|Bell One of Many Closer Changes||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on May 17, 2012
However, many teams are still in search of consistent performances from their closers this season. As a result, we’ve seen many examples of “closers by committee” in which a manager turns to whoever has the hot hand coming out of the bullpen.
Recently, Miami Marlins closer Heath Bell lost his ninth-inning job. He had blown four of his first seven save opportunities, giving up 13 runs in 11 2/3 innings for a 10.03 ERA. This is the same guy who has led the league in most saves since 2009 (135), including three consecutive 40-plus save seasons on a San Diego Padres team that wasn’t exactly racking up wins.
The Marlins made Bell a rich man this offseason, signing him to a three-year, $27 million contract in early December 2011. But so far in Miami, Bell appears to be a high-priced bust.
Marlins side-arming reliever Steve Cishek replaced Bell temporarily in the ninth inning, but he blew his only save opportunity, leading manager Ozzie Guillen to re-anoint Bell as his closer.
Based on his track record of saving games, Bell should bounce back if he continues to get the chance to close games. He’s a character when not pitching (see his All-Star Game sprint and slide from the bullpen), but when he’s on the mound, he’s as focused as anyone.
It must be tough for Bell to be experiencing this recent string of failure, since for the majority of his career as a closer, he’s been one of the most dominant in the game. His career took a few years to get going, but he turned himself into a perennial All-Star closer.
With the Marlins on a hot streak after a slow start, Bell will factor heavily into the team’s success. Protecting a late lead is Bell’s responsibility, and with the Marlins’ ability to manufacture a run using their speed, he’ll likely continue to get the chance for the saves late in games.
Bell is not the only closer to be displaced from his role this season. Blue Jays closer Francisco Cordero is out as the ninth-inning man. He was originally slated to be Sergio Santos’ setup man, but Santos went on the disabled list early in the year. Casey Janssen is now closing games for the Jays.
Brian Fuentes had been a closer much of his career before losing the job in Oakland this season to Grant Balfour. However, Balfour couldn’t shut the door, which has allowed Fuentes right back in.
Dale Sveum is using closer by committee in the Chicago Cubs bullpen. Walks continued to plague Carlos Marmol, so now Rafael Dolis and James Russell are splitting closer’s duties.
Both Los Angeles clubs have new closers, as Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen has taken over for Javy Guerra and lefty Scott Downs has replaced the hard-throwing Jordan Walden for the Angels.
Mets closer Frank Francisco has been struggling as well. The team has two relievers -- Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell -- who could step in, but manager Terry Collins says he’s sticking with Francisco for now.
Even the Yankees, with the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera, will have to look elsewhere in the ninth inning. The game’s best setup man David Robertson has looked a little shaky in the ninth, but Rafael Soriano has closing experience and will likely be the go-to guy.
All these teams wish they had a Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Motte or Joel Hanrahan closing games. But that’s not the case, so teams will have to work with what they have to piece together the ninth inning.
The worst feeling in baseball is to lead an entire game and then have a closer who has been sitting around for eight innings come in and blow the lead. It just shows that even though this group of players is paid to get just three outs, those three outs can make or break a pitcher. Having the confidence to bounce back as a closer is as important as recording the big out in a big spot.