Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Want To Get Off This Roller Coaster

Of all the positions in baseball, closer is probably the easiest to replace in-house. Although many will say that being a successful closer takes a certain mindset that few have (and maybe it does, I'm certainly not an expert on the psyche of the major league baseball player), the job description of a closer is quite simple.
  • Get three outs without giving up a run (or two...or three...)
  • Collect save, millions of dollars, undying affection of countless attractive women
A closer almost never comes in with runners on, meaning all a closer has to do is bring his best stuff for a few batters, knowing he is not pitching an extra inning. He does not have to save some tricky pitches for later in the game, or set up the batter for a later at-bat. The closer role begs for a pitcher with a couple of nasty pitches and a good arm who is best in short spurts, when he can just let it all hang out.

Todd Jones has none of these attributes. He has a laser-straight high-80's fastball (which is what Jermaine Dye crushed into the right field stands for the game-winning homer tonight, setting off this rant) and a couple of mediocre breaking balls that he can throw for strikes. He "pitches to contact" which is a kind way of saying he is unable to strike anyone out. He has a 1.526 WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched), which is a fancy way of saying he lets way too many runners on base. Check out this page. Highlighted are the games in which Todd Jones did NOT allow a baserunner in a full inning of work. These games do not come too often, and are greeted by sarcastic cheers and sighs of relief by Tigers faithful.

I realize Joel Zumaya has not exactly pitched like Mariano Rivera since coming back from a shoulder injury this season. However, he perfectly fits the mold of what a closer should be. He touches triple digits with his fastball, which sets up his changeup to be something besides just a slow pitch destined to be cranked for another line drive hit. He has a nasty curveball that makes hitters' knees buckle when they expect the fastball. He appears to have the "closer mentality" after a couple years of acting as if every seventh-inning hold was the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

The Tigers are probably not making the playoffs this year, but they are certainly not out of the picture. However, they are definitely not making the playoffs with a 40-year old beach ball slinging camouflage enthusiast taking the ball in the last frame of close games. Jim Leyland has already said he is going to try out Joel Zumaya and Freddy Dolsi at closer. It's time to give one of them the role full-time.

I'm not alone.

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