The Myth of The Closer By Committee

Forgive me for a little rant here…

Roles are bullsh-t. Your job is to throw strikes when I put your a– out on the mound

Dick Radatz, as pitching coach of the North Shore Spirit, 2004

You’re going to have to take my word for it that that’s what “The Monster” said because it was during a pregame radio show for a small AM station in Lynn, Massachusetts. The context, as the headline suggests, was a question about how the Spirit were going to align their group of pitchers and no sooner than the word “roles” came out of the announcer’s mouth did the Radatz growl that quote. One does not forget such bluntness.

The year before, the Boston Red Sox had gone into the season without a clear-cut closer. Newly anointed GM Theo Epstein announced the club would go with a closer by committee, which drew snickers at first because the success of the Tony LaRussa model had become firmly entrenched in the baseball lexicon and because it had become sportswriter code for “the bullpen sucks.” When the Red Sox got off to a slow start and the bullpen began to falter, everyone and their grandmother crowed that it was the committee that was to blame.

As you might have guessed, the subject has been broached again. And yet again, the 2003 Boston Red Sox are being trotted out, with the usual bromides: “The history of using a platoon of relievers for the final three outs of the game is spotty” from the Kilgore story, failing to cite the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1986 New York Mets, or even the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

What never gets discussed is that the 2003 Boston Red Sox bullpen failed because they didn’t throw strikes.

Take a look at the April/May numbers for the relievers in question…

Pitcher Innings Walks
Alan Embree 14⅓ 5
Chad Fox 9⅓ 10
Ramiro Mendoza 30⅔ 10
Mike Timlin 31⅔ 2
Bobby Howry 4⅓ 3

If I were to list only the April splits, it would be even worse, which is why I wanted to demonstrate how it started to even out by May as manager Grady Little stopped using his ineffective relievers and started using his more effective relievers.

Oddly enough, in “the closer-by-committee doesn’t work” mythology, Byung-Hung Kim is widely credited for settling the bullpen, despite the fact that former/future closers Todd Jones, Brandon Lyon, and Scott Williamson were acquired during the stretch run while Kim was left off the playoff roster.

In the playoffs that season, Little mixed and matched between Timlin, Williamson and Embree, even using closer-turned-starter Derek Lowe to finish a 4-3 win over the Oakland A’s in the ALDS. How is this is not a closer by committee?

Radatz had it right, even if he may have been brusque about it. When pitchers don’t throw strikes, they fail. The idea that only one guy is capable of pitching the ninth inning makes for a powerful scene — “Enter Sandman” or “Hells Bells” perhaps even “Wild Thing” — but it’s image over substance and the evidence does not support the delusion.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

6 thoughts on “The Myth of The Closer By Committee”

  1. What’s the point of having your own site if you can’t rant once in awhile?

    Sadly, Radatz died the next year after a fall. He was a near mythic figure for me growing up as Little Leaguer, glad you could supply that line!

  2. Well, whatever happens it doesn’t look like Storen is going to be the guy to start the season. In fact, he may not make the opening day roster the way he’s going. Rodriguez has great stuff but is wild. Clippard is usually effective but has occasional meltdowns. Burnett doesn’t have classic closer stuff.

    As Butch said to Sundance, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” 🙁

  3. If the Nationals start the season without a proven closer, but have 3-4 arms they can count on to get batters out consistently, that’s fine by me. Burnett, Broderick, Balester, Slaten, & Coffey (less one outing) have done that all spring, as did Carr & Kimball.

    I am concerned about the choices that Riggleman & Rizzo might make based on available options & comfort levels with individuals as Spring Training winds down.

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