A week ago, I wrote an article detailing the importance of an elite closer for a team looking to win the World Series.
This article, “Does a Team Really Need a Dominant Closer to Win the World Series?” reviewed the major league playoffs since the establishment of the wild-card format and compared the efficiency of the closer for the team that won the World Series to the team that lost the World Series.
My results were predictable, but nonetheless significant, as my data showed that closers for a team that captured the World Series championship saved 68 of a possible 72 games in postseason opportunities, a pretty nifty save rate of 94.4 percent.
Meanwhile, closers for teams that lost the World Series didn't fare so well, blowing more games in fewer chances, an overall save rate of 87 percent. My research concluded that for a team to win the World Series, it needs an elite closer.
After watching the 2009 Division Series matchups, I am only further reminded just how important the role of the closer is to a playoff team.
All four teams that lost their playoff series suffered a blown save from their closer. These closers – Joe Nathan of the Minnesota Twins, Jonathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox, Huston Street of the Colorado Rockies, and Ryan Franklin of the St. Louis Cardinals – combined for an 0-4 record, four blown saves in five opportunities, and a horrific 10.13 ERA.
The only one of the bunch to earn a save was Street, who saved Game 2 against the Phillies, but he couldn't hold a two-run lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning of Game 4, a game that would have forced a decisive Game 5 for both teams.
Nathan and Papelbon are probably two of the top three closers in all of baseball (the other being Mariano Rivera), and both uncharacteristically coughed up a lead in a game their team couldn't afford to lose.
And Franklin put together a superb season, shocking the baseball world with a sub-2.00 ERA to go with his 38 saves for the NL Central champion Cardinals, but he blew his only save opportunity of the postseason.
Meanwhile, the four teams that won their postseason series all received flawless contributions from their closers—Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, Brian Fuentes of the L.A. Angels, Brad Lidge of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Jonathan Broxton of the L.A. Dodgers.
These four pitchers saved all six of their combined save opportunities, with Lidge and Fuentes each earning two saves apiece. Together, the four closers pitched 10.1 innings without allowing a run.
Rivera is probably the greatest closer of all-time, and his success was no surprise, but Lidge was a pleasant surprise for we Philadelphia fans who had grown accustomed to his painful blown saves this past season.
It's gotten a reputation as a position that is very overrated, but I think this year's playoffs thus far have shown just how important a closer is to a baseball team.
Closers for the winning teams: 0-0 record, 6-6 SV, 0.00 ERA in 10.1 IP
Closers for the losing teams: 0-4, 1-5 SV, 10.13 ERA in 8 IP
The League Championship Series puts the defending World Champion Phillies against the Dodgers, the N.L.'s best team in terms of wins this past year.
In the AL, the Yankees—the majors' only 100-win team—square off against the hot-hitting Angels in what should be a series to remember.
These four teams are very evenly matched and I could easily see both series going the distance.
And I can virtually guarantee one thing.
There series are too short and too competitive to afford a blown save. All four closers better be on the top of their game for their teams to advance.