Stat Heavy Monday – Ranking the Closers

Ryan's 2006 season was the best by ANY Toronto closer

 

When the Jays decided to not pick up Kevin Gregg’s option it left them without a closer heading into the 2011 season.  For many, Gregg was too inconsistent and wild to be considered a true loss to the team.  But keep in mind that though he had his faults, he did manage to lock down 37 saves last year – not too shabby.

With the closer position now empty I decided to take a historical look at Toronto’s past closers, mainly to see where Gregg’s 2010 season ranked in Blue Jays history and how difficult he might be to replace. 

To do that I pulled data from baseball-reference.com.  Toronto has been in the league for 34 seasons, meaning they have had a grand total of 34 different closers.  Since the Jays didn’t have a true closer in their early years, I have defined closer as the man with the most saves in each season.  

I compiled a list of seven statistics that I felt were the most important in determining an elite closer.  I then ranked each player from 1 to 34, giving the guy with the best rank in each category 34 points, and the worst in each category 1 point.

The stats I used are as follows:

ERA – because a closer shouldn’t allow many runs…

WHIP – because any closer who allows a lot of baserunners is walking on eggshells…

Saves – because that is what closers are paid to do, save games…

Save % – because blown saves are bad…

K / 9 – because a closer with strikeout stuff is more dangerous and dominant, and less reliant on the team behind him…

K / BB – because a closer who walks batters is flirting with disaster…

HR Allowed – because a closer pitches in close games, where HR hurt more…

There are many stats that I just couldn’t find in a timely fashion (namely performance in back-to-back games, record in high pressure situations) and there are many things about a good closer that can’t be measured (like how confident the fans feel when he takes the mound).  But the stats above do a pretty good job on their own.

So who was Toronto’s most dominant closer of all time according to my study?  None other than the much maligned B.J. Ryan circa 2006.  He scored 222.5 of a possible 238 points, highlighted by the best ever ERA and WHIP for a Toronto closer.  His overall numbers from ’06 were outstanding: 1.37 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 38 saves, 90.48% save success rate, 10.7 K/9, 4.30 K/BB, and only 3 HR allowed.

Second place on the list was Duane Ward from 1993 (206.5 points) follwed by the 1991 campaign from Tom Henke (200 points). 

Kevin Gregg ranked number 15 on the list, almost dead centre, with 132 points.  That is about where I expected him to rank as his high save total was offset by a poor ERA and WHIP, and mediocre strikeout numbers. 

But the bottom line about Gregg is this: neither his supporters or detractors are right.  Was he worth the big money club option the Jays held?  No.  But was he just a mediocre closer who is easily replaced?  Judging by the fact that Toronto has gone through 19 seasons with a closer worse than Gregg (including as recent as 2005 with Miguel Batista) I’d say absolutely not.

Here is the complete analysis.  Of note, the Toronto Blue Jays, in 34 years, have only had two – TWO!!! – closers that have lasted for three seasons: Tom Henke and Billy Koch.  Let the revolving door continue…

One thought on “Stat Heavy Monday – Ranking the Closers”

  1. Great stuff here Jeremy! I’m actually pretty shocked that The Beej is at the top, simply because it always felt like a wild ride when he took the hill.

    Nevertheless, statistically he’s the best closer in history!

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