Does a Team Really Need a Dominant Closer To Win the World Series?

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Does a Team Really Need a Dominant Closer To Win the World Series?
(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Baseball playoffs are starting next week, so I figured I would take a break from Brett Favre for a little while to address a major concern for many Phillies fans like myself.

 

The closer position.

 

Last year we had the luxury of perfection.

 

This year, we haven't been so fortunate. With Brad Lidge sporting a 7.21 ERA and 11 blown saves, the closer job is between Ryan Madson, J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez, Brett Myers, or possibly even old Jose Mesa himself out of retirement.

 

So I thought to myself: Do teams even need an effective closer to win a World Series?

 

I went back through the last 13 World Series—every one since the wild-card format was instituted in 1995—and checked the performances of each closer for the team that won the World Series.

 

I added up all their save opportunities in the wild card round, the league championship series, and the World Series, and then checked how many of those opportunities were converted.

 

I was surprised at what I saw.

 

Closers are good. Very good. Since 1995, closers of the World Series champion team have been given 72 save opportunities.

 

They have converted on 68 of them, a pretty impressive 94.4 percent save rate.

 

Two of the four blown saves were by one man in a span of 24 hours, as Arizona's Byung Hyun Kim gave up two-out, two-run home runs on back-to-back nights against the Yankees in Games Four and Five of the 2001 World Series.

 

Bobby Jenks blew one for the White Sox in the '05 World Series, and Robb Nen blew one for the Marlins in the '97 NLDS.

 

And that's it.

 

Other than that, these closers have been top notch for their teams.

 

The Phillies wouldn't have won the World Series without Brad Lidge, who was called upon seven times in last year's playoffs, and came through all seven times. Same with the Angels in 2002, who used Troy Percival seven times, and got seven saves.

 

It should be noted that the Angels also had Francisco Rodriguez in the year he emerged as the unhittable K-Rod, proving a great overall bullpen is even better than just a great closer.

 

Mariano Rivera was probably the single most valuable piece of that Yankees dynasty that won three straight titles, four out of five, and qualified for six World Series in eight seasons.

 

And before Rivera was John Wetteland, who saved four straight games to bring the Yankees back from a two games to none deficit in the World Series, while securing a World Championship.

 

Each of the last five World Series champions had their closer on the mound in a save situation in the clinching game, and it was fitting that these guys could throw the final pitch for the title.

 

Here is a complete breakdown below of each World Series champion closer's performance:

 

 

Year

Name

LDS

LCS

World Series

Total

 

2008 Phillies

 

 

Brad Lidge

 

2-2

 

3-3

 

2-2

 

7-7

 

2007 Red Sox

 

 

Jonathan Papelbon

 

---

 

 

---

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

2006 Cardinals

 

 

Adam Wainwright

 

1-1

 

3-3

 

1-1

 

5-5

 

2005 White Sox

 

 

Bobby Jenks

 

2-2

 

1-1

 

2-3

 

5-6

 

2004 Red Sox

 

 

Keith Foulke

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

3-3

 

2003 Marlins

 

 

Ugueth Urbina

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

4-4

 

2002 Angels

 

 

Troy Percival

 

2-2

 

 

2-2

 

3-3

 

7-7

 

2001 Diamondbacks

 

 

Byung-Hyun Kim

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

0-2

 

3-5

 

2000 Yankees

 

 

Mariano Rivera

 

3-3

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

6-6

 

 

1999 Yankees

 

 

Mariano Rivera

 

2-2

 

2-2

 

2-2

 

6-6

 

 

1998 Yankees

 

 

Mariano Rivera

 

2-2

 

1-1

 

3-3

 

6-6

 

 

1997 Marlins

 

 

Robb Nen

 

0-1

 

2-2

 

2-2

 

4-5

 

 

1996 Yankees

 

 

John Wetteland

 

2-2

 

1-1

 

4-4

 

7-7

 

 

1995 Braves

 

 

Mark Wohlers

 

2-2

 

---

 

2-2

 

4-4

 

Total

 

 

---

 

21-22

 

20-20

 

27-30

 

68-72

 

 

I wanted to check how much better the closers for the teams that won the World Series performed than the closers for the teams that lost the World Series.

 

Obviously, the teams that lost the World Series still had great closers—you don't make it that far without a great closer—but I wanted to see if there was a significant drop-off.

 

There was, to a certain extent.

 

Closers for the team that lost the World Series saved 54 of 62 opportunities, a save rate of 87.1 percent. That is still a great rate, a percentage any manager would take for his team, but it is seven percent less than the World Series champions.

 

And too often, those blown saves are the reason why the team lost the World Series.

 

Brad Lidge in 2005 blew a monstrous save in the League Championship Series against Albert Pujols, a pitch that set Lidge's career back three seasons. Lidge followed that up by giving up a walk-off home run to Scott Podsednik in Game Two of the World Series.

 

Though it wasn't technically credited as a blown save, because it was a tie game when Lidge entered the game, Podsednik's home run—the only one he hit during the entire 2005 regular and postseason combined—certainly helped the White Sox capture their World Championship.

 

Mariano Rivera in 2001 blew an opportunity in Game Seven of the World Series, giving up a rare ninth-inning single to Luis Gonzalez, ending the Yankees' bid for four straight titles.

 

And Jose Mesa in 1997 made a living blowing saves for the Indians, blowing three of his seven chances that postseason, including a 2-1 lead in Game Seven of the World Series that would have won it all for Cleveland.

 

See the accompanying chart for a complete breakdown of the closers of the losing team in the World Series:

 

 

Year

Name

LDS

LCS

World Series

Total

 

2008 Rays

 

 

Dan Wheeler

 

1-1

 

---

 

---

 

1-1

 

2007 Rockies

 

 

Manny Corpas

 

3-3

 

 

2-3

 

---

 

5-6

 

2006 Tigers

 

 

Todd Jones

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

1-1

 

4-4

 

2005 Astros

 

 

Brad Lidge

 

---

 

2-3

 

---

 

2-3

 

2004 Cardinals

 

 

Jason Isringhausen

 

---

 

3-3

 

---

 

3-3

 

2003 Yankees

 

 

Mariano Rivera

 

2-2

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

5-5

 

2002 Giants

 

 

Robb Nen

 

2-2

 

 

2-2

 

3-3

 

7-7

 

2001 Yankees

 

 

Mariano Rivera

 

2-2

 

2-2

 

1-2

 

5-6

 

2000 Mets

 

 

Armando Benitez

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

1-2

 

3-4

 

 

1999 Braves

 

 

John Rocker

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

---

 

3-3

 

 

1998 Padres

 

 

Trevor Hoffman

 

2-2

 

1-2

 

3-3

 

6-7

 

 

1997 Indians

 

Jose Mesa

 

1-1

 

2-4

 

1-2

 

4-7

 

 

1996 Braves

 

 

Mark Wohlers

 

3-3

 

1-1

 

---

 

4-4

 

 

1995 Indians

 

 

Jose Mesa

 

---

 

1-1

 

1-1

 

2-2

 

Total

 

 

---

 

19-19

 

22-27

 

13-16

 

54-62

 

 

Simply put, if a team wants to win a World Series, it is going to need a top-notch performance from its closer. Not good. Not great.

 

Elite.

 

Brad Lidge did it last year. For the Phillies to repeat, Lidge will need to repeat.

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