• Dec

    justD Talks Closer Overuse

    This week's signing debacle between the Orioles and Grant Balfour really got me going on so many levels. One thing's clear, though: anyone closing in Baltimore is bound to be challenged by more than just MRI scrutiny.


    Let's face it. Relievers – and by extension closers – are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. But  a guy signed to close for the O's is joining a team that has a long history of overusing its relief corps. That's a red flag for me, and an example of one consideration I use to help choose a closer come draft time: how often he's used.


    No doubt, the more a guy's used, the more opportunities to score saves. At the same time, overuse opens the door for regression, no matter how temporary. There may be a lot more risk than desired if you automatically choose the guy with the most appearances.


    Let's consider Balfour and Jim Johnson. Johnson managed to be amazingly effective in 2012 (51 SV/54 SVO), but only pitched 68.2 innings, facing just 269 hitters; by contrast, in 2013 he appeared in a league leading 74 games, watching his effectiveness crash after facing 60 batters in one month-long stretch. Balfour, on the other hand, had a total of only 62.2 IP in his successful 2013 season (38 SV/41 SVO), while his only two “down” streaks in August and September each coincided with a cluster of closely spaced outings. 


    Can you predict overuse? No sure way, but you can get an idea by considering:


    • Rotation quality; will the closer be called on too often to literally save the game?
    • Bullpen strength, particularly the setup man; will the closer be able to come in for just a single inning?
    • During the season, a pattern of outings coming too close for comfort (yours or his).


    Closer predictability is a dream, but watching for overuse could help avoid disappointing crashes.

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