Will an elite closer fix all of the team’s ills?  While many think K-Rod or Fuentes fixes the bullpen is that really the case?

One of the glaring problems with the New York Mets in 2008 was their bullpen. This has caused a lot of people to say the New York Mets need a closer. They need to go and sign K-Rod or Brian Fuentes or they need to go and trade for J. J. Putz. Personally I don’t see the closer position as a must need for the New York Mets.

This is the first time I’ve written on this blog about closers so I’ll go through my opinions on the closer position, if you stick around you may hear this rant often and might even get tired of it. In my opinion the closer position is the most useless and pointless position created in all of sports.

Let’s think for a minute what the role of the closer is. A closer usually comes into the game in the ninth inning, with no runners on base and a lead. All the closer has to do is get three outs without giving up the lead. With a three run lead this task should be easy for any Major League pitcher. With a two run lead notching a save should still be easy. Even with a one run lead, if you have an elite closer, this task SHOULD be simple for them.

I would like to see somebody come up with a “save” stat for every pitcher. Closers, middle relievers and even starting pitchers. In order to get a save stat you have to get three outs without surrendering the lead. Brad Lidge had a great 2008 season, as good as any closer, with a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities. But his task of getting three outs before surrendering a lead is not that great of a task. How many times this season do you think Tim Lincecum, C. C. Sabathia or Johan Santana did that? 50? 75? 100? Probably even more than that. Every year there are pitchers that aren’t THAT good that rack up 40 saves. Why? Because it isn’t that hard. A lot of good Major League pitchers would be able to do it if they got the chance.

The closer is supposed to be the best reliever on a team, otherwise they would not make significantly more than all the other relievers, but they are given the easiest task of all the relievers. Middle relievers enter the game with runners on base more often. Middle relievers are brought in to face the best hitters while closers just get whoever happens to be up to bat that inning, even if it’s the 7 through 9 hitters. Middle relievers come into the game with the game tied and sometimes even when they are behind. When a team is down by a run and a reliever pitches 2 scoreless innings and their team comes from behind that is really saving a game. What a closer does is just ending the game. So why are teams paying tens of millions of dollars to give an elite closer the easiest job on the staff?

I know some people believe the ninth inning is more important than the other innings, but those are probably the same people that think games in May don’t count. If anything, the ninth inning is the least important inning. If you have the lead in the seventh inning, you still need nine outs. If you have the lead in the eighth inning, you need six outs. If you have the lead in the ninth inning, then you only need three outs, making it the easiest inning to manage in the entire game.

I don’t see any reason for the New York Mets to go spend a ton of money on K-Rod to let him pitch in easy situations every night. If the New York Mets spent a lot of money on K-Rod and then pitched him when the game was actually on the line then that is a different story. But I doubt K-Rod, or the other relievers on the market, would want to do that because pitching in the seventh and eighth innings means you don’t get saves and if you don’t get saves you don’t get those fat contracts.

Let’s also not forget that getting a closer won’t solve anything by itself. The reason that Billy Wagner’s injury was such a big deal last year wasn’t because the closer position was such a big deal, it was because the rest of the bullpen stunk. Let’s go back to Brad Lidge for a minute. Lidge had a great year but even if you take out his stats the Phillies relievers had an ERA a 3.39, that still would have been third in all of baseball. The Mets relievers without Billy Wagner had a 4.45 ERA, which would tie them for 24th with San Diego and San Francisco. The Phillies didn’t succeed because of Lidge and the Mets didn’t fail because of Wagner, it was the rest of the bullpen. If Lidge got injured and Wagner stayed healthy then the Phillies still would have won the division because somebody on the Phillies bullpen would’ve managed the ninth inning. But the Mets bullpen was horrible even with Wagner because of the middle relievers.

So what is getting K-Rod or another top notch closer going to solve? Wasn’t Billy Wagner a top notch closer? The Mets certainly weren’t fine in the bullpen before he got injured.

If I were the general manager of a team, and I admit anybody would have to be half crazy and half stupid to put me in charge, then I wouldn’t worry about a closer. I would just get good relievers. If one pitcher emerges as the best of the bunch then don’t pitch him in the ninth inning when the game is practically over. Pitch your best reliever in the 7th inning when runners are on base or in the 8th inning when the 3 through 5 batters come up to bat. I know there is some risk. What if you pitch your best reliever in the 7th inning and then you get in a jam in the 8th or 9th inning and don’t have your best reliever available? That would be a difficult situation but it’s better than saving your best reliever for the ninth inning and then never getting him into the game because an inferior pitcher blew the game in the 7th or 8th inning.

If the New York Mets can get a “closer” by trading non-pitching prospects or spending a little money that is fine. But A) the Mets better not think getting a closer will solve their problems, they need a few relievers and B) they shouldn’t spend a lot of money when a starting pitcher and an outfielder are far more important positions. Personally I wouldn’t worry about a closer at all and just getting good, cheaper relievers to make the entire bullpen better.