Brian Costa, who now writes for the Wall Street Journal, posted an outstanding article in which he suggests a creative solution to preventing Francisco Rodriguez’s 2012 vesting option worth $17.5 million dollars from being triggered. As it stands now, the option is triggered if K-Rod “finishes” 55 games this season.
Actually, the solution came in part from K-Rod himself who said this when talking about how he wants to be used out of the bullpen:
“Not even just in the seventh and the eighth inning,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes in the fifth and the sixth, when it’s like do-or-die and we have to stop the bleeding. The adrenaline is there. I want to be in there.”
Heck yeah, that’s exactly the kind of talk I want to hear from K-Rod. Good for him. He gets it.
Anyhow, it got me to thinking… Lets run with this a little…
It’s the the seventh inning and the Mets are leading the Phillies by one run in a 5-4 nail-biter. Chase Utley is at the plate and Ryan Howard is in the on-deck circle. Instead of calling on Pat Misch or Tim Byrdak, wouldn’t you want your best available arm in the bullpen on the mound to extinguish the fire?
Why is it that we use our best bullpen arm to get most of their saves by coming into the ninth inning with nobody on base and basically a low-pressure situation every time?
Why save your best available bullpen arm for a potential critical situation in the ninth inning that may never come?
The most critical part of the game doesn’t not always come in the ninth inning. Nobody knows when that moment will rear it’s ugly head.
Ironically, before Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley transformed the closers role to what we have today, closers were referred to as firemen because they were only used to put out fires.
In fact Rolaids, who still award the best closer in each league with the Rolaids Relief Man Award, designed the award in the shape of a fireman’s hat, AND the word closer still does not appear on the award.
Those were the good old days when the best relievers were feared by opposing offenses and they only came into a game when it was on the line and you needed a big out or three big outs or seven big outs. Back then, they were like gunslingers.
The closers role has become too specialized and in many ways, too watered down. Saves mean nothing to me, they are a worthless statistic that doesn’t indicate how great a reliever truly is.
You don’t have to be a great reliever to rack up 30 saves these days. Just throw any ole schmo in the ninth inning of a winning game forty times and he’s a cinch for 30 saves.
I did a little research… Here’s an example of a real closer – a real fireman – a real gunslinger.
In 1977, Yankees closer Sparky Lyle won the CY Young Award with just 26 saves, but the saves were not the story.
Check out how Billy Martin used him that season and how often Lyle was brought into the game early.
- 4th inning – 1 time
- 5th inning – 5 times
- 6th inning – 9 times
- 7th inning – 17 times
- 8th inning – 21 times
In 72 appearances that season, Lyle entered the game with runners on base an astounding 59 times!
Now that’s a damn closer for you. He also finished sixth in the MVP voting that season.
In 2010, 18 pitchers had the same 26 or more saves than Lyle did, but none of them worked harder for those saves than Sparky. Remarkable.
Lyle wasn’t the only one, I just picked him as an example. The league was full of warriors like him back then – you had Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Ron Perranoski, Mike Marshall – they were all freaking amazing.
Back then a manager would be torn to shreds by the fans and the press if he dared to take his starter out of 3-1 game in the ninth just so the closer could collect a save, it was absolutely unheard of.
So back to the point of all this.
No relief pitcher is worth $17.5 million dollars, I don’t care who they are. I would hate to see K-Rod trigger that vesting option.
If you try to squeeze some saves out of Parnell or Buchholz in the ninth inning next season, you might get away with it once or twice each, but anything more than that and the Players Association will scream bloody hell.
But who would argue with Terry Collins if he chose to bring K-Rod into the seventh inning with the tying and winning runs on base?
Absolutely nobody, that’s who!
By the way, if K-Rod goes out and has a great season for us, I would have no problem re-signing him for less money. I always liked him, and I hope he learned his lesson about that unfortunate incident. He seems very remorseful and continues to attend anger management classes. Everybody deserves a second chance.