Around the time of Dennis Eckersley‘s conversion from starter to closer, relief pitching underwent a reinvention. Gone were the Gossage/Fingers types, so-called “relief aces,” who were counted upon to shut down the opposing team at a crucial time, typically for more than merely three outs. In their place came closing specialists, high-octane guys that entered the game, (hopefully) recorded their three outs and called it a night. This has been commonplace for more than two decades.
Nowadays, fans wait with bated breath when their team’s 9th-inning guy ventures on past his typical assignment. For good reason too.
In 2013, there have been 36 instances where a closer has pitched past recording his third out, accounting for a total of 20 innings. In these 20 innings, the combined WHIP of these pitchers has been 2.00 and their ERA sits at a brutal 6.75.
The most notable offender of the bunch is Fernando Rodney, the Tampa Bay Rays closer that has seemingly returned to his pre-2012 ways (although he has been dominant in his last 6 appearances). His four extended pitching appearances (from here forth referred to as EPs) were good for five earned runs in 2.2 innings.
Los Angeles’s Ernesto Frieri has led the way with six(!) EPs, totaling the same 2.2 innings, but only allowing one earned run and striking out four.
Only 16 of the game’s 30 closers have been tapped for a fourth (or greater) out in a save situation, and often it appears that was indeed a foolish choice. However, strikeout rate is pretty high for EPs, with 26 Ks coming in the 20 innings, good for an 11.7 K/9.
Below is a table of the EP leaders:
Addison Reed‘s lone EP is a fascinating one, coming on June 5th in a 16-inning mess against the Seattle Mariners. Despite doing fine work in his final two innings, Reed was tagged with 5 earned runs in the 14th frame and still allowed to continue (and pick up the almighty win!), as he was the 8th pitcher used by the White Sox.
For comparison’s sake, in Goose Gossage’s brilliant 1975 campaign, 43 of his 62 appearances went beyond three outs.
Granted, 20 innings is a small sample to draw on, especially when culled from 16 players. But as far as the first half of the 2013 season is concerned, closers are performing poorly as a whole when asked to go beyond their expected duty.
Note: For my purposes, closer is defined as team’s current saves leader.