The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Closer

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the-closer.jpg Part of being a "smart" sports fan in the 21st century is being able to separate what's frustrating from what really hurts a team. A Ryan Howard strikeout is frustrating, sure, but strikeouts are part of his game. And when his game is a career .959 OPS (141 OPS+), you can ignore the strikeouts (which are really only slightly more damaging than groundouts or line drive outs or going out of the basepath or putting too much pine tar on your bat, anyway).

But frustrating plays certainly detract from your enjoyment of the game as a fan, or at least make it more, well, frustrating. Last season, the Phillies' enjoyed a near-perfect season from their bullpen, with Brad Lidge converting all 41 of his save opportunities and closing out seven more games in the postseason. It seemed like the Phillies cruised to the World Series title last year, and that's not just because they went 11-3 in October. They also had a bullpen that didn't blow any games. Last year's postseason was extra fun for Phillies fans because there were no close calls, no walkoff homers (or walks) for the other team, no repeat of Mitch Williams.

This year, of course, is another story. The Phillies will still win their third straight division title, but it hasn't been as much fun this time around. Last night, Brad Lidge blew his 11th save of the year, giving up 2 runs in the ninth as the Marlins beat the Phillies. A year after going 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA (225 ERA+), Lidge is 0-8 (!) with a 7.48 ERA (57 ERA+). Before last night's blown one, Lidge had three straight saves -- giving up at least a run in each. His last 1-2-3 save was at the Baker Bowl (Aug. 30, actually).

For Phillies fans, the ninth inning has become the time to pace back and forth, the time to move your Phillies hat around the room in the hopes it has some magical effect on the game, the time to sacrifice a goat in order to turn Brad Lidge into a pitcher who can manage to get out of an inning without giving the other team the win. Personally, I've been locking myself in the bathroom and following the game on MLB.com. It's just easier that way.

I fully expect someone to put out a paper eventually arguing that relief pitching success is almost completely random. Conventional wisdom was Brad Lidge's career was finished after he gave up a game-winning homer to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS. He went out and had a perfect season and closed out the World Series, and only after that can he not finish a game. The Chicago White Sox won the Series in 2005 after a successful season partially due to great relief seasons by guys like Dustin Hermanson, Cliff Politte and Neil Cotts. David Price (22 at the time) shut the door on Boston in last year's ALCS. Jose Mesa saved 321 career games.

That closing games might just be one of life's great mysteries is no comfort to Phils fans. They'll have to keep covering their eyes every time Lidge (or Ryan Madson, who has six blown saves this year) comes into the game. It's more frustrating than when Ryan Howard swings at one of those sliders in the dirt.


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11 Comments

And how did Lidge blow the save? By giving up a game-tying hit to Sassy Senior Jorge Cantu.

Lidge is a modern day Jose Mesa.

Jason Isringhausen is waitng for a call at home while pouring gasoline on his vegetable garden.

For the objective viewer, this version is way more entertaining. The daily pathos-watching around ninth innings for Philly and Detroit, is great fun.

I fully expect someone to put out a paper eventually arguing that relief pitching success is almost completely random.

Paging Fangraphs nerd patrol...

It's true, though. The greatest closer in baseball history has three separate blown save meltdowns in would-be series-deciding games.

Just as MDT may have pulled off the commenter of the year move yesterday, DMac has come through with the photoshop of the year today. Also, Jose Mesa is a dead ringer for Chi McBride.

Eskin, Cataldi, Missanelli, Gargano, and every other eye-tie radio host in Philly should have to pay royalties to the guys in that pic. 50% of all callers in the last 20 years have wanted to talk about the Phils' closing situation.

The other 50% only want to demand that Andy Reid run the ball.

Someone on the beach once said my dad looked like Steve Bedrosian. Another time these kids were yelling at him as he came out of the ocean: "Mr. Gibb! Mr. Gibb!"

@dmac
And now they just think he's doing an impression of Jimmy Fallon doing an impression.

I'm not sure if this makes me want to bang Kyra Sedgwick more or less. Is that bad?

...and the third 50% scream "Lindros Sucks" and hang up.

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