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Trevor Hoffman, former closer for the San Diego Padres and current closer for the Milwaukee Brewers, the leader on the all-time save list through 2009.

In baseball, a closing pitcher, more frequently referred to as a closer (abbreviated CL), is a relief pitcher who specializes in closing out games, i.e., getting the final outs in a close game. Since closers appear frequently when a game is on the line, the role usually goes to a team's best reliever.

Contents

Background

Closers are generally selected to pitch the final outs of games, most often when their teams are leading, and as such, closers are generally regarded as the best relief pitchers on their teams. Because of the nature of the relief pitcher, most closers do not possess a wide enough variety of pitches or enough reliability over several innings to become a starting pitcher. Some closers, however, have been starting pitchers who due to injury or fading durability became closers later in their careers (such as Kerry Wood, Dennis Eckersley, Éric Gagné, John Smoltz, Joe Nathan, and Jason Isringhausen).

In general, closers are selected for their ability to pitch effectively for between one and two innings against both right-handed and left-handed batters (as opposed to left-handed specialists) and their ability to maintain their composure in high-pressure situations. Good closers often have an overpowering fastball and one or two complementary pitches (a full arsenal of pitches is not necessary), although this rule does have its exceptions (such as knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and sinkerballers Derek Lowe and Bob Wickman, all of whom have spent time closing games, as well as starting).

The marquee statistic for closers is the save. The all-time Major League Baseball saves leader is now Trevor Hoffman of the Milwaukee Brewers. On September 24, 2006 he broke Lee Smith's record by notching his 479th career save. Hoffman is unlike many closers who rely on powerful fastballs, instead relying on a devastating changeup. Francisco Rodriguez holds the single-season mark for saves, having saved 62 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2008.

The concept of the closing pitcher, a player specifically designated to pitch no earlier than the eighth and generally not until the ninth innning, did not really exist prior to the 1980s. All pitchers who appeared in games after the starting pitcher were referred to generically as relief pitchers; the role of the closing pitcher evolved over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. For about the past two decades, the general practice has been for a closer to enter the game to pitch the ninth inning when his team is ahead by three runs or fewer, which aligns with the requirements to get a save. If the game is important (e.g., a playoff game), the closer has not had much opportunity to pitch during recent games, or for other reasons, the manager may opt to bring him in during the eighth inning. If the closer fails at his task by letting the other team tie the game or take a lead, he has blown the save.

In a game in which the home team enters the ninth inning tied, or if he enters a game which has gone into extra innings, it is impossible for that team's closer to gain a save. In such a situation, the manager will likely use his closer anyway, in order to prevent the visiting team from taking the lead.

Occasionally, some teams employ a "closer by committee", in which no single player is assigned the role of closer. Rather, the manager will select a pitcher to close the game that he thinks has the hot hand or the favorable match-up. Use of a closer by committee, however, is often a signal that the manager does not have confidence in any particular member of his bullpen, and the pitcher who gains his confidence will eventually become the closer. A variant on this, backed by Bill James and others, is the concept of a relief ace. A designated pitcher enters the game when the situation is most important, even if it is not a save situation. Though this is different from a closer by committee, it is similar, in that saves will be distributed among a number of pitchers.

Easily sensationalized, the "saves" stat should note that the team's manager decides when to put a pitcher in a game, taking into account the degree of difficulty involved, etc. A manager looking to pad a player's stats for team publicity, etc., can hold a relief pitcher back from the most difficult and taxing "saves," and put him in the easier ones. This must be looked at in analyzing saves. Another statistic that can be used to identify the best closers, although not readily available from normal box scores, is the percentage of inherited baserunners who score, since closers often enter games with one or more runners on base and their job is to stop them from scoring. Especially considering that runs scored by inherited baserunners are not reflected in the relievers' ERA but rather are charged to the pitchers who put the runners on base, this statistic is often useful in gauging the effectiveness of closers.

Some teams with established closers also designate one or two setup pitchers to pitch immediately before the closer. In such a case, the set-up man will pitch the eighth inning and the closer will pitch the ninth in a close game.

Major awards and honors won by closers

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Major League Baseball

Award Closer Team Year
Hall of Fame Goose Gossage Yankees 2008
Bruce Sutter Cardinals 2006
Dennis Eckersley Athletics 2004
Rollie Fingers Athletics 1991
Hoyt Wilhelm N.Y. Giants 1985
Cy Young Éric Gagné Dodgers 2003 (NL)
Dennis Eckersley Athletics 1992 (AL)
Mark Davis Padres 1989 (NL)
Steve Bedrosian Phillies 1987 (NL)
Willie Hernández Tigers 1984 (AL)
Rollie Fingers Brewers 1981 (AL)
Bruce Sutter Cubs 1979 (NL)
Sparky Lyle Yankees 1977 (AL)
Mike Marshall Dodgers 1974 (NL)
Award Closer Team Year
MVP Dennis Eckersley Athletics 1992 (AL)
Willie Hernández Tigers 1984 (AL)
Rollie Fingers Brewers 1981 (AL)
Jim Konstanty Phillies 1950 (NL)
WS MVP Mariano Rivera Yankees 1999
John Wetteland Yankees 1996
Rollie Fingers Athletics 1974
ROY Huston Street Athletics 2005 (AL)
Kazuhiro Sasaki Mariners 2000 (AL)
Scott Williamson Reds 1999 (NL)
Gregg Olson Orioles 1989 (AL)
Todd Worrell Cardinals 1986 (NL)
Steve Howe Dodgers 1980 (NL)
Butch Metzger Padres 1976 (NL)
Joe Black Dodgers 1952 (NL)
LCS MVP Mariano Rivera Yankees 2003 (AL)
Rob Dibble/Randy Myers Reds 1990 (NL)
Dennis Eckersley Athletics 1988 (AL)

† also won league Cy Young Award in the same year

Nippon Professional Baseball

Award Closer Team Year
Meikyukai Kazuhiro Sasaki Whales/BayStars 2003
Shingo Takatsu Swallows 2003
MVP Kazuhiro Sasaki BayStars 1998 (Central)
Genji Kaku Dragons 1988 (Central)
Yutaka Enatsu Fighters 1981 (Pacific)
Yutaka Enatsu Carp 1979 (Central)

See also

External links


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