Closers in Non-Save Situations
3 min read

Closers in Non-Save Situations

Jose Valverde’s season is hanging on by a thread. The Tigers season is hanging on by a thread. This all because of an 11th inning meltdown in which Valverde allowed a 4-spot to the Texas Rangers. Many casual fans argue that a closer shouldn’t be brought in to the game in a non-save situation, while many writers and analysts argue that theory is completely bogus. What’s the truth?

This is a debate based as much in opinion as in fact. Let’s start from the opinion side of things and see if we can get an idea as to which side this debate may be leaning. Fans argue that the closer role (i.e. coming into the ninth inning with a slim lead and slamming the door) is a pressure cooker type role that can’t be duplicated in any other in-game scenario. Thus, as the theory goes, when a closer is thrust into a non-save situation the mentality of said closer is different. This is likely not a conscious choice by the closer to go in with a different mindset, but the theory argues it happens nonetheless. If you flat out disagree with this theory, I caution you. It may hold more weight than many give it credit.

Take, for example, two separate projects at work. One has a tight deadline with a lot riding on it. The other is not nearly as important, has a longer deadline, but still needs to get done. When working on the stressful, tight deadline project, your focus and mentality will probably be much different than when working on the project with a lengthier timeline. Now imagine your only job is a continuous slew of important projects with tight deadlines and lots of stress, but you have just been asked to work on the other type of project. Think there’d be a change in your approach whether you mean there to be or not?

Writers and baseball analysts assume that a pitcher is a pitcher. If they make their pitches, the scenario shouldn’t matter. That’s sound logic too. Forget the inning. Forget the score. Any pitcher, at any time can succeed as long as he makes the right pitches. Yet, is it really that simple? The mental aspect to playing baseball is fascinating and often overlooked.

Let’s take Jose Valverde for example. As of August 18, 2011, Jose Valverde’s stats in save situations looked like this:

35/35 in saves, 0.51 ERA, 0.971 WHIP.

In non-save situations?

21 games, 2-4 record, 17 runs, 6.88 ERA, 1.80 WHIP.

Pretty remarkable difference, right?  Yet, these numbers are so often brushed aside it’s startling. The argument many will make is, who would you rather have, your closer or someone else? Well, let’s look at some other closers around the league. These are all career numbers as published by The Closer News.

Heath Bell:
Save situation – 2.13 ERA/1.05 WHIP
Non-save situation – 3.60 ERA/1.53 WHIP

Brian Wilson:
Save situation – 2.63 ERA/1.43 WHIP
Non-save situation – 4.50 ERA/1.60 WHIP

Jonathan Papelbon:
Save situation – 2.08 ERA/0.86 WHIP
Non-save situation – 4.03 ERA/1.03 WHIP

J.J. Putz:
Save situation – 2.08 ERA/0.98 WHIP
Non-save situation – 4.91 ERA/1.00 WHIP

These are just a few closers around the league, but the change in performance is drastic. I understand that there are sure to be closers who perform the same in save situations and non-save situations as there are also probably closers who perform better in save situations, but when you have so many closers who clearly struggle in non-save situations, it’s time to stop brushing off the possibility that closers should not be brought in in non-save situations.

After all is said and done here, I give the edge to fan theory. Writers and analysts can be as condescending as they’d like when shooting down these theories, but fact supports at least a closer look.