The right ‘stuff’
I have done more interviews about closers and why there has been so many changes and injuries at the closer role this year.
I can say this: the closer role is not just about “stuff.” It is a combination of stuff and a mentality to make that stuff useful and effective. I have argued with so-called numbers experts who claim anyone can close. That could not be further from the truth.
The fact is that there are a lot of guys that have the stuff to close. But closing is about understanding a couple of very important things. The first of those things is that the pressure is not on you as the pitcher. You have the lead. The pressure is on the hitter.
I have and always will claim that the eighth inning is harder to pitch and get outs than the ninth is. Why is this? Simple. The hitters have a net. The hitters who come up in the ninth are the hitters who truly have the pressure to produce. So hitters in the eighth will work counts, and as the pitcher you have to make quality pitches.
In the ninth, the closer has to throw strike one. Once they have thrown strike one, the hitter becomes defensive and will chase pitches out of the zone to protect. The other thing young closers don’t take into account is the hitters’ egos. All hitters want to be the hero and hit the two-run walk-off homer in the ninth, so they can read their name in the headlines the next day.
I was told by my idol, Goose Gossage, that too much control in the ninth can be a dangerous thing. He couldn’t have been more right. You get ahead with strikes, you get outs with balls. I have seen more 0-2 and 1-2 base hits given up this year than I think I ever have. Pitchers are afraid that if they waste a pitch to set up another pitch, then that will count against them and that might make them unavailable for tomorrow’s game. The mission of the closer is to get three outs before the other team scores a run. I don’t care if it takes 50 pitches to do it. So what? In my 16 years as a professional pitcher, I never once went to a manager and said I wasn’t available that day. I figured if I could pull my pants on, I could pitch.
That is my take on why there has been so much inconsistancy at the closer role this year. The role is not just about stuff. It is about understanding the hitters you are facing, their egos, also the situation you are in. The pressure is on the hitter!