Look, I'm all for conventional wisdom. There is usually a reason it's conventional; it's worked for years and years. It's what people do. In baseball, it's what teams do to win. I don't mock all conventional wisdom in baseball. Some of it is very sound. One thing I can't figure out, however, is why this one fact has become so crucial to a team's offseason goals. Why do the Astros 'need' to find a closer this winter? Just because they lost their closer from last season?
Let's consider last season*. How many teams went into the 2009 season with unsettled or unproven closers? That would be 11. Here's the complete list, followed by some quick thoughts on the situations.
*This isn't the most scientific study, since I'm looking just at teams from 2009 and not expanding the data range past that. I acknowledge that. Let's move past it.
- Tampa Bay (84-78) Had Percival ostensibly as closer, but pitched 10 innings in 2009 and was not used as closer much early. Still had six saves, but so did five other members of bullpen.
- Toronto (75-87) Knew BJ Ryan would be back at some point, never signed anyone as replacement.
- Detroit (86-77) Had a group of a couple players, sorted itself out during the season.
- Seattle (85-77) Found David Aardsma off junk pile.
- Oakland (75-87) Went with all-kids, Andrew Bailey emerged as closer
- Florida (87-75) Went with unproven kid in Matt Lindstrom, moved to Leo Nunez halfway through season.
- Washington (59-103) Went with Mike McDougal, had okay season.
- St. Louis (91-71) Found Ryan Franklin after going through motions with several others
- LA Dodgers (95-67) Broxton saved some games at end of 2008, but still unknown entity going into 2009
- San Diego (75-87) Entered season with Heath Bell as closer, no prior experience
- Arizona (70-92) Let Brandon Lyon walk,used Qualls as new closer
- Atlanta (86-76) Traded for Soriano, but also had Mike Gonzalez
Obviously, there were some teams that were going to be bad no matter what. They'd made the decision to rebuild and thus, didn't invest heavily in a closer. Those teams (Washington, Oakland, San Diego) finished with losing records. The Padres found Heath Bell could be a successful closer and the A's had the same thing happen with Andrew Bailey.
The rest of the teams? 7 of the 11 had winning records. There are numerous examples of teams being killed by not having a late-inning guy. That's the 2008 Mets excuse, anyway (forcing them to spend ungodly amounts of money on JJ Putz and K-Rod). I think, however, that a large majority of teams don't necessarily need to focus on getting a closer as part of their success. Finding good players and putting them in the bullpen will work itself out. Why spend the money on a luxury item when you can win without one?
Maybe this is all rationalization since the Brewers are going to swoop in and sign both LaTroy Hawkins and Randy Wolf in the same day. I really believe that the Astros success in 2010 won't hinge on who pitches the ninth inning. Houston will be an average-to-below average team no matter who the closer is.
Onto the links:
- Add the Cardinals to the list of Miguel Tejada suitors. Well, maybe not...it's just that Tony LaRussa likes him. Which he revealed for the sole purpose of driving me crazy. Would St. Louis play Tejada at shortstop or third base?
- Could the Tigers end up being Jose Valverde's landing spot? The Granderson/Jackson deal saved them about 10-12 million dollars, depending on how much Jackson gets in arbitration. That puts them in perfect position to pick up a player like Valverde for the back end of the bullpen. It would also give the Astros the 19th pick in the 2010 draft. Apparently, the Nationals had interest but pulled back due to his cost. Did Valverde's agent overestimate his market?
- Here's a nice defense of the Pudge Rodriguez signing. While I agree the human aspect of baseball decisions is often minimized by everyone, this seems a bit much. For one, it was widely reported when Pudge joined the Astros that he really doesn't prepare for the mental side of the game very well and is mostly concerned with hitting. Sure, he may provide moral support out there on the mound, but don't look for him to tell Strasberg what kind of pitches this guy doesn't want to see.Aaron Gleeman seems to agree with me, too.
- I don't know what's more disturbing; that the White Sox could beat us out for Putz's services (and that that would be considered a bad thing) or that Matt Thornton uses the term 'bromance.' I have nothing more to say.
- One of the better Twitter feeds during the Winter Meetings has been Will Carroll's. The Baseball Prospectus writer was profiled by his hometown newspaper and has apparently been one of the stars of the Indianapolis show. As someone who purchased his Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries, just so I could sound smart when I talk about Lis Franc-type injuries, I am very appreciative he's in the business.
- Finally, here's a little prospect talk for those minor league nuts in the audience:
- Some data on player speeds out of the box in the Arizona Fall League. The guys at Project Prospect only timed Castro twice and he fell into the below-average category, but he may have suffered the same fate as Buster Posey: fatigue. From what I'd heard to that point, Castro should have average speed in the majors.
- We were recently contact by a site with some great prospect video (though it is a pay site). One of the profiles is on Henry Villar. Some very good video here with lots of pitches thrown. I didn't see any closeups from the side to tell how his arm mechanics looked, but could see some other things. His delivery is relatively smooth, but the fact he falls off to the first base side so heavily means it might not be as repeatable as you'd like. He's also not in great fielding position when he finishes. His arm slot doesn't look to put too much stress on his delivery and for a hard thrower, he certainly has a free-and-easy motion. Not too many warning signs for injury down the road.
- Here's a video of Ross Seaton. I have to say, this was pretty encouraging. While Seaton did struggle with command issues in this particular start, it was a TON of video on his delivery. I can see why scouts would like him; Seaton has a very smooth delivery throughout. He lands in a balanced position, it's not too violent of an arm motion. His arm slot seems comfortable, though he does tend to miss the same slot sometimes. His elbow does not seem to fly forward before the ball and he seems perfectly balanced to field after the play. In fact, the end of his delivery reminds me a little of Greg Maddux. Now, he definitely didn't show Maddux-like control, but if his effortless delivery can really bring 92-93 MPH heat? He's a lot more interesting. Here's my end of the season scouting effort on Seaton, based on his numbers.
- There's also video of Jordan Lyles on Baseball Intellect, but I won't bore you any more with prospect talk. At first blush, it's some of the longest video I've seen on prospects and a good source for first-hand scouting reports.