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Sunday Rockpile: The Closer Conundrum

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First off, let me just say that I hate the term "closer", and I think the save as a statistic is silly. K-Rod's record just shows that he's an effective reliever and that the Angels are a good, but probably not dominant team. By itself it doesn't mean that he's deserving of placement in the baseball Pantheon. Instead, I'm going to talk about high leverage relievers, those pitchers that a team has confidence in the tightest spots in a game. I think while closers as a class are overrated, the backlash against this catches up the significance of having a couple of high quality relievers on a team's outcome so that many fans seem to think all relievers are created equal and that they're more or less interchangeable. This simply isn't true, the differences in skill in relief show just as much as differences of skill in other portions of the game, it's just that statistically they become insignificant with small sample sizes. Statistical insignificance is not indicative that these are interchangeable parts, it simply means that there's not enough data to create a sizable margin of error.

I think a measure of good teams is to have three of this type of high leverage pitcher, but the order they are used isn't as important as the spots they get used in. So Arizona's replacement of Chad Qualls for Brandon Lyon just shuffles their hand but does nothing to make the underlying weakness of their cards any better. In Qualls and Juan Cruz, the D-backs have two high leverage guys, but the rest of their bullpen doesn't quite qualify. With Cruz on his way out thanks to free agency, Arizona will be one of many teams this offseason looking to fill gaps of quality in the bullpen.

The Rockies are in a similar boat, but I think we might be better positioned to fill our bullpen needs. We have two solid high leverage pitchers in Brian Fuentes and Taylor Buchholz, with Fuentes leaving. Manny Corpas is borderline and obviously the team hopes he can step up and play a high leverage role once more in 2009. Casey Weathers is on the farm and progressing and might make the major league pen, but likely won't be an HLR from Opening Day. Still, there's promise that he will become so by later in the season.

What's more, the Rockies should be well positioned to go after the top relievers on the trade market, such as Oakland's Huston Street, if they are wise in accumulating talent for trading Garrett Atkins or Matt Holliday. I see this as an issue for the ofseason, but I see it as a far easier solution than say, second base. The catch I see with this is that our front office has to show more willingness to accept quantity in the ultimate pursuit of quality (sort of like how the D-backs used the parts they got for Carlos Quentin to flip for Dan Haren, even if I think that last trade was a mistake) than they have indicated in press reports. The front office can't go trolling for rebounds like they did with Luis Vizcaino last year. We've seen this story, it doesn't play out well as often as teams seem to wish to believe it does. At any rate, add the bullpen situation as one more intriguing storyline to follow for the offseason.