Before the sky totally falls on the Rangers season, let’s remember one thing. Closers like Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan are the rarest of breeds. Because of that, memory of them tends to skew our thoughts on closers.
In reality, closers are a dime a dozen. If one goes down, you pluck out another one from your roster. It happens all the time. To great success.
The Rangers are about to embark on replacing ineffective Sam Dyson as closer. In 2016, Dyson, you might recall, was a mid-season replacement for ineffective closer Shawn Tolleson, who in 2015 was a mid-season replacement for ineffective closer Neftali Feliz, who in 2014 was a mid-season replacement for traded closer Joakim Soria.
All of which makes the closer role highly overrated. Closers are interchangeable drill bits. Name one other position on the roster you can replace so readily with another player from your roster who will perform just as well or better than that first player. Catcher? An infielder? An outfielder? No way.
Shake a tree, and you will find another closer. The Rangers are merely in tree shaking mode.
The role of the modern day closer exists for one reason. In 1960, Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman invented the save stat. And as it developed, managers became obsessed with it. They totally re-configured their in-game strategy for a stat.
Imagine if they decided to hold back Beltre every game for the perfect ninth-inning RBI situation because they are slaves to the RBI stat. That hasn’t happened because you want that player up to bat throughout the game in RBI situations. And because getting an RBI in an RBI situation is hard.
Getting a save in far too many save situations is the baseball equivalent of an extra point—not automatic, but nearly so. A reliever can come into a game with two outs in the ninth, bases loaded, and a five-run lead and allow four runs to score and still get a save.
Credit forward-thinking managers like Indians Terry Francona for bringing back the idea of bringing in your best relief pitcher when the game situation calls for it, whether it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning, instead of only when the stat calls for it.
Most major league managers are leaders of men but followers of convention.
But I digress.
The Rangers are in the process of replacing struggling Sam Dyson. Is it time to panic? No. Just look down the bench and pluck the next ninth-inning guy. There are probably four good ones to choose from. And if that guy fails, repeat and rinse as needed.
Oh, by they way, here are the last five World Series winners and their closer situations. Not a single championship team finished the season with the same closer they so optimistically started that season with.
2016: The Cubs started the season with Hector Rondon, ended with Aroldis Chapman, who they got in a trade. They were already comfortably in first place with Rondon as their closer.
2015: Kansas City Royals’ closer to begin the season was Greg Holland. He got injured in September. Wade Davis ended the season as the closer. Worked out fine.
2014: Santiago Casilla took over the closer’s role in July because Sergio Romo was ineffective in that role. No panic. Just find the next guy.
2013: The Red Sox started the season with Joel Hanrahan as their closer. He blew out his elbow early on. Andrew Bailey took over as closer. He blew a lot of save and was replaced by Koji Uehara in July. Could they have done that had David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia needed replacing? No way. Closers are interchangeable drill bits.
2012: In a reversal of what they would do two years later in 2014, the Giants started the season with Santiago Casilla as their closer. He was humming along until July, when he started blowing a lot of saves. By early August, he was replaced by Sergio Romo. No hiccups.
2011: St Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals started the season with Mitchell Boggs as closer, and then turned it over to Fernando Salas in mid-May. He was replaced September 1 by Jason Motte. Motte saved three World Series games for them. Nelson Cruz saved the other one.
Conclusion: Jeff Banister will find another closer. Life will go on.
Yu Darvish (0-1, 3.65) vs. Ricky Nolasco (0-1, 3.86)
Game time: 2:37
How the Rangers hit against Nolasco.
How the Angels hit against Darvish.