There are certain things that baseball writers have been saying about baseball since the beginning of time. Some of these things are beliefs about the game that one sports writer learned from his mentor or from his dad and they never thought that their pops might be wrong so they just keep spewing the same trash.
Most of the thoughts passed from generation to generation have included pitcher wins, the RBI and more recently the save statistic; all of them bunk and meaningless. Last night there was another idea thrown out to the Twitterverse by ESPN writer Buster Olney:
History tells us that young closers who blow postseason leads in big moments rarely recover;it’s a good time for TEX to shift Neftali Feliz.
First, let me say that I like Olney a lot. He reports, that’s it. Doesn’t give too many opinions but reports on baseball activities and I like that. In an Internet world full of more opinions than…well…you know the saying…we need more people who simply report facts.
Second, it sounds almost believable at first glance, right? Just like you might think pitcher wins make sense when first thinking about it (I would love to write about QB wins/losses in football – anyone have a link to someone who actually thinks rather than spews the same crap their dad taught them about QB importance? The Broncos aren’t winning solely because of Tebow, in fact they are winning despite him. That Bronco defense is what should be getting the headlines). But when you look at pitcher wins you realize how half of the game is played when the pitcher isn’t involved and that is assuming a pitcher throws a complete game; the stat is junk.
I don’t agree with this. RT @Buster_ESPN: History tells us that young closers who blow postseason leads in big moments rarely recover…
Klaw followed shortly with:
I do agree with @Buster_ESPN that what he stated is a bit of industry conventional wisdom. I disagree with him on its validity.
Just one example: Byung-Hyun Kim never recovered. @keithlaw @buster_espn
And finally KLaw’s retort to Pedro:
Except for the 225 ERA+ (and 36 SV) the next year, right? RT @pedrogomezESPN: Just one example: Byung-Hyun Kim never recovered. @keithlaw
Boom! Done! Game over! Pedro Gomez arguing baseball with Keith Law would be like myself arguing the benefits of aerobic activity with Suzanne Somers. It just isn’t a fair fight.
I had to look for myself. I went back to each World Series post lockout and looked for a team’s closer who had a significant amount of saves during the regular season and then had a bad World Series (let’s say an ERA over 4.50). Then I checked the rest of their career to see how they turned out.
There are some obvious flaws with this:
- I am using the save statistic, which sucks, but since the argument above is based on blown saves my hand is forced.
- I am looking at about 15 years of data which is a small sample compared to the 150+ years of baseball or even the 40 or so years since the save stat came into existence.
- A 4.50 ERA is considered a quality start, but it isn’t. If a pitcher on your team had an ERA of 4.50 you would be clamoring for them to find a new pitcher.
- Closers traditionally have good years followed by bad ones. In such small sample sizes (60-70 innings a year) two or three runs can really change the season’s statistics.
Here are some of the names I found in doing my brief and very rudimentary research.
In the 1996 World Series Wohlers pitched 4 1/3 inning with a 6.23 ERA. During the regular season he had 39 saves with a 3.03 ERA. In game four Wohlers blew a save and pitched two innings allowing three earned runs. He pitched 2 1/3 more innings of scoreless baseball in the series (speaking of small sample sizes: 4 1/3 innings). In other words he had one bad inning on the biggest stage. In 1997 Wohlers pitched 69 1/3 innings with a 3.50 ERA (119 ERA+) and 33 saves.
Wohlers’ performance in the season following disputes Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
Mesa split closing duties for the Cleveland Indians in 1997 and had 16 saves while Michael Jackson had 15. Mesa pitched 82 1/3 innings in 1997 with a 2.40 ERA and in the 1997 WS pitched five innings with a 5.40 ERA. In mop up duty in game three the Indians allowed seven Marlins runs in the ninth inning; Mesa gave up the final run of those seven. Mesa Gave up another run off of three hits in game five; that run ended up being the winning run because the Indians scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth. However, at the time that one run Mesa allowed put the Marlins up by four and seemed inconsequential. Lastly, in gave seven Mesa was charged with a blown save as he allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings pitched. The Marlins ended up winning the World Series off of Mesa’s blown save. I guess. (Not like the rest of the team didn’t have anything to do with it or the previous six games…putting a WS loss on one pitcher after over 50 innings of baseball had been played is a bit harsh.)
Mesa was traded in 1998 mid-season and finished the year with a 4.57 ERA. He did rack up 33 saves in 1999, 42 in 2001, 45 in 2002 and 43 in 2004. He had outstanding ERA+ numbers in each of those years, especially ’01.
Hard to say that Mesa wasn’t the same after 1997. His 1998 wasn’t great but he had a pretty good career following the 1997 World Series.
Mesa’s performance in subsequent seasons disputes Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
In 1998 Hoffman had 53 saves with an ERA of 1.48. In 1998 WS had an ERA of 9.00 in two innings pitched (small sample size rearing its ugly head again) and he took the loss in game three. Hoffman ended his career with 601 saves…
Hoffman’s career performance would dispute Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
2001 World Series: See tweet above from Klaw
Kim’s performance in the season following his poor World Series disputes Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
In 2005 Lidge saved 42 games for the Houston Astros with a 2.29 ERA and the kid from Cherry Creek had a slider that was unhittable. In three appearances in the 2005 World Series he took two losses and had a 4.91 ERA. And we cannot forget about Albert Pujol’s legendary smash in the NLCS. 2006 was a struggle for Lidge and he has had injury problems in his career but he did save 41 in 2008 and 31 in 2009. His ERA+ has been very good in four out of the five past seasons and he closed out the Phillies championship in 2008.
Lidge’s career would dispute Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
Close to Rockies fans hearts, Fuentes had a bad WS in ’07 with a 9.82 ERA in under four innings of work. He did record 30 saves in 2008 with a 2.73 ERA for the Rox and 48 saves with a 3.93 ERA in ’09 for the Angels. Meanwhile Manny Corpas came out of nowhere in ’07 and pitched 1 2/3 clean innings for the Rox in WS and helped save 19 games for the team in ’07. Corpas has not posted an ERA under 4.50 since ’07.
Fuentes’ career would dispute Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory.
Corpas’ career would also dispute Buster’s (and the baseball industry’s) theory in the other direction.
I think it is safe to say that there is not any hard evidence that a bad World Series for a closer is any different than a bad World Series for any other player; it doesn’t affect them the following season what-so-ever. There might be occurrences throughout baseball history in which a player’s career goes downhill after a bad World Series but don’t let those one or two exceptions set a mis-guided rule.