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Closers v. Firemen

Tom Verducci (SI.com) offers a long overdue assessment of present day "closers" versus bygone"firemen" relievers such HOF inductee Goose Gossage. First, Gossage, Sutter, and similar pitched more innings and in a greater variety of circumstance as born out by the table below.

Breakdown of Saves of More Than Three Outs

Closer 4-5 Outs 6-8 Outs 9+ Outs Total Long Saves
Hoffman 48 7 0 55
Rivera 87 11 0 98
Sutter 58 115 15 188
Gossage 68 101 24 193

Second, and most telling for performance, consider save production to save opportunities with 6 or more outs:

  1. Sutter 130/167 (77%)
  2. Gossage 125/185 (76%)
  3. Hoffman 7/19 (37%)
  4. Rivera 11/42 (25%)

Here are some excerpts from Verducci's analysis of these differences:

Such relievers [the firemen] were ready for the rescue call as early as the sixth inning. Today's closers might be napping in the clubhouse in the sixth inning. They have become the specialists' specialists, the last layer in the stratification of the modern bullpen, reduced most often to starting the ninth inning with a lead of one, two or three runs. They don't put out fires any more. Charged often with just getting three outs before giving up a third run, they help little old ladies across the street ...

Four times Gossage saved at least 25 games while throwing more than 100 innings. It has been done 70 times in baseball history --- but not once by an active pitcher. No one in baseball has done it since Danny Graves for the 1999 Reds. Why not? ... It's counter-intuitive to think that with nutritional, training and medical advances over three decades that today's pitcher is less durable ...

The game evolves. Some day some team, by way of happenstance or a maverick manager, will use a closer for more than 100 innings again -- the reverse scenario from what Tony La Russa did with Dennis Eckersley in Oakland -- and the copycats will follow. And that's when Gossage, the newest Hall of Famer, will be honored again: when after all these years we finally see the next Goose Gossage.