Tom Verducci weighs in on the Sox’ closer, or lack thereof. The article is quite interesting, and it offers a minor view into the mind of Theo Epstein, a view which helps explain why we Sox fans value him: honesty. Epstein makes no bones about his dubious "closer by committee" plan in 2003. And he offers blunt self-criticism of that idea: "I definitely didn’t do a good job of choosing relievers overall".
Digging a little deeper, however, Epstein seems more self-assured that simply slotting relief pitchers into specific roles will work out better (I am dubious), while Verducci believes that the closer role is an overrated one (possible, but not well-proven by the writer). I am skeptical. First of all, slotting players into specific roles doesn’t necessarily convert them from mediocrities into superstars. It’s a good idea, and I like the psychology. A good mindset can assist an athlete excel, without a doubt, but any player needs to have abilities and nerves commensurate with their responsibilities. It’s a pet peeve of mine when managers thrust players into roles that they are not familiar with; to me that unfamiliarity adds pressure. But that’s not to say a regular gig is a catalyst to greatness (or even goodness). It most certainly is not.
As for Verducci’s "study" showing how the most recent World Series teams have fared, he points out that three of the teams succeeded without a bona fide closer on call. I find this flawed. The Cardinals won a division with barely a winning record. Under normal circumstances, their lack of a closer would have contributed to them golfing in October. This year their success was a fluke because of the horror of the NL Central and, perhaps, the demise of Brad Lidge (how ironic!). The Diamondbacks also won the title in flukey fashion, having basically blown a World Series because of their reliance on an unproven closer with a sketchy head. That they were able to rebound and beat the best closer ever was, to me, a miracle. It still is. So that hardly qualifies as a test case for the value of the closer. And two years ago Bobby Jenks emerged and hasn’t falterd since. This season Jenks showed that he’s a fine relief ace, and we may look back in a few years and see him with 150+ saves, reinforcing the fact that Jenks was, in fact, already the fantastic relief man that he is today, that his learning curve was very flat.
So we can trust from Verducci’s article that the Sox will have something like a closer in April. We won’t know who that is. And we won’t know that the closer in April will also be the closer in October. And all the while, we’re not supposed to be too concerned. So I wonder how this will all feel on a cold night about 9 weeks from now, when a Sox pitcher, TBD, strolls in from the bullpen to a random heavy metal song (also TBD), only to find himself unable to stand the pressure. What then?