My oh my, how closing times have changed

1988 Score #656 Steve Bedrosian HL / Saves Record

25 years ago today, on June 29th 1987, Steve Bedrosian recorded a save in a 6-5 Phillies win over the Pirates. It was the 19th save of his Cy Young-winning season, and it was the 12th straight appearance where he recorded a save.

Read the last part of that last sentence again…he got a save in 12 straight appearances. That doesn’t sound too unusual, right? Can you believe that at the time, he had just set the MLB record for most consecutive appearances with a save?

The card above actually celebrates that very streak. Read the back of the card, posted at the bottom here. At the time, Bedrosian’s record-breaking performance supplanted that of Sparky Lyle from 14 years prior.

In the 25 years that followed Bedrosian’s record, here are the longest streaks where a pitcher recorded a save in every appearance:

Rk Strk Start End Games
1 John Wetteland 1996-05-31 1996-07-14 24
2 Todd Jones 2005-07-19 2005-09-13 23
3 Lee Smith 1995-04-28 1995-06-25 19
4 J.J. Putz 2011-08-12 2011-09-25 18
5 Lee Smith 1993-05-24 1993-06-28 17
6 Randy Myers 1993-09-03 1993-10-03 16
7 Jose Valverde 2008-08-09 2008-09-10 15
8 Chad Cordero 2005-06-05 2005-07-02 15
9 Jose Mesa 2004-09-26 2005-05-10 15
10 Trevor Hoffman 2001-07-19 2001-09-01 15
11 Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000-06-20 2000-07-28 15
12 Jeff Shaw 1997-08-25 1997-09-19 15
13 Doug Jones 1988-05-13 1988-07-02 15
14 Mariano Rivera 2003-08-19 2003-09-19 14
15 John Smoltz 2002-06-03 2002-07-01 14
16 Rod Beck 1998-06-28 1998-07-26 14
17 Mariano Rivera 1998-06-02 1998-07-11 14
18 Jose Mesa 1995-05-20 1995-06-17 14
19 Jeff Montgomery 1994-07-08 1994-08-09 14
20 Ryan Franklin 2009-08-07 2009-09-05 13
21 Joakim Soria 2008-09-06 2009-04-22 13
22 Francisco Rodriguez 2008-04-14 2008-05-13 13
23 Francisco Rodriguez 2005-09-17 2006-04-10 13
24 Bob Wickman 2005-08-23 2005-09-23 13
25 Trevor Hoffman 2005-04-30 2005-05-29 13
Rk Strk Start End Games
26 Troy Percival 2003-06-08 2003-07-09 13
27 John Wetteland 2000-05-12 2000-06-05 13
28 Jeff Montgomery 1998-06-17 1998-07-24 13
29 Lee Smith 1993-10-01 1994-04-30 13
30 Rod Beck 1993-05-21 1993-06-21 13
31 Dennis Eckersley 1992-04-25 1992-05-29 13
32 Steve Bedrosian 1987-05-25 1987-06-30 13
33 Jonathan Broxton 2010-05-07 2010-05-30 12
34 Jason Isringhausen 2004-08-05 2004-09-01 12
35 Mariano Rivera 2004-05-26 2004-06-15 12
36 Joe Borowski 2003-09-04 2004-04-09 12
37 Troy Percival 2002-06-02 2002-07-03 12
38 Rod Beck 1996-09-28 1997-04-27 12
39 Mark Davis 1988-10-01 1989-04-29 12
40 John Franco 1988-07-05 1988-07-30 12
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/29/2012.

You can see Bedrock ran his streak to 13 games, but since setting his record, it’s been tied or broken 31 times. Insane.

The way that closers get used now is so exclusively in save situations, that any guy who doesn’t get a blown save for a couple of months will rack up a streak that ties Bedrosian’s 1987 record.

I don’t even really know where to begin with the stupidity of how closers are used today. The dumbest thing of all is a road team saving a closer for when they have a lead. If it’s the bottom of the 9th (or 10th or 11th, etc) and the score is tied, managers just about never use their closers. They “save” him (ironically enough) for the next inning in the hopes that their team scores in the top of the inning so they can then bring in the closer to protect the lead. That means that the manager puts in a lesser reliever to pitch that inning, and if he gives up a run, the game is over while your closer is still sitting on his ass, having never come into the game.

I do miss the days of Goose Gossage, who routinely came in during the 7th or 8th inning to pitch 2 to 3 innings to close out games. It seems to make a lot more sense. I understand, though, that limiting a closer to 1 inning (and usually fewer pitches) means he’ll throw harder, batters have less opportunity to see the pitcher, and generally he will be more effective. But I can’t help but feel that managers have swung too far in the other direction, limiting the user of closers far too much.

