Closer (baseball)

Closer (baseball)
A right-handed Hispanic baseball pitcher, wearing a grey uniform with the lettering "NEW YORK" across it, with his body facing the right as he prepares to throw a baseball.
Mariano Rivera has the most career saves in baseball history.

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. Closers often appear when the score is close, and the role is often assigned to a team's best reliever. A small number of closers have won the Cy Young Award. Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoyt Wilhelm are closers who have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.



Single-season record holder Francisco Rodríguez.

A closer is generally a team's best reliever and designated to pitch the last few outs of games when their team is leading by a margin of three runs or fewer. A closer's effectiveness has traditionally been measured by the save, an official Major League Baseball (MLB) statistic since 1969.[1][2] Closers are often the highest paid relievers on their teams. Over time, closers have become one-inning specialists typically brought in at the beginning of the ninth inning in save situations. The pressure of the last three outs of the game is often cited for the importance attributed to the ninth inning.[1][3]

Mariano Rivera holds the all-time MLB saves record with 603. 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 inning, did not exist in the modern sense prior to the 1980s with the role of the closing pitcher evolving over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. Bruce Sutter was the first pitcher to start the ninth inning in 20 percent of his career appearances. Clay Carroll in 1972 was the first pitcher to make a third of his season's appearances in the beginning of the ninth inning, which would not be repeated until Rollie Fingers in 1982. John Franco in 1987 was the first to be used over 50 percent of the time in the beginning of the ninth in a season. Lee Smith in 1994 was the first to be used over 75 percent of the time in that situation.[4] Using the save leader from each team in the league, the average closer made his appearances in the beginning of the ninth inning 10 percent of the time in the 1970s to almost 23 of the time by 2004.[5]

Tony La Russa while with the Oakland A's is frequently named as the innovator of the position, making Dennis Eckersley the first player to be used almost exclusively in ninth inning situations.[6] La Russa explained that "[the Oakland A's would] be ahead a large number of games every week ... That's a lot of work for somebody throwing more than one inning ... Also, there was the added advantage of [Eckersley]not getting overexposed. We tried to get [him] to only face three or four batters an outing." La Russa noted that clubs that do not often win risk their closer being under-worked with this strategy.[1]

Prior to this, a team's ace reliever was called a fireman, coming to the rescue to "put out the fire", baseball terminology for stopping an offensive rally with runners on base.[1][7][8] The firemen came in whenever leads were in jeopardy, regardless of the inning and often pitching multiple innings.[1][9] An example of this is that Goose Gossage had 17 games where he recorded at least 10 outs in his first season as a closer, including three games where he went seven innings. He pitched over 130 innings as a reliever in three different seasons.[9] For their careers, Sutter and Gossage had more saves of at least two innings than saves where they pitched one inning or less. Fingers was the only pitcher who pitched at least three innings in more than 10 percent of his saves.[10] The game evolved to where the best reliever was reserved for games where the team had a lead of three runs or less in the ninth inning.[5]

Strategy writer Jim Caple wrote that closers' saves in the ninth "merely conclude what is usually a foregone conclusion."[9] Dave Smith of Retrosheet researched the seasons 1930–2003 and found that the winning percentage for teams who enter the ninth inning with a lead has remained virtually unchanged over the decades. One-run leads after eight innings have been won roughly 85 percent of the time, two-run leads 94 percent of the time, and three-run leads about 96 percent of the time.[9] Baseball Prospectus projects that teams could gain as much as four extra wins a year by focusing on bringing their ace into the game earlier in more critical situations with runners on base instead of holding them out to accumulate easier ninth inning saves.[11] In The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, Tom Tango et al. wrote that there was more value to having the ace reliever enter in the eighth-inning with a one- or a two-run lead instead of the ninth with a three-run lead.[12] "Managers feel the need to please their closers—and their closers' agents—by getting them cheap saves to pad their stats and their bank accounts," wrote Caple.[9] Tango et al. projected that using a great reliever over an average one to start the ninth with a three-run lead resulted in a two percent increase in wins, versus four percent for a two-run lead or six percent for a one-run lead.[13] Former Baltimore Orioles manager Johnny Oates once told Jerome Holtzman, the inventor of the save statistic, that he created the ninth-inning pitcher by inventing the save. Holtzman disagreed, saying it was baseball managers who were responsible for not bringing in their top reliever when the game was on the line, in the seventh or eighth inning, which had been the practice in the past.[14] He noted that managers' usage of closers can "abuse the pitching save ... to favor the closer."[15]

