Cole: How well do closers perform in non-save situations?

From Bryan Cole at Beyond the Box Score on January 27, 2014:

At this point, the concept of “pitching to the score” has been thoroughly debunked for starting pitchers, as anyone who followed the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jack Morris can tell you. But few, if any, studies exist looking for this effect in closers.

Growing up as a Red Sox fan, this seemed to be a real phenomenon. Tom Gordon or Derek Lowe or whoever would come into a four-run game in the top of the ninth — just to get some work — and give up a couple of runs and a few baserunners before getting that last out on a hard-hit liner right at somebody. Adding insult to injury, I had to endure Mariano Rivera crushing hopes and dreams just down I-95 from middle school on.

If you’re the type to put stock in the “closer mentality”, this doesn’t seem so far-fetched. After Cardinals rookie Kolten Wong was picked off to end a World Series game, he said, “When you get to this level there is no down time, there is no moment to breathe.” From that perspective, it’s not hard to picture a closer coming into a one-sided game, letting his guard down (even just a little!), and underperforming.

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Originally published: January 27, 2014. Last Updated: January 27, 2014.