Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Closer Should Never Win a Cy Young Award

There has again been the usual rumblings around the blogsphere about Mariano Rivera as a Cy Young candidate. Posts such as this one tout his ERA and his K/BB ratios, etc. Anyone who knows the Fan knows that Mo is one of his favorite players. The class of the guy and his unusual success over the years with one pitch has earned the respect and a place some day at Cooperstown. But he should never win the Cy Young award, no matter how good he does.

Many experts out there denigrate the value of a closer. Many say that any good starter could be a good closer. Many also say that the Save is a bogus statistic and that guys like Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are artificial heroes because of the bogus stat. The Fan doesn't buy it and those that propose that sort of thinking don't understand that the nature of the game has changed. Pitchers no longer finish 25 to 35 games a season like they did in the past. Starters are expected to pitch to the sixth or seventh and the bullpen takes over. That is today's game. And not accepting that fact takes away from what the closer does. Just ask the Indians how important a closer is. But a closer should not win a Cy Young award.

The Yankees have a .606 OPS against them in save situations. The Blue Jays sit at .806. You don't think that has a big factor in their respective places in the standings? The expectation of guys like Rivera and Eckersley and Gossage at his peak is that the game becomes a seven inning game. You had better be winning or at least tied by then because if you were behind, it was over. There is no overstating the fact that a closer like Rivera is a devastating weapon for the Yankees just like Eckersley was at his closing peak. But they still should win Cy Young awards.

The simple fact of the matter is that they usually pitch an inning. Again, the Fan fully believes in the importance of a good closer and that the Save is a valid statistic. But it's still only one inning out of nine. The starter has to go seven of the nine. There is no comparison of the value there. Either it's a seven of nine effect on a game or a one of nine. The math doesn't ever make sense for a closer and Cy Young. A closer will pitch 70 innings a year. A starter will pitch over 200. A closer will throw 1400 pitches a season. A starter will throw over 4000. No matter how you look at the math, the closer never comes close in value.

The AL Cy Young contenders are Halladay (the leader right now), Greinke and probably Jackson. But don't put Rivera in there. He's great, perhaps the greatest closer ever. But he shouldn't ever be in the thinking process for Cy Young.


Steve G. said...

I'm fine if the closer has saved something like 50 close, tight games, and not blown any. In that case, sure, maybe they deserve a Cy Young award.

However, despite all of the bluster that saving games is a hard, almost impossible thing to do, there isn't much evidence to suggest it does take nerves of steel. Brian Wilson went from being a mop-up reliever and subpar starter to the closer for the Giants, and other luminaries like Mike Williams and Todd Jones have taken turns as closers.

William said...

Thanks for the comment, Steve.

Josh Borenstein said...

I'm with you all the way. The only closer who won a Cy Young who I don't have a problem with is Mike Marshall. He logged 208 innings in 1974, and he wasn't even a swingman! He pitched in 106 games. That's unheard of.