroit.

    PIT 27 SEA 17

  43. Yep, Mack Strong, a UGA grad from Columbus. And let’s not forget 3rd-string Seattle QB David Greene. So they have 2 Dawgs.

    Pittsburgh has 3: Hines Ward, Verron Haynes & the immortal Arnold Harrison.

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