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The Psychology Of The Closer

I wonder if Billy Beane has recalibrated the baseline value of the closer. Years ago, it was clear that he felt closers were generally overvalued, because the difference between a great closer, a serviceable closer, and a poor closer is not that much when calculated in "win shares"--simply because even poor bullpens successfully protect 9th inning leads most of the time, and even great bullpens cough it up once in a while.

But as Tampa Bay comes to town, I wonder how many of you are like me: if the A's are trailing, I become aware of the opposing team's set-up man and closer around the 6th inning. If we're playing the Devil Rays, I'm thinking "We have four more go-arounds; it's still pretty early." It feels like the middle of a longer marathon--kind of like July is to the season--because the Devil Rays don't have a set-up man or closer who is "lights out". But against the Angels, I start feeling that "time is of the essence" feeling, knowing that in just two innings, if the A's don't catch up it becomes a game of "will this be the rare time Shields and K-Rod blow it?" Emphasis on "rare". Against the Yankees, it's a race. Do we have 9 outs pre-Rivera? Or maybe only 7-8? Darn those nearly infallible closers who can get 4-5 outs. Don't just stand there! Hurry up and tie the game...before it's too late...

I believe that the psychological factor is significant to the value of the closer, and I think this is one area where Beane may have changed his opinion. Several years ago, he was shuttling closers through while they were cheap and figuring that Billy Taylor and Isringhausen and Koch and Foulke and "what was your name again can you get three outs at the end today?" were fine as long as they didn't cramp the payroll. And then one day he turned around and offered Foulke a long-term deal for "real money," because Foulke could get 3 outs, or 4 outs, or 5 outs, and because he probably caught more than a few fans, and managers, and GMs, of other teams starting to do mental math around the 6th inning. "We don't want to have to try to beat Foulke. Can he go more than an inning today? Probably; he didn't pitch yesterday. Maybe 4 outs, so we have 7 left to work with right now..." And then he drafted a career closer, one who can get you 4-5 outs when needed no problem, in Huston Street and groomed him to close. Beane doesn't change his mind often, because he does his homework before he makes up his mind in the first place. But I suspect this is one time Beane has changed his mind, and I think he got it right the second time.