When Joe Torre started using Mariano Rivera in the playoffs in the 8th inning, I had hoped that this would carry over to the regular season and that Rivera would be the first of a new breed of closers who would come in for as many as 6 outs. But this hasn’t happened, presumably because on the rare occasions when a closer blows a game in such circumstances because he’s lost an MPH or two off his fastball, managers feel like they would have been better off saving him for the 9th. But the current prevailing strategy has been shown to be monumentally flawed…

It takes time I suppose. I feel pretty confident in saying that in another 10 years time, closers will not be used in such restricted circumstances. Joe Madden will probably be the first guy to figure it out.

If you’ve read this far, you get a prize. Take a look again at the picture of Bedrosian on the front of the card at the top of this post. Notice anything unusual?

There is a Montreal Expo in the background who is not a baserunner, but an infielder. This means that the photo can only be from the 1987 All-Star game, and that must be Hubie Brooks.

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34 Comments on "My oh my, how closing times have changed"

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YanNotEsteban
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Retirement treating you well?

Dan McCloskey
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My guess is the Expo in the background is Hubie Brooks, since it appears he’s playing shortstop.

Hartvig
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Absolutely nothing I can add to your well reasoned post except to say that I agree with you 100%.

NatsLady
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You know, I keep reading this idiocy over and over again, and I have to make a stand. Yesterday, in the Nats-Rox game, it gets to be the bottom of the 11th and the poor relief pitcher (Stammen) enters his 3 inning of work, and the “closer” (Clippard) who hasn’t pitched in the entire series, isn’t called in. Idiocy, right? NO NO NO NO!!!!!! Let’s look at the game and the team situation. The starter (EJax) is pulled in the 4th, and the almost-always-less-than-effective Tom Gorzelanny lets an inherited runner score, and at that point it’s 7-0. The Nats come… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
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I disagree.
Bring in Clippard.
Win today. Win today. Win today.
Tomorrow is tomorrow.
You might win 11-0 tomorrow.
And besides, if you’re stretched thin, you’ve got arms at AAA to meet you in Atlanta.

John Autin
Editor
I agree with Voomo, for several reasons: — Of all the basic entry situations, a tie game on the road is the highest leverage. The value of a run prevented, when a run means a loss, is higher than in any other basic situation. That’s the main problem with modern closer usage: The basic underlying thinking is just wrong. — Clippard has not pitched since June 23 (and then he threw just 11 pitches then, after a day off). By not using him, Davey insured that Clippard would have at least 5 days between appearances. That’s certainly counter to the… Read more »
bstar
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Here’s a link to an interview with Cippard from Fangraphs author David Laurilia. They touch on Tyler’s views on the role of the closer:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/qa-nationals-closer-tyler-clippard/

By the way, this is part of a great season-long series of interviews by Laurilia, who writes out of Boston. Click on Recent Stories and then you can click on his name from the list of authors to get an archive of his tremendous work. Here’s another gem, for all you Joe Madden fans on here, an interview with bench coach Dave Martinez:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/qa-dave-martinez-tampa-bay-bench-coach/

Evan
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The one inning closer model probably makes more sense the better the team is. One reason to use a pitcher for shorter outings is that you’ll be able to use him more frequently (without increasing the presumed risk of injury or ineffectiveness from multiple innings in close proximity). The need to use your closer to protect leads multiple days in a row (or 3 out 4, etc.) is only important if you have these small leads frequently. It would be interesting to see a manager of a weaker team experiment with using his closer for longer stretches to preserve the… Read more »
Steven
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I miss the days when closers were just called relief pitchers and middle-inning specialists were mop-up guys.

NatsLady
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P.S. Ankiel made a great play in Rox game… Bottom line, it’s an uphill battle for the away team to win a game that’s tied after the middle of the 9th. Davey uses Clippard–if available–to pitch the 9th at home in a tie game (not a “save” situation). His strategy is to bring Clip in for the 9th, and if that doesn’t work, he goes in descending order of quality of available short relievers for the tied innings, depending on when the pitcher’s spot comes up can be pinch hit for he tries to set it up so his last… Read more »
Andy
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Replying to Evan at #16, I once asked Sean if he could do a database search to see if there was a significant difference in team records in games following an extra inning game, based on whether the opponent in the second game was the same opponent or a new opponent. It’s getting at the exact same thing you suggested. I forget what Sean said–I think he agreed it was an interesting question but didn’t have the bandwidth to address it.

