In my previous post, we discussed the Washington Nationals and their closer situation and did a quick poll/psychology test on who people felt should be closer, based on the statistics of four relievers, Nats or otherwise. If you need to catch up and read part one, you can check it out here.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Did you read it? You didn’t, did you. It’s OK. We’ll move on without you. Thank you to the 21 folks who did vote, even if you did vote for Kenny Powers. To those who ignored my pleas for participation, all I can do is shake my head in mild disappointment:
Are you thoroughly shamed? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Undeterred, let’s move on to find out the results of said poll and see who Nats fans think has the stats of a closer.
Let’s briefly recap some things — first, I presented the statistics of four relievers. Two are previous All-Stars, two are current closers, two are non-closer short relievers, and three have 30+ save seasons under their respective belts. A little more information: two are current Nationals and two are non-Nats. So far, so good? OK, the results:
Player 1 is the resounding winner and it isn’t even close. It appears his combination of stuff, in the form of a good strikeout and swinging strike rate, and success, in the form of his shutdown/meltdown numbers, are what set him apart and led to his vote of confidence by the bullpen committee of you, the readers.
So who was it? Who are the mystery closer candidates?
Player 1 is Sam LeCure of the Cincinnati Reds
Player 2 is Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles
Player 3 is Rafael Soriano of the Nationals
Player 4 is Drew Storen of the Nationals
…and ‘Other’ is the aforementioned Mr. Powers.
Are you wowed? Surprised? Ready to flame me on twitter?
Before flaming, let me discuss the fine gentlemen and the reason why I included the likes of Johnson and LeCure to the discussion.
LeCure, as we learned in my previous post, is similar in style to Storen, not only in approach/stuff, but also place in the bullpen. While from a pure talent perspective, he doesn’t have Storen’s repertoire, he does have a similar pitching style, in the fact that he uses 3-4 pitches and can throw them all for strikes with respectable command of them all. He doesn’t have Storen’s velocity; yet, both pitchers are a rare bullpen breed in using 3+ plus pitches to get batters out. They both also are victims(?) of their situations, in that their managers both manage to the save; they have a designated closer (for the Reds, it’s flamethrower Aroldis Chapman), and from there, the bullpen roles are filled in. Both managers have displayed tremendous amounts of confidence in and leeway to their closers in terms of using them only in save situations and letting them pitch their way out of jams. So, to the 6th through 8th innings, LeCure goes and he has excelled in said role. He has quietly become one of the more reliable relievers in the game and has done so out of the limelight and without much quibbling about where he pitches.
Johnson is not only similar in approach to Soriano in terms of pitching style, but also being oft maligned by his team’s fans. Known to blow a save here and there (he currently leads the AL in blown saves), he still is his manager’s guy, for the most part. While Orioles manager Buck Showalter has shown a propensity to go to the hot hand or to matchups more frequently than Reds manager Dusty Baker or Nats manager Davey Johnson when it comes to managing the ninth inning, he still has publicly confessed that Johnson is his closer. Much like Soriano, Johnson gets by more on contact in the form of a devastating two-seam fastball with a ton of movement and will not induce too many swinging strikes or strikeouts. In this situation, a closer with this approach will be more dependent upon inducing ground ball contact and relying upon his defense to bail him out of tights situations more so than a pitcher who can go to a strikeout pitch to get him out of trouble, so again, we see Johnson and Soriano paired up.
So we have a quartet with a number of similarities and a number of disparities, both within and out of their control. Remember the FIP/xFIP table from the last article? Let’s look at it now, including each player’s ERA:
Let’s look at this a little closer now and compare/contrast the values here. Previously, we spoke of FIP and xFIP and their relation — when FIP is lower than xFIP, we can infer that a pitcher is pitching better than what his stats project; of course the converse of this is true when FIP is greater than xFIP.
Now, let’s add ERA into this. ERA can be affected more greatly by what the defense does behind you, so when compared to FIP and xFIP, you can get a decent understanding of how much outside forces play a role in a pitcher’s performance. With that in mind, what has each of our four guys done thus far in 2013? First, some quick associations:
LeCure: ERA > FIP < xFIP
Johnson: ERA < FIP > xFIP
Soriano: ERA < FIP < xFIP
Storen: ERA > FIP > xFIP
LeCure has not only outperformed his xFIP, his ERA shows that he might even be a little unlucky in certain instances, but only slightly. Johnson and Storen have both struggled when compared against their own expected performances (FIP > xFIP), but where Johnson has been bailed out by his defense — arguably one of the more talented in the majors — Storen has suffered from the miscues of his teammates at times. Add to it a propensity to give up home runs more so than the other three and you have in a nutshell some of Storen’s problems this season. Soriano, while not performing to usual standards, is getting a decent amount of help from his defense (ERA < FIP); add to it a low K rate and the occasional home run, and well… I won’t belabour the point.
So what do we have in the end? Overall, there aren’t too many differences between success and perceived failure or struggles; this is where this becomes more psychology experiment than poll. In many ways, labels are just that — labels, and not true definitions or evaluations of worth. It is the perceptions of roles and general success that can sometimes blind a person to a player’s true worth or success — I perceive myself to be the closer, therefore, if I don’t close, I am not successful. My ERA is X, when it should be X-1, therefore, I am struggling. Player X is my closer, therefore, I should not use Player Y in the ninth inning. Player X is my closer, so I shouldn’t use him in the seventh in a bases loaded situation where the batter up to bat is 0 for 25 against my closer, because, it’s the seventh inning. That and no one really likes Soriano.
While my exercise here will potentially fall on deaf ears, it hopefully opens eyes to the notion that success can be found in and defined by many different combinations of statistics and situations; it’s just a matter of being open to alterations in your perception and the notion that high performers and success come in all shapes, sizes, innings, counts, and pitch types. The fact that many felt a non-closer displayed the most closer-ish stats, even when compared to pitchers labeled as closers, just speaks to this and also speaks to the promise that is left to be fulfilled by pitchers that may not necessarily pitch in the ninth inning.