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What is a “closer’s mentality” anyway?

Aug 26, 2011, 11:33 AM EDT

Chicago Cubs v Philadelphia Phillies Getty Images

Dash Treyhorn of The Fightins has a long post up today countering the belief among some in Phillies Nation* that Ryan Madson simply doesn’t have a “closer’s mentality.”

We get plenty of Phillies navel-gazing in these parts lately so I don’t post it for that (bring back Steve Bedrosian; I really don’t care who closes games for the Phillies). I post it for the more general observations he makes about such arguments. Arguments which seem to ignore the fact that the best closers year-in and year-out tend to, you know, not have anything approaching a single mentality and, in fact, a lot of them are high-strung loonies.

Dash is right: the whole closer’s mentality thing is a post-facto assessment. If a guy is a good pitcher late in games, voila, he has a closer’s mentality. If not, he doesn’t.  It’s pretty ridiculous stuff.

Anyway, a good read on a topic that is so rife with nonsense.

*The Red Sox have a Nation and the Yankees a Universe. What do the Phillies have?

150 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. bcopus - Aug 26, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    The point, which is mostly being missed here, is that the “mentality” being referred to is not tangible. We say a pitcher has a “closer mentality” after he has been successful at closing out games. But the closers have vastly different personalities, approaches, etc., so the “mentality” is really just a way of saying he has been good so far. Furthermore, the people who swear by the “mentality” theory couldn’t pick successful closers at a higher rate than someone who looks at the numbers for decisions. Since there is no concrete evidence that someone possesses said “mentality” until AFTER they’ve “proven” they have it.

    • kcq101 - Aug 26, 2011 at 7:35 PM

      I agree. But couldn’t you say that about any professional athlete. You can draft prospects all you want, who show raw talent and seem to have promise. They could throw 110mph in a bullpen session, with nasty movement up, down, left, right, and backwards. But all is meaningless until they prove it on the mound and effectively get batters out.

      If a prospect seems to have great stuff, then you’d project him to be a viable candidate for a good major league player. Similarly, if a pitcher is effective in the 7th or 8th, then you’d project him to be a viable candidate for a 9th-inning guy. In either case, you can’t draw any conclusions until you have results.

      So, to extrapolate your point, starter, closer, batter, defense, whatever…’re not a good player until you’ve proven you’re a good player. Nevertheless, this doesn’t counter the point that certain roles, positions, and moments carry more weight of which some handle better than others.

  2. bcopus - Aug 26, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    …but the argument is about the “mentality”, which nobody has until they’ve already done something. Whether or not moments have more pressure, nothing about successful closers carries over to another person to guarantee that they will also do well in that role, so what is the mentality of a closer? There are already multiple mentalities equally successful in the closer role now. Can we name someone who absolutely could not be a closer with the following criterion: a) multiple seasons of success in a middle or long reliever role; b) has not already been a closer or amassed any significant amount of saves; c) has not had a demonstrated and seriously overblown breakdown on the field.

    Look at Zack Greinke. He certainly doesn’t, on paper, have the “mentality” to be a successful starter. The mentality issue is, at best, a guess.

    • kcq101 - Aug 26, 2011 at 9:40 PM

      I hear you. But not being able to identify a pattern, particular trait, etc., doesn’t refute that physical talent and situational knowledge, aside, can, alone, define a closer and his success.

      I don’t think there is an argument that there is some unique, distinguishable and uniform characteristic that fits in some type of model that forecasts ones success in the 9th inning.

      But, I think there is a valid argument to say that, ceteras parabus in terms of everything else in a closer but some type of mental fortitude, that the one with the “thicker skin” will prevail. Whether or not it isn’t on the back of a baseball card, quantified, or able to be predicted, doesn’t mean there isn’t some type of varying, intnagible X-factor that separates one from the rest.

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