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Dennis Eckersley: Closing “not as tough as you think”

Sep 6, 2013, 9:55 PM EDT

Dennis Eckersley

For years, we have been inundated with the sentiment that there is nothing tougher, nothing that requires more focus and mental fortitude than being a Major League closer. Former Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley, who authored two of the best relief seasons of all time in 1990 (0.61 ERA. 48 saves) and ’92 (won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards), says that closing is “not as tough as you think”.

Via Tyler Kepner of the New York Times:

“I don’t want to take away anything from what I did,” Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Fame closer, said Thursday before the game. “But it’s not as tough as you think.”

[...]

“You can find somebody to do it,” Eckersley said. “You could groom somebody to do it who’s on the staff, if you manage it the right way. I mean, think about it: the tougher job is to come in with guys on base, because he’s got to be quicker to the plate and he has to hold runners on.”

The motivation behind the article was Mariano Rivera‘s sixth blown save of the year, which came last night against the Red Sox. The 43-year-old Rivera is set to retire after the season as the greatest closer of all-time with 649 saves to his name and a career 2.21 ERA. While Rivera is by no means having a terrible season, many are having better seasons, as Kepner points out. Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Mark Melancon, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, and Edward Mujica are just a handful of players doing a better job for a much cheaper price and a fraction of the praise, seemingly putting to bed the notion that one must have an inborn “closer’s mentality”.

  1. dsimp724 - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    Couldn’t agree more…………. Kirk Gibson “88”

    • Glenn - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:25 PM

      Sample size – one pitch and one at-bat. Just saying.

  2. tfbuckfutter - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    Things generally aren’t “tough” when you are inherently excellent at them.

    • captn58crunch - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:20 PM

      Simple post, but totally spot on, butt man!

    • proudlycanadian - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      Closing is easier when you scuff the baseball. Eck was a master at scuffing baseballs.

    • Glenn - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:33 PM

      The very fact that the percentage of teams winning with leads late in games and when leading in the 9th hasn’t changed in the history of the game, even with bullpen specialization and closers becoming part of the game over time supports the Eck. The great (and I mean it) Rivera’s percentage of save completion compared to the time before closers existed says it all. Our modern belief in the closer is one big placebo effect. The one little blip in advantage comes in the 70’s era when bullpen specialists were used in any late game high leverage situation, not just save opportunities says it all.

      • tfbuckfutter - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:50 PM

        Wait….how can two different things say it all?

        That is literally 100% more than is possible.

  3. the8man - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    Well if you are a starting pitcher most of your career and learn to focus on getting the side out for seven, eight or nine innings and are successful and then it gets shortened to one or two innings you are inherently very qualified for the work.

    The AL is where great hitters go when they get older. The reliever is where great starters can go later in their careers. Smoltz? I often wonder what Clemens, Johnson or Schilling could have done in that role as opposed to retiring.

    Just saying.

    • negaduck - Sep 7, 2013 at 8:21 AM

      Schilling did try to be a closer, after his ankle injury. I remember Gary Sheffield hit one of his offerings so hard into the monster that it left a dent. Then the following batter, Alex Rodriguez, hit a majestic home run over everything.

  4. aceshigh11 - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    Eckersley continued…

    “Now, on the other hand…maintaining my Studio 54-ready, Farrah Fawcett-style feathered hair and accompanying mustache as I close in on 60 years of age?

    “Incredibly challenging.”

    • ltzep75 - Sep 6, 2013 at 11:32 PM

      Seriously can’t give this enough thumbs up.

    • bruininnh1984 - Sep 6, 2013 at 11:34 PM

      hilarious!! not to mention a better color man than jerry remy in my opinion.

    • tadthebad - Sep 7, 2013 at 6:49 AM

      Hilarious. But Eck has great moss, not hair.

    • misterscmo - Sep 7, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      * moss

  5. yankeepunk3000 - Sep 6, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    I do agree with what he says. It’s true anyone can do it. but very few have done it for 15 years straight. its just tough to be that reliable for over a decade. That’s why its very unlikely anyone will break Mos record. Mo is 43 yet only a handfull of closers are doing a better job. obviously that means something. I know being a Yankee gan makes me biased but its freaken Mo! defend him till death!

  6. joestemme - Sep 7, 2013 at 12:08 AM

    While I agree that the stats say that closing ain’t no big thing, the one factor that isn’t mentioned enough is confidence. Namely, confidence on the part of a manager and the other 24 players on your team that your closer will do his job. How often do you see teams get flustered when their closer blows several games in a short period of time? (let alone in a crucial series – playoff or otherwise)

    CONFIDENCE is what has separated Rivera from the pack. He may not suceed every time, but his team has confidence that he will EVERY time.

  7. ireportyoudecide - Sep 7, 2013 at 1:36 AM

    He’s right, and it why a 5th starter is more valueable then a closer. Even if the Marlins knew they could move Fernandez to the closer role and he wouldn’t blow a save for 10 years, he still would be far less valueable then a starter with an ERA around 3.50 for that same time who throws 200 innings a year. Closers are overrated.

  8. cohnjusack - Sep 7, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    The most amazing thing about Eckersley’s 1990 season is that he walked 4 batters all year…even more amazing is who one of those batters was.

    He walked Julio Franco
    He intentionally walked Harold Baines
    He walked Kent Hrbek

    …and he walked Dante Bichette. Bichette who walked 16 times all season. Dante Bichette who managed 30 walks or less all but three time in his 14 year career.

    How I would love to go back and see that at bat. One of the greatest control pitchers of all time walking one of the hardest to walk players of all time.

    • moogro - Sep 7, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      Hrbek was often good at drawing walks.

      • cohnjusack - Sep 7, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        Hence the not highlighting him as the player who was an oddity for drawing a walk against Dennis Eckersley.

  9. louhudson23 - Sep 7, 2013 at 3:44 AM

    Closers are effective right up until they are not….newly appointed but ineffective closers from the start do not get many chances ….formerly effective closers get a bit of leeway…point being that stats say anyone can do it,because those that show they can do it get to continue and those that do not go away…..unlike a starter or position player who may last most or all of a season being ineffective.

  10. moogro - Sep 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    Closing definitely requires balls of steel, especially in the playoffs. But I think hockey goalies require a bit more.

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