Best Closer in the NL isn't Named Gagne
*BAA= batting average against
Blasphemous you say? No we haven’t lost our mind, and no this isn’t a joke. All we ask is that you keep an open mind and listen to the evidence and let it speak to you. Forget what everyone says, forget your own preconceived notions, let the statistical information inform your opinion. On the day after Gagne blew his first save after converting 84 straight chances, we will examine the question of who the best closer in the NL is thus far in 2004.
THE EVIDENCE: PART I- TRADITIONAL
Let’s look at the traditional information that we use to judge closers and compare the numbers of Danny Kolb, the aforementioned Eric Gagne, the league leader in saves in Danny Graves, and the Marlins Armando Benitez.
In this initial comparison there is little to tell the four apart unless you go by the save total. However, as we will explain, the raw total of saves is often what gets people into trouble as they become fixated upon it to the exclusion of other more relevant information. In order to show just how hallow Graves save total is, let’s take a look at blown saves. Here are the blown saves for each pitcher in 2004, followed by their save percentage (a figure which is more informative of a closers effectiveness than his raw save total):
Again not much to tell the pitchers apart other than the fact that Graves falls rather precipitously in this statistical measurement.
How about we look at each player’s Rolaids relief points as of July 7th and see how they stack up. Rolaids points are figured by scoring 2 points for a win, 3 points for a save, 4 points for a "tough save" (which is entering the game with the tying run on base), and a minus 2 points for a loss or a blown save. The Rolaids standings:
We will admit to having a few issues for the way that Rolaids tabulates its points our most salient contention being how is it that you are awarded three points for a save and only a (–2) points for a blown save? Shouldn’t a failure at least weigh as much as a success? Some people, including the author, would even argue that a failure should count for more, but any way you look at it, there is no common sense reason that it should count for less. Another issue that we have is with the definition of the save itself: should a pitcher really receive a save if he enters the game with the tying run on deck? On May 6th Gagne earned a “save’ on 3 pitches after coming into the game with a 9 to 4 lead and the bases loaded. If he had given up a grand slam his team would have still been in the lead! Anyway, this is not the place for us to make this argument, that time will come in an upcoming piece.
Why don’t we move on to list some less well-known statistical information to buttress our contention that Kolb has been the best NL closer in the first half.
PART II-NON-TRADITIONAL ANALYSIS
*K/BB= Strikeouts divided by walks.
*TBA= Total Bases Allowed
Another category, another convincing “win” for Kolb. And speaking of Kolb’s greatness, look at poor Mr. Graves. Graves allows bases at a frequency that more than doubles Kolb mark, another startling reason that should be used to devalue what Graves has accomplished thus far.
Building on Kolb’s sizable lead in bases allowed, we move on to discussing just how the balls put in play are actually hit off each hurler. Kolb keeps the ball in the park by keeping the ball down in the strikezone as evidenced by his 4.00 groundball to flyball ratio (meaning that Kolb allows 4 groundballs for every flyball). The others ratios of groundballs to flyballs: Gagne’s is 0.93, Graves 1.59 and Benitez 0.45. This is yet another reason which helps to illustrate why Kolb leads the other relievers in pitching effectiveness because its obvious that your less likely to give up a big inning if you keep the ball on the ground than if you let guys put the ball in the air. One side note: Kolb throws only 13.9 pitches per inning, just behind Graves’ 13.6 (with Gagne at 14.5 and Benitez 15.2) meaning that he is more economical than his Dodger nemesis as well.
SV SV% Rolaids ERA WHIP BAA OBPA SLGA OPSA TBA/IP K/BB G/F
(http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_tim&id=1832526). Read what he wrote, he makes a pretty good argument for the idea that for all of Gagne’s greatness, historically speaking, it just doesn’t measure up to what other have accomplished.
Ray Flowers can be reached with comments/questions or suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org