NatsLady
Guest

That would be really interesting, since it could affect a manager’s strategy in the extra inning game, and Davey is a great one for “knowing when to fold.”

In the meantime, I ran these stats (all 1990-2012) for games the home team wins when it’s tied middle of the ninth or goes extra innings. In other words, the home team pitches 8+ innings.

All ——————————————-(27851/51721) = .539
NL (because it’s different game, isn’t it?)—-(13401/24812) = .540
Coors (because it’s REALLY a different game—-(711/1279) = .556
Coors and 90-99 degrees (because I could)—– (55/93) = .591

no statistician but
Guest
NatsLady: I haven’t run a huge number of stats, but home teams in almost any season, on average, win at a rate of around .540-.560, so your figures don’t indicate quite what you appear to be implying, it seems to me. If anything those figures suggest that “knowing when to fold” doesn’t really apply, not if the chance of winning is about the same, tied in the ninth, as it was when the first batter stepped to the plate. As for any effect on the following day’s game, that would be highly variable and certainly unpredictable in an immediate sense.… Read more »
Evan
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I think the search referenced @19 is faulty for what it claims to be measuring. It seems to include ~2300 games/season, which makes sense if it actually was run as games where the home team has 8+ inning pitched. This wouldn’t pick up only games where it was tied middle of the ninth or later, rather it picks up every single game except for those shortened by rain or other. Road team with 8+ IP wouldn’t work either as it would include every non-shortened game won by the road team and every “walk-off win.” The win probability chart gives the… Read more »
John Autin
Editor

Great choice of card, Andy — Bedrock’s lone All-Star game, the 1987 contest was scoreless through 12 innings. Lee Smith pitched 3 innings, Tom Henke 2.2 IP. The only runs came from Rock Raines’s triple in the 12th, his 3rd hit in 3 ABs after replacing Eric Davis.

P.S. What a shame that Raines didn’t start that game. In the midst of his 3-year peak, at the ’87 break he was hitting .346/.427/.520, 25 SB (2 CS), with 60 runs in 63 games. The fans chose Dawson instead.

Tmckelv
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John A,

You beat me to it…I was going to talk about how much times changed… in an extra inning All-Star game, Lee Smith pitched 3 innings!!! Not sure how long Davey Johnson thought the game would go as he left Smith in the game for 3 innings with his own Mets Starter (Sid Fernandez) in the bullpen. Then he effectively used Sid as the modern day closer, by bringing him in to save the game in the bottom of the 13th.

Andy, that card is awesome – we have talked about how underrated that 1988 Score set is.

Doug
Editor
“The dumbest thing of all is a road team saving a closer for when they have a lead. If it’s the bottom of the 9th (or 10th or 11th, etc) and the score is tied, managers just about never use their closers.” I’m guessing this came immediately to mind for you Andy, because your Red Sox did this very thing last night against the Mariners – and paid for it. In contrast, the Mariners stuck with a clearly tiring King Felix, who struggled through the top of the 9th, but preserved the scoreless tie with a gutsy effort despite running… Read more »
Andy
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MY Red Sox? You don’t know me at all, Doug.

I’m actually not even aware of scores from yesterday. I was working all night, and this saves this is something I’ve been working on for a while.

Evan
Guest

That may or may not have been an impetus for that statement, but Andy is a fan of the Phillies.

Andy
Guest

Nope.

I’m not a fan of any team…I am a national writer, bitches!

Evan
Guest

Oh crap, it looks like Andy’s HHS account has been hacked by Peter Gammons.

Tubbs
Guest
Bedrosian’s winning the ’87 CY makes me wonder who would have won the CY if the same pitchers put the same stats up today. For example, relief pitchers are less valued today so doubt Bedrosian would win. Nolan Ryan would draw some votes due to league leading 2.76 ERA & 270 K’s, despite his 8-16 & zero CGs (I believe the GM had him on a pitch count that year). Ryan’s Astros teammate Mike Scott had a great first half & was the AS game starter but fizzled in the second half. Dodger teammates Bob Welch & Orel Hershiser would… Read more »
John Nacca
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Just my opinion……most relievers nowadays have one pitch; yes guys like Gossage and Sutter (to an extent) had only one pitch as well. But guys like Quiz had a bevy of pitches. EVERY reliever now basically has one pitch, with a few variations (like throwing a 2-seamer instead of a 4-seamer). Gone are the days when a reliever would be the fastball-curveball-slider guy, which IMO EXTENDS a pitchers shelf-life, not only in a game but in a season as well as a career. I beat a dead horse by saying this, but nothing gets me more annoyed with modern baseball… Read more »
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