A MLB Closer: The Measure of a Man


I just traded away a closer, which is something I most likely will do at least once more this season. While I’m not entirely of the “never pay for saves” crowd (you have to pay something for saves), I do treat saves as a fungible commodity. My working mindset is that there’s a good shot I can find the next 9th inning guy, making my current closers perfect trade chips if I need to upgrade elsewhere. So I spin a closer off, only to then find another.

There’s my lede, written to give a nugget of fantasy baseball advice, before I shift toward looking at the qualities that make a closer. Remember, closers aren’t made in the minors. Rarely is there any type of correlation at all between the number of saves a player has in the minors and the numbers of saves he’ll get in the Majors.

Closers are rarely groomed, it’s usually a role stumbling into based upon a a skill set. So when scouting potential closers you are looking for a skill set, not experience.

Again, I’m just talking scouting the minors. Rarely will the Triple A guy with 30 saves be a dominant MLB closer, because a closer in the minors is not given the same value and it’s rarely a pitcher with upside. A closer in the minors is often the team’s 29-year-old journeyman while the young guy with more upside to his skillset is being given looks in different roles (the the starting rotation).

But often they’ll flash certain skills, make the MLB roster as a bullpen arm, show success in getting out major leagues batters, then finally get opportunities in the 9th inning when an opportunity arrises due to injuries or ineffectiveness of the incumbent.

So what’s the measure of a closure?  What’s the kind of skills you’re scouting if you want to have a deep list of possible future closer candidates?

Makeup

We’ve heard a million times from managers something to the effect of “closer experience.” They are looking for a certain amount of confidence and emotional discipline in their closer. Swagger. Machismo.

While not something that can be measured, nor it is often rational, it’s still a fact of the game. In order to get the opportunity a potential closer typically has to exhibit that he has at least a little bit of “it.” What “it” is.

Cheese

A second rule of thumb is that a potential closer candidate needs to throw the heat. A quality fastball that hits the mid-90′s certainly looks good on the resumé. If the candidate can write a killer cover letter that displays his make up, then he might just get an interview.

Obviously, every closer can’t throw 100 mph like Aroldis Chapman, not does every pitcher that throws the ball hard make a good closer. Andrew Cashner throws just as fast, but let’s look instead at Kelvin Herrera. Herrera actually had the highest average fastball velocity in 2012, but his strikeout rate wasn’t nearly as high as Aroldis Chapman’s. That’s because it’s not just speed, it’s also location and movement and a host of 100 other things. Speed alone won’t generate a swing and miss, as Herrera found out. His lack of fastball movement simply generated weak contact. But 2013 is already flashing a little more life in Herrera’s fastball, meaning that the movement coupled with the speed should pay dividends on the strikeout rate and raise his chances of a future job as closer.

Out Pitch

But it’s not always the fastball that leads to all the swings and misses. Often times it’s the secondary pitch that will serve as a closer’s out pitch, anyone who has seen Craig Kimbrel‘s filthy 87 mph curveball.

The takeaway here is that you should scout relievers whose second pitch is just as good as their first. That’s a player who is a future closer in the making, as that second pitch keeps hitters scared and leads to the quick outs needed by a closer.

 

So there is how I scout my future closers. I’m looking for a skillset that consists of a dominate fastball and equally effective second pitch, wrapped up in a player that has “it.” That’s how you measure a man with a chance to get you saves. In Part 2 later this week, I’ll share with you several guys who have made the list.

Tags: Aroldis Chapman Closer Craig Kimbrel Fastball RP Saves