Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 4, 2007
BASEBALL: Joel the Closer

In 2000-01, the Mariners brought along two talented young pitchers: Joel Piniero and Gil Meche. Both have battled injuries and declining effectiveness ever since.

Meche signed with the Royals for 5 years and $55 million; now Piniero signs with the Red Sox for 1 year and $4 million.

The decision to make Piniero a closer is an eccentric one, since it formalizes the move of baseball's best closer in 2006, Jon Papelbon, into the rotation (on the theory that a solid starter is more valuable than an invulnerable closer) and (subject to Craig Hansen as insurance) stakes the Sox bullpen on a guy who hasn't been effective in years. And while Piniero's contract is puny compared to his longtime teammate, $4 million is a lot for a mediocre mopup man. If he doesn't stick as the closer, this move is a failure.

That said, it's not a terrible gamble, if you believe as I do that closers are less valuable than starters and easier to breed from a failed starter. But a gamble it is.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:51 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

The reason for moving Jon Papelbon to the rotation is to reduce the stress on his arm.

``I think it depends on the individual," Francona said, when asked if starting or relieving would place greater stress on Papelbon's shoulder. ``Some guys can't relieve. Some guys can't start. Pap can do either, so it's going to be whichever one is best for him. "

And later:

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein confirmed Sunday that Jonathan Papelbon would enter spring training as a starting pitcher.
Epstein said that it's the opinion of the medical staff that the switch would be the best thing for Papelbon's long-term health.

Posted by: Michael Frye at January 5, 2007 4:36 AM

Been hearing a bizarre Pedro to retire rumor all morning. Seems silly in light of his recent comments, and the stage of rehab he is in. Probably just Yankee fans acting up.

Posted by: abe at January 5, 2007 8:57 AM

My guess, from watching Piniro over the past few years, is that he will not be the closer and will likely settle into a long-reliever/spot starter. $4 million may initially seem high but given what crappy pitchers are going for the price is light and the deal short. He is only 28 and word is that he battled a muscle injury(ies) from mid-2004 that limited his velocity and reduced his control. When he came up he was seen as THE future Ace of the M's staff. I think there is hope that while he will never have Ace stuff that he will re-develop above-average stuff and be a capable guy at the back end of a rotation or someone who can give you 120 innings out of the bullpen. Seeing as how badly Declarman and Hansen sucked most of last year this is a pertinent move by the Sox that cost them couch change.

Posted by: jim at January 5, 2007 11:09 AM

Closer. You hear the word, you think of Mariano, you think of coming to finish in the 9th inning, and you figure lights out. I've never given it much thought, but you hear so much how Mariano is the reason the Yankees won so much earlier, you take it as gospel. So now a closer is part of the book. He blew up game 7 in 2001, and to the Red Sox in 2004, but his aura is still the same.

Now I'm not looking at the numbers, but I do wonder if a team could do better with some good relief pitching, good offense and excellent defense, without a great closer. The Mets last year certainly comes to mind. I really don't think Billy Wagner is all that great. I never care for any pitcher who walks a lot of batters. You go into the 9th leading by 3 runs, you are generally going to win anyway (unless you are that same Wagner against the Yankees but of course I'm not bitter).

I think what makes Mariano so unique is his ability to throw strikes, and to keep the ball in the yard. One you know it's not going out, a good defense keeps you in the game. So thinking about it, winning teams with questionable defensive players rarely go into the last inning down. You have players like Manny, or make it more extreme, Greg Lusinski, they are in the lineup because they can hit. For the Phillies, anything in the Northern Hemisphere was caught by Maddux anyway. So maybe teams should go back to building a solid defense, and get pitchers who don't walk the planet, and they will come out better.

The more I saw of the Yankees of the last few years made me think it wasn't Mariano as much as really solid pitching, good defense (OK I can't really explain Knaubloch that well), and professional hitting 1-9.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 5, 2007 11:34 AM

Some pitchers can be more effective using two pitches for one inning and throwing all out, rather than having to use three or four over six or more and pacing themselves.

I'd actually bet that most pitchers in the majors could be decent closers. I think its much harder to find a decent starter than a decent closer.

That being said, the truly dominant closers are rare. Most of them have at least one insanely nasty pitch or can throw 100 mph.

Posted by: Adam Herman at January 8, 2007 4:13 PM

I'm not sure why $6 million for Gagne was too rich for Boston, but they'll toss Piniero $4 Mil? Who was the better bet to be a dominant closer?

Putting Gagne aside for the moment, this is a decent stab at filling the spot. Tom Gordon worked out pretty well finishing games....

Posted by: Mr Furious at January 9, 2007 12:36 AM
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