La Russa says it is important that relievers know their roles and the situations which they will be called into a game. He added, "Sure, games can get away from you in the seventh and eighth, but those last three outs in the ninth are the toughest. You want the guy who can handle that pressure. That, to me, is most important."[1] Oakland general manager Billy Beane said there would be too much media criticism if a pitcher other than the closer lost the game in the ninth. "Even if you know the odds, it's more comfortable being wrong when you go to the closer." Beane said the incremental increase gained by a closer in a three-run save situation "is worth it because losing is so painful in that situation."[9]

Major awards and honors won by closers

Major League Baseball

Award Closer Team Year
Hall of Fame Goose Gossage New York Yankees 2008
Bruce Sutter St. Louis Cardinals 2006
Dennis Eckersley Oakland Athletics 2004
Rollie Fingers Oakland Athletics 1992
Hoyt Wilhelm New York Giants 1985
Cy Young Éric Gagné Los Angeles Dodgers 2003 (NL)
Dennis Eckersley Oakland Athletics 1992 (AL)
Mark Davis San Diego Padres 1989 (NL)
Steve Bedrosian Philadelphia Phillies 1987 (NL)
Willie Hernández Detroit Tigers 1984 (AL)
Rollie Fingers Milwaukee Brewers 1981 (AL)
Bruce Sutter Chicago Cubs 1979 (NL)
Sparky Lyle New York Yankees 1977 (AL)
Mike Marshall Los Angeles Dodgers 1974 (NL)
Award Closer Team Year
MVP Dennis Eckersley * Oakland Athletics 1992 (AL)
Willie Hernández * Detroit Tigers 1984 (AL)
Rollie Fingers * Milwaukee Brewers 1981 (AL)
Jim Konstanty Philadelphia Phillies 1950 (NL)
WS MVP Mariano Rivera New York Yankees 1999
John Wetteland New York Yankees 1996
Rollie Fingers Oakland Athletics 1974
ROY Neftali Feliz Texas Rangers 2010 (AL)
Andrew Bailey Oakland Athletics 2009 (AL)
Huston Street Oakland Athletics 2005 (AL)
Kazuhiro Sasaki Seattle Mariners 2000 (AL)
Scott Williamson Cincinnati Reds 1999 (NL)
Gregg Olson Baltimore Orioles 1989 (AL)
Todd Worrell St. Louis Cardinals 1986 (NL)
Steve Howe Los Angeles Dodgers 1980 (NL)
Butch Metzger San Diego Padres 1976 (NL)
Joe Black Los Angeles Dodgers 1952 (NL)
LCS MVP Mariano Rivera New York Yankees 2003 (AL)
Rob Dibble, Randy Myers Cincinnati Reds 1990 (NL)
Dennis Eckersley Oakland 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 2000
Shingo Takatsu Swallows 2003
Hitoki Iwase Dragons 2010
MVP Kazuhiro Sasaki BayStars 1998 (Central)
Genji Kaku Dragons 1988 (Central)
Yutaka Enatsu Fighters 1981 (Pacific)
Yutaka Enatsu Carp 1979 (Central)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Jenkins, Chris (September 25, 2006). "Where's the fire?". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on February 25, 2011. 
  2. ^ Jack Moore "On the Closer Position: The Save and RP Usage" Fangraphs, Dec. 30, 2009
  3. ^ Greg Couch "Last three outs require mental toughness on the part of a closer" Baseball Digest, August 2004;col1
  4. ^ Baseball Prospectus 2007, p.59
  5. ^ a b Baseball Prospectus 2007, p.60
  6. ^
  7. ^ Dickson 1999, p.194
  8. ^ Dickson 1999, p.396
  9. ^ a b c d e f Caple, Jim (August 5, 2008). "The most overrated position in sports". Archived from the original on February 25, 2011. 
  10. ^ Schecter, Gabriel (January 18, 2006). "The Evolution of the Closer". National Baseball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007. "Gossage and Fingers weren't far behind, with Fingers the only pitcher who pitched at least three innings in more than 10% of his saves. Sutter and Gossage had more saves where they logged at least two innings than saves where they pitched an inning or less." 
  11. ^ Baseball Prospectus 2007, pp.72–73
  12. ^ Tango et al. 2007, p.221
  13. ^ Tango et al. 2007, pp.215-16
  14. ^ Holtzman, Jerome (May 2002). "Where did save rule come from? Baseball historian recalls how he helped develop statistic that measures reliever's effectiveness". Baseball Digest. Retrieved February 25, 2011. "I told him it was the managers who did it, not me. Instead of bringing in their best reliever when the game was on the line, in the seventh or eighth inning, which had been the practice in the past, they saved him for the ninth." 
  15. ^ Holtzman, Jerome (June 18, 1989). "Pitching Keeps Cubs Armed And Ready After Getting Past Challenging Stretch". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on October 6, 2011. 


External links

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