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Sunday July 10, 2011 2:47 am

Closer role still a work in progress




Posted by Adrien Griffin Categories: Athletes, MLB

Brian WilsonIn the last few decades, the role of the closer has grown exponentially from guys who had to mop up games that a starter couldn’t finish to pitchers with defined jobs that earn them save stats all their own as well as paychecks with a significant number of zeros. However, despite the prestige the role gets when successful, it’s still very much a work in progress. On average, teams only convert 68 percent of their save opportunities.

 

Many of baseball’s best closers weren’t closers in the minors. Two of baseball’s most notable closers are Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon; both of whom were failed starters who converted to the bullpen for lack of anywhere else to play them. Heath Bell now with the San Diego Padres spent the majority of nine seasons in the minors and collected a total of five saves – all in 2004 – before joining the New York Mets full-time and even then he wasn’t the 40+ save man until the Padres acquired in 2007 and gave him the opportunity in 2009.

Brian Wilson, the closer with the prominent beard for the San Francisco Giants, is one of few exceptions. He was a starter with LSU but after being drafted by San Francisco in 2003, he was used exclusively from the bullpen and racked up more than 40 career minor league saves before emerging with the Giants. Likewise, Drew Storen has emerged as the closer with the Washington Nationals. He was drafted by the Nationals in 2009 and moved rapidly through the minor league system, collecting 15 saves in 41 appearances. He already has 25 this season.

Wilson and Storen are definitely the exception, not the norm. For every “grown” closer in baseball, you can probably count at least five others who were converted to the role. Fans constantly want their teams to go out and get those “shut down” closers. There are 30 teams in the league, but there are much fewer capital “C” closers. The shut down guys hardly exist. Until baseball finds a way to start breeding them the way they do position players, ninth innings will continue to be nail biters in most markets.

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