06/20/2012 by anjru0805
According to Wikipedia, a closer is “a relief pitcher who specializes in getting the final outs in a close game when their team is leading. The role is often assigned to a team’s best reliever.”
For all intents and purposes, I think this is an accurate description. Does Aroldis Chapman fit the description?
Last night, Chapman came on in the bottom of the 10th inning to close the game against the Indians. At the time, the Reds were up 2-1. [Going back to our definition, relief pitcher? Check. Close game? Check. Team leading? Check.]
Indians DH Lonnie Chisenhall was up first. He was 0/3 at the time. Chisenhall flies out to Jay Bruce, one out. [Final outs? Ch– ]
Shin-Soo Choo at the plate, 2/3 on the night. Choo singles to Bruce. [Final outs? …]
Asdrubal Cabrera homers. Game over. [Final outs? X]
Chapman is in the closer’s role because he’s a relief pitcher [Check] who specializes in getting the final outs [X] in a close game [Check] when the Reds are leading [Check]. Where Chapman falls short of being “the closer” isn’t because he blew a save, it’s because he’s not the team’s best reliever. Well, he’s not always the team’s best reliever. How could he be? How could anyone be?
Dusty Baker is focused on matchups. He’s notorious for blowing through an entire bullpen late in a game to keep lefty-lefty, righty-righty matchups. But in the 9th (or 10th), Chapman is in, no matter what. Chapman is predictable: he has the third highest percentage of thrown fastballs of any reliever. If the first three guys at the plate for the opponent could only hit 105 mph fastballs, you can be sure Dusty would still bring in Chapman.
If you’re going to focus on matchups, how could you not choose a pitcher with the best matchup? Or the pitcher who has the best stuff that night? If for some reason the best pitcher you could bring in for a save is Wilson Valdez, why would you bring in anyone but him? An exaggeration, yes, but you get the point.
Chapman was blowing people away for the majority of this season, no doubt. He was, for a long time, the best pitcher in any situation. He was unhittable. In his last six appearances, he’s gone 5.1 innings with 7 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks, 7 Ks and 2 homers. He’s gone 0-3 in that time, saved 2 games and blown 2 saves. He’s struggling now and needs to work some things out. But why would Dusty allow him to continue to struggle (and work things out) when the game is on the line?
The bullpen is full of relief pitchers, not relief pitchers and one closer.