San Francisco Giants:How important is the closer?


The names are just as easy to remember as the memories that they saved for all San Francisco Giants fans. They were brought in to preserve a lead, and send everyone in orange and black home happy. But has the closer’s role lost its value? Or has the team just gotten lucky?

The final out in a close baseball game will always bring “edge of your seat” excitement to all fans. There have been some great Giants hurlers over the years who have brought joy (and some pain) to San Francisco. But the last three championships have featured a different closer each time. Will another Giants closer ever challenge Robb Nen‘s franchise record of 206 saves?

Does this mean that they are expendable, absolutely not. But they are replaceable, even if some teams don’t want to believe it.

The economics of baseball have made it important to define positions. It makes it easier to find a player’s value. In this year’s winter meetings, the Giants went in with a few needs, but have not seen the value that they see as a fit for the club. Some teams need to fill a position, and are willing to pay top dollar to fill it.

One position that the Giants are not willing to pay a premium for is the closer.

And if you look at it from a cost-value perspective, it is the right way to go. If you can develop young arms into closers, you pay them a smaller amount when they are brought up. If they show the ability to get the job done, they take over the role while the team gets the next one ready.

And once the business side of the game comes to the front, and the agents start to fill the player’s head with the grass being greener wherever the money is the highest, the team can cut bait knowing they have a replacement. And they will never have to spend top dollar as long as they create that funnel.

Here are the names of the top ten closers in a Giants uniform (based on saves with the team):

Robb Nen (206), Rod Beck (199), Brian Wilson (171), Gary Lavelle (127), Greg Minton (125), Santiago Casilla (92), Randy Moffitt (83), Sergio Romo (80), Frank Linzy (77), Marv Grissom (57).

Some of those names still conjure up memories that will last forever. Beck gutting it out against the Dodgers in the “Brian Johnson” game. Nen gave his career to the team when he threw on fumes in 2002. Wilson was electric, whether his brand ended up overshadowing his play on the field or not.

But the thing that is becoming more and more evident is the results that the team has gotten recently without as much stability going into the ninth inning.

That isn’t to say that there has been utter chaos out in the bullpen, they still have been pretty consistent. But the fact that the team has had a different closer in each of the World Series titles is pretty eye-opening.

Apr 6, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo against the Arizona Diamondbacks during opening day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One can argue that the team moved to Romo out of need in 2012 since Wilson was injured. That is true, but the team then felt comfortable enough to move forward with him. (And the same goes for Casilla after Romo struggled the following year.)

Maybe the closer’s role is only defined because the saves have a value in negotiations for contracts.

If that is the case, then the Giants definitely have the right idea. Whether by accident or not, the team hasn’t had to pay top dollar for a closer since Armando Benitez. And we know how that went.

The team now has more than a few young arms that seem primed to take over the duties. Hunter Strickland looks like he is the closest to being ready, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him throwing the final pitch of 2016. (Shouldn’t be a surprise after Madison Bumgarner threw the last pitch as the closer in 2014.)

Here are the closers since 2005 (saves in parenthesis when it was shared by Casilla and Romo).

Tyler Walker in 2005. Benitez 2006. Brad Hennessey 2007. Brian Wilson 2008-2011. Santiago Casilla(25) and Sergio Romo 2012(14). Romo 2013. Romo (23) and Casilla (19) 2014. Casilla 2015.

Next: Mission Rock Development

With Bruce Bochy being a master at running a bullpen, and amazing minds like Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner around to keep the staff at peak performance, the Giants have created an environment where it doesn’t matter who records the final out. As long as that out is made in late October.