One of these days soon a closer is going to win the Most Valuable Player award in the American League or National League. It’s inevitable. Some years ago a person consigned to the bullpen was considered pretty much a loser, not a closer, in his team’s eyes.
The only reason why pitchers pitched relief was because they weren’t good enough to start. Every game a starting pitcher started he went into it with the mindset that he was going to finish, to pitch a complete game. There was no such phrase as a “quality start” defined as pitching at least six innings and allowing three runs or less.
The bullpen was not densely populated with specialists who were middle relievers, set-up men and closers. Specialists were football players who kicked field goals or punted. Pitchers pitched. If you were sent to the bullpen full-time it was an embarrassment and your career might be on thin ice.
Now a closer is a highly paid player who makes virtual cameo appearances of one inning or less to slam the door on the other team threatening in the ninth inning. The way the sport is structured now a complete game is an endangered species and no good team can truly expect to contend for a World Series title without a featured shut-down closer at the back of the bullpen.
One of the characteristics of this 2014 season is that pitching is dominating the hitting. It seems as if no one can hit consistently and everyone has a power arm closer who can overwhelm the enemy’s biggest guns at the plate.
More than six weeks remain in the regular season, but the kinds of save numbers National League pitchers are putting up are the types of figures normally associated with end-of-the-year totals. Going into Wednesday’s play, Milwaukee’s Francisco Rodriguez had 36 saves, St. Louis’ Trevor Rosenthal had 35, Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel had 34, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen had 33, Miami’s Steve Cishek had 30, and Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon had 27. The only reason Papelbon didn’t have more is that the Phillies don’t have very many save situations to thrust him into.
The American League lagged, but only a little. Kansas City’s Greg Holland had 35 saves and he is one reason why the Royals are experiencing a second-half resurgence. Seattle’s Fernando Rodney had 34 saves and the Yankees’ David Robertson had 31. Even the Twins’ Glen Perkins had 29 and the Twins are like the Phillies, not providing Perkins with an abundance of opportunities. However, at one point recently after Perkins asked the team to use him more, he appeared in seven straight games.
In many of these cases, the closer is probably the MVP of his team. How much of a leap is it for one of them to emerge as the MVP of his league?