Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Death to saves/Champs league

After watching the Reds bullpen immolate themselves tonight it occurred to me that the Reds might not realize what makes up a good bullpen. Their idea of a bullpen "fix" was to bring in three players older than 35 years old, all of whose strikeout and walk rates have been steadily declining. One of these hurlers, the hopelessly medicore Dave Weathers is conning the Reds out of $1.25 million this year, and has posted a 6.75 ERA with 11 walks in a little over 13 innings. Tonight he couldn't even manage to hold a 6-run lead, with help from Danny Graves whose status as a paper tiger was confirmed tonight. A closer must get strikeouts and he must limit homeruns. Graves can no longer do these things. It will be tough for the Reds to swallow his *gulp* $6.25 million salary by putting him in middle relief, but that's what they must do. Graves can no longer be counted on in high-leverage situations.

This is the latest example of how the save stat has ruined baseball. A save is one of the worst indicators of performance, considering that a pitcher can enter a game with a 3 run lead, surrender 2 runs in an inning (for an ERA of 18.00) and still be rewarded with a save. I'm sure Graves's 41 saves from last year were on the team's mind when they retained him as closer, but his puny 40 strikeouts in 68 innings should have tipped the scales in the other direction. This year, he's struck out 3 in 11 innings and walked 8 over that same span. This isn't an aberration--this is the signal of a steep decline. It's time for them to cut bait and let "closer of the future" Ryan Wagner--with his 11:3 K:BB ratio--start closing games now and get much-needed experience in high-leverage situations. Closing ballgames is too important to bank on past glory--the best pitcher in the bullpen should be in the game during high leverage siuations, no exceptions, and saves be damned. Credit the Astros and Red Sox for recognizing this last year in their uses of Brad Lidge and Keith Foulke--I swear I've written that before, but it bears repeat mentioning. If the opposition is in a position to take the lead in the 8th inning, BRING IN THE CLOSER.

Tuesday is probably the biggest club soccer match in England's history. Liverpool and Chelsea, at Anfield, a true temple of the game, with a berth in the Champions League final at stake. The tie is level at 0-0 after last week's scoreless match in London, but Chelsea are fresh off clinching the league title on Saturday. The big question is whether Chelsea will feel any hint of complacency after having won their first league championship in 50 years. I seriously doubt they will, but it will be awfully hard for them to beat Liverpool in Anfield. Fortunately for Chelsea, the away goals rule means that they go through even with a 1-1 draw, and that result wouldn't surprise me. Liverpool's defense, so shaky during league play, inexplicably tightens up during Champs League competition. Chelsea's defense is always stout--only 13 goals allowed in 35 league matches so far. I expect the game to come down to a single play, be it a critical blunder by a goalkeeper, or a stunning display of skill. Both sides have the personnel to make magic happen, but Liverpool's keeper Jerzy Dudek has been known to flub a ball or two. I suspect that will be Liverpool's downfall. My prediction: Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea.

The other semi kicks off Wednesday, and pits AC Milan, already up 2-0, against PSV Eindhoven who will make their last stand at home. They will have to do so without my favorite American player, winger DaMarcus Beasley (lost for a month with a knee injury), and possibly without their other winger, Jefferson Farfan. PSV scrapped through against Lyon, but without the two wingers, I can't see them mustering more than a goal agaist Milan's defense. With Andriy Shevchenko on the pitch for Milan, expect them to score at least one goal. I predict PSV 1-2 AC Milan, setting up a dream final between the two most complete and balanced teams in the world.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Andy said...

yeah, i always puzzled over the "closer" role - as if the task of pitching were different in that situation as compared to others. obviously there's reason to separate out guys you can REALLY trust in the clutch, but certainly not to such an extent that they need a special title. plus, it seems a little silly to let your best reliever's schedule be dictated by irregular appearance of "save opportunities." i mean, don't put him in when you're down by five runs in the ninth, but don't NOT put him in when you're up by one or two in the eighth. the SAVE is certainly a strange statistic, that's for sure. if we only kept track of the times a player FAILS TO TOTALLY FUCK UP COMPLETELY, you might expect to turn up a lot of mediocre, but consistent, talent. there's a certain logic to it, in that it measures exactly what it claims to measure, but it seems misguided to talk about "results" in such a limited way, without giving a lot of consideration to the more direct measures of skill such as Ks, walks, etc. a great closer is just a good pitcher with a certain personality, either imagined or real.

2:09 PM  

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