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Closing Thoughts

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How much difference does a closer really make? Let's crunch some numbers. A pitcher's ERA is the number of runs he gives up per nine innings, you can work out the average number per inning. Let's also assume a Poisson (random) distribution for runs; may not be quite right, but it'll do as a start. We can then calculate the odds of someone giving up one, two and three runs in an inning of work. And depending on the situation, this gives the following results, for the percentage of time pitchers of any given ERA will make the save, in any given save situation:

                                   Pitcher ERA
Game situation To get save  3.00   4.00   5.00   6.00   
-------------- ----------- -----  -----  -----  -----  
One-run lead   No runs     71.9%  64.4%  57.7%  51.1%  
Two-run lead   0 or 1      95.6%  92.7%  89.4%  85.5%  
Three-run lead 2 or less   99.5%  99.0%  98.2%  96.9%  
-------------- ----------- -----  -----  -----  -----  
               Overall     89.0%  85.4%  81.8%  77.8%
               Blown saves  5.5    7.3    9.1   11.1

The overall figure is based on equal numbers of opportunities with each size lead, which is probably not far from the truth. And to get the number of blown saves, I'm assuming 50 opportunities per season. These numbers are all probably a little low, since they exclude UNearned runs, which can blow a save just as much. But I presume those are effectively independent of pitching, and will affect all numbers more or less equally. [While a bad pitcher might provide more opportunities for his defense to fail, I doubt it has a significant impact in a one-inning outing]

The gap between a stud with a 3.00 ERA, and a bust whose ERA is double that, is surprisingly small: the stud converts eight of nine save chances, but a bust will still make seven of nine. Almost all the difference comes in the one-run scenario: any fool can save a three-run lead, while it's pretty hard to blow a two-run advantage as well - and between them, that's where the majority of save opportunities will occur. Also, note that not every blown save will result in defeat, so a top closer will probably net you only three or four extra wins a year, over even a replacement-level arm. Given the cost, I do have to wonder whether it's an effective use of resources. Sure, send your best pitcher to the mound in the bottom of the ninth, when you're 3-2 up. But, heck, if it's 5-2, then the Huge Manatee could probably rack up the save.

It's interesting to note that something similar happens on the hitting side: the difference in performance between an All-Star and a DFA is less than you'd expect, perhaps to an even greater degree. A crap (.250) hitter and a great (.300) one, will produce the same result nineteen out of every twenty at-bats. Both fail 70% of the time, and succeed 25% - it's the remaining 5%, and what you do there, that determines whether your eventual destination will be Cooperstown or MacDonald's. Baseball truly is a game of inches.

Moving on. The silence from Chase Field has now moved past the uncomfortable pause level, and has now become an apparent media blackout. At least, that's my paranoid suspicion at that stage, since I am hoping there is a feverish hive of activity going on behind the scenes. It certainly makes things tough for us who have to write about the D'backs: I have to break out the calculator, while the Republic has an article speculating on Arizona's lineup next year. The main issues are the lack of obvious leadoff and clean-up hitters - it says something about the current roster that Eric Byrnes is a candidate for both spots. I reckon a diary on the subject would be interesting. And oh, look - there one is. --->

Randy Johnson back to Arizona? No, not at all. That's according to the NY Post - which then took the odd step of a lengthy report telling us this in detail:

Despite the buzz leaking out of the desert, Randy Johnson hasn't asked the Yankees to deal him closer to his Arizona home. "He hasn't called me officially and asked me to trade him, no," GM Brian Cashman said yesterday when asked if the Big Unit requested the Yankees move him. Cashman, asked if he was attempting to move Johnson, who has a blanket no-trade clause and is 20 wins shy of 300, wouldn't comment. Alan Nero, one of Johnson's agents, said there was no truth to the rumor. "There is nothing coming out of our camp," Nero said. "I don't know where rumors start."

Ten column-inches in a major New York media outlet might have something to do with it, no? I also note Cashman's use of the word "officially", which is about as close to a green light as you'll get to a confirmation. He's owed $16m next year, and there's no way we currently have room in the salary bucket for that: dumping Eric Byrnes would be a help there though. But would we actually want him? He did win 17 games last year - more than Brandon Webb - but his ERA was a hefty 5.00, the highest in his nineteen-year career, and the first time his ERA+ has been below 100, since 1989. A balky back adds to the potential issues. Part of me would love to see RJ back on the mound for one last hurrah, but...

Let's hope the police don't show up today, or it might prove a little hard to explain why we have gold-painted knives dangling from the gazebo out back. It's okay: we're not taking up stylish serial slaughter: we're getting ready for the Phoenix Fear Film Festival on December 29th, which we're running, and the cleaver, Psycho knife and steak knife will be part of the awards for the film-makers. Embed 'em in a block of wood, add fake blood, and hey presto - trophies! Irritatingly, the frickin' plaques to put on them have turned out to be the most expensive part of the whole package...

Finally, the answer to the trivia question. What links Craig Counsell, David Dellucci, Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson, Mike Koplove, Matt Mantei and Matt Williams? Answer: they're the only D'backs who have spent more than five seasons with the club at the major-league level: all had six, except for Gonzo, who stayed for eight. At the moment, Edgar Gonzalez, Jose Valverde and Brandon Webb are now our longest-serving players, each having completed four years in Arizona.