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Why Blake Treinen is baseball’s best closer, not Edwin Diaz

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Treinen has been an unexpected MVP for the A’s in 2018

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
A’s closer Blake Treinen celebrates yet another save and another win for the Athletics.
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

There are good closers in baseball every year. In 2018 there are undoubtedly two that have risen far above the rest — the A’s Blake Treinen, and Edwin Diaz of the Seattle Mariners. Also included on the list could be the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman, but Treinen and Diaz are in a league of their own.

While they all have various advantages in different statistical categories, the fact remains that in 2018 they have all, thus far, been very good at their jobs. Still, of the six pitchers noted above, the one considered by many and mentioned most often as the best in baseball in 2018 is Diaz. Why is that? Well, it is because anyone who says this is looking solely at the 52 saves he has collected so far. It’s a number that rivals those that the greatest of the great closers — like Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera — put up in seasons during their careers.

Yet, despite Diaz’s saves so far this year, the question should be asked: Does the number of saves obtained in a season define who is actually baseball’s best closer? The answer to that simply has to be “no.” It seems to be similar to the once widely-held belief, one that has been slowly changing over recent years, that the Cy Young Award winner should be the one with the most wins in his respective league. Wins, however, include every action by every player who plays in that particular game.

With saves it is somewhat different yet also similar. Diaz may have the most saves, but he has also been given the most save opportunities. He’s had a total of 56 chances in which to gain saves, thanks partly to Seattle winning 27 one-run games this season. Treinen, on the other hand, has only been given 40 games* in which he was able to acquire a save this season.

* There was also a 41st game where he was hit by a line drive before recording an out, which means he didn’t get a save, a hold, or a blown save.

Here is where the disagreement of who is currently baseball’s best closer gets dicey. Diaz and Treinen have each only blown four saves this season, which appears to give Diaz the edge. However, when you look at other statistics like ERA, Treinen has an absurdly low 0.91 while Diaz, who may lead the league in saves, is over a run higher at 1.90. Now things look pretty crazy in that if Diaz has pitched in more games, it’s more likely that he would have allowed more runs to score.

That usually would be the case until you look at the number of innings pitched by each closer. Treinen has actually pitched 69.1 innings in the 59 total games (not all save opportunities) he has played in 2018. Diaz has pitched in 66 games for the Mariners this season yet he has thrown just 66.1 innings. So, while Diaz has appeared in more games, Treinen has often made longer appearances — he’s gone two full innings eight times and even did three innings once, whereas Diaz has never been asked to record more than four outs. Not only is Treinen’s ERA lower, but he’s done it in slightly more innings pitched, which makes it that much more impressive than Diaz’s ERA. It also puts a mark in Treinen’s favor in the conversation of who has been the best and most effective of the two closers so far in 2018.

ESPN actually illustrated this point for me last night, which happened to come in quite handy when I was alerted to it this morning. In a segment talking about the contenders in the American League Cy Young race, Treinen’s name was present but Diaz’s was not. There were some, even people considered baseball professionals, who could not understand the reason why Diaz was not on ESPN’s list.

It’s difficult for a reliever of any type to win the Cy Young Award. Only nine in MLB history have had that distinction: Mike Marshall (LAD), Sparky Lyle (NYY), Bruce Sutter (CHC), Rollie Fingers (MIL), Willie Hernandez (DET), Steve Bedrosian (PHI), Mark Davis (SDP), Dennis Eckersley (OAK), and Eric Gange (LAD), with the last one in 2003. Even Mariano Rivera with his devastating cutter never won a Cy Young.

Of those nine Cy Young Award winning relievers just three have the distinction of winning their league’s Most Valuable Player Award in the same season: Hernandez, Fingers, and Eckersley, with the last coming in 1992. To show how exceptional that is there have only been ten pitchers in history to win both awards; the other seven of course were starting pitchers.

While the A’s have many players who could be considered the Most Valuable Player on the team in 2018, most often noted are Khris Davis who has already reached his third consecutive season with 40-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI, and Matt Chapman with his 20-plus home run power and his unparalleled defensive skills. But also often included in the conversation regarding the Team MVP of the 2018 A’s are the words, “Where would they be without Blake Treinen?” To be honest, I don’t think that question can be answered. He has been a godsend to the team and there really isn’t any other way to put it.

Treinen will almost certainly not be named either the American League’s MVP or even Cy Young Award winner. But with the number of innings he’s pitched, the games he’s saved, and his insanely low ERA, he should at least be considered the sport’s best closer, even over Diaz.