The Curious Case of the Disposable Closers

First a shout out @C70. He helped me edit this post, and has been very helpful my entire time with UCB. Indeed, all of the UCB guys have been helpful, as have all of the fellow Cards fans I’ve made friends with on Twitter. Thank you all for your kindness!

On to the post.

This year, the Cardinals’ closer has been Trevor Rosenthal, but he has struggled a bit, and there’s a possibility he might be replaced as closer if his struggles continue. As you all know, Trevor himself replaced a closer (Edward Mujica) last year near the end of the season. This got me thinking: Do the Cardinals churn through their closers, or is this just a two year blip? And if they do, is it a common thing throughout baseball, or just a Cardinals problem?

To get a good sample size, I’m going to examine the last 11 seasons and see who the closers were, whether they maintained that role throughout that season and into the next season (and beyond) or not.

I don’t list anyone that has less than 7 saves, because, as managers always seem to say, closers need days off on occasion, generating a few saves for the 8th inning guy.

Closer(s)                  Saves

2004       Isringhausen           47
2005       Isringhausen           39
2006       Isringhausen           33
2007       Isringhausen           32
2008       Isringhausen           12
2008       Franklin                  17
2008       C. Perez                   7
2009       Franklin                  38
2010       Franklin                  27
2011       Salas                      24
2011       Motte                       9
2012       Motte                      42
2013       Mujica                     37
2014      Rosenthal                36 (and counting)

I’d forgotten how long Jason Isringhausen was our closer. He closed for us from 2002 until 2008, earning a majority of his 300 saves as a Cardinal.

That was followed by a couple of forgettable years of Ryan Franklin as closer. Then the churning really begins. Fernando Salas starts out as closer, only to have Jason Motte finish in the role, hold it for a full year, get injured, allowing Mujica to claim the role. What isn’t shown here is that Mujica faltered, allowing young Rosenthal to claim the closer role for the playoffs and this year. So four closers in five years for the Cards. Trevor is having a rough year this year, even with 36 saves currently. He’s blown four, and nearly blew another Sunday night when he couldn’t find the strike zone. If he keeps this up, he may be replaced too. Is this kind of closer churn common or a rarity?

Let’s look at several teams for comparisons sake. I’ll focus on the last 5 years:

Atlanta

Closer(s)                     Saves

2010 Wagner                  37
2011 Kimbrel                   46
2012 Kimbrel                   42
2013 Kimbrel                   50
2014 Kimbrel                   37 (and counting)

Atlanta had a one year cameo by Billy Wagner in his last year. Craig Kimbrel stepped in the following year and hasn’t let up since. It should be noted that from 2009 to 2011, they had four closers in three years, with Rafael Soriano getting 27 saves in 2009 and Mike Gonzalez getting 10. So until Kimbrel, they were unstable.

Toronto

Closer(s)                    Saves

2010 Kevin Gregg            37
2011 Frank Francisco      17
2011 Jon Rauch                11
2012 Casey Janssen         22
2013 Janssen                      34
2014 Janssen                      19

Another situation with some unstability before one guy settled into the role. One thing to keep in mind, there are two relievers with four saves (Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil) in addition to Janssen’s 19, so there may be some instability there this year.

Finally, let’s try a team that has recently won a pair of World Series.

San Francisco

Closer(s)                    Saves

2010 Wilson                     48
2011 Wilson                     36
2012 Casilla                     25
2012 Romo                      14
2013 Romo                      38
2014 Romo                      23
2014 Casilla                     10

Some instability here too. Brian Wilson was relatively stable, holding down the job from 2008 until 2011, when he got injured. Then Santiago Casilla split the role with Sergio Romo until Romo seized the role. Then he faltered a bit this year, opening the door back up for Casilla.

So aside from guys like Kimbrel, Mariano Rivera and Isringhausen, the closers role seems to be relatively unstable these days.

Thanks for reading.

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