Friday, October 7, 2011

The baseball closer

The recently concluded Yankees vs Tigers playoff series suggests some of the difficulties which I tried to address in the prior post.  Compared to the regular season a five game series is ridiculously small.  NBA series are .085 of the season schedule (7/82), NFL is .063 (1/16) and the first round in baseball is .031 (5/162).  Funny to hear all the talk of what the Yankees have to do to address their problems now that they find themselves on the wrong end of what is almost surely a statistically insignificant difference.

That said, that in mind, still….still you couldn’t help but notice and ponder that the greatest closer in the game was a complete non-factor.  Mariano Rivera was healthy, and was irrelevant to the outcome (almost the opposite could be said of ARod, who if you are Yankee fan was all too relevant).  He faced one batter in game 1, and three batters in game 5; that’s it.  Doesn’t that tell us something about being a closer?  How critical can a closer be if the best is irrelevant in a playoff?

The closest parallel that I can think of is a field goal kicker in the NFL.  Games tend to be close, so it quite often comes down whether or not a kicker is successful from some distance at the end of the game.  Succeeding or failing is memorable.  But your opportunities are completely dependent on the players who are actually involved in most of the plays.  The offense has to get into field goal range (and not score a touchdown) for you to be a factor in the game and the defense has to stop the other team often enough for 3 points to matter.  Similarly, as used now, a team has to be ahead by a smallish margin at the end of the game for the closer to have any significance to the outcome, which has to lead you to believe that that significance is vastly overrated.

Mariano Rivera is the best closer of his time.  The Yankees vs Tigers series makes me wonder what that means.  It certainly should be kept in mind when talking of him as being one of the all time Yankee greats or thinking about closers as MVPs or Hall of Famers.  I don’t see how you can be considered one of the greats if you play a position that can be demonstrated to not matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment