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The Voyage of the HMS (Specific) Closer: Part 3

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The third and final part of the study is more information sorting than anything else. Skim through the lists if you'd like to get to the writing. These lists are made from the classifications I made in the first two parts of this series, with titles themed on Darwinian works.

In this case, Closer replaces Beagle.

Don't ask.

Proven Closers

  • Keith Foulke
  • Billy Wagner
  • Jose Mesa
  • Danny Kolb (honorary)
  • Jason Isringhausen
  • Danny Graves
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Eric Gagne
  • Armando Benitez
  • Bob Wickman
  • Mariano Rivera
  • Troy Percival
  • Eddie Guardado
Converted Starters
  • Eric Gagne
  • Chin-Hui Tsao
  • Brandon Lyon
  • Jason Isringhausen
  • Eric Gagne
  • Joe Nathan
  • Dustin Hermanson
  • Jeremy Affeldt
  • Danys Baez
  • Miguel Batista
  • Octavio Dotel
  • Eddie Guardado
Default Closers
  • Jeremy Affeldt
  • Miguel Batista
  • Dustin Hermanson
  • Braden Looper
  • Brandon Lyon
  • Chin-Hui Tsao
  • Derrick Turnbow
Doug Nickles
  • Francisco Cordero
  • Dustin Hermanson
  • Troy Percival
  • B.J. Ryan
  • Armando Benitez
  • Chad Cordero
  • Danny Graves
  • Braden Looper
Crafty Veterans
  • Troy Percival
  • Bob Wickman
  • Danny Graves
  • Jose Mesa
Career Advancers
  • Francisco Cordero
  • Octavio Dotel
  • Eddie Guardado
  • B.J. Ryan
  • Bob Wickman
  • Braden Looper
  • Guillermo Mota
Minor League Arms
  • Keith Foulke
  • Joe Nathan
  • Mariano Rivera
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Danny Kolb
  • Brad Lidge
  • Derrick Turnbow
  • Billy Wagner
Relief Deities
  • Keith Foulke
  • Mariano Rivera
  • Eric Gagne
  • Brad Lidge
  • Billy Wagner
  • Trevor Hoffman
Closer salaries - 2004:
  1. Mariano Rivera - $10,500,000
  2. Billy Wagner - $9,000,000
  3. Jason Isringhausen - $8,250,000
  4. Eric Gagne - $8,000,000
  5. Keith Foulke - $7,500,000
  6. Danny Graves - $6,250,000
  7. Troy Percival - $5,906,183
  8. Braden Looper - $5,300,000
  9. Trevor Hoffman - $5,000,000
  10. Armando Benitez - $4,771,000
  11. Miguel Batista - $4,750,000
  12. Octavio Dotel - $4,750,000
  13. Eddie Guardado - $4,000,000
  14. Francisco Cordero - $3,875,000
  15. Danys Baez - $3,750,000
  16. Danny Kolb - $3,400,000
  17. Bob Wickman - $2,750,000
  18. Guillermo Mota - $2,600,000
  19. B.J. Ryan - $2,600,000
  20. Joe Nathan - $2,100,000
  21. Jose Mesa - $2,000,000
  22. Dustin Hermanson - $2,000,000
  23. Ryan Dempster - $2,000,000
  24. Jeremy Affeldt - $950,000
  25. Brad Lidge - $500,000
  26. Francisco Rodriguez - $440,000
  27. Brandon Lyon - $350,000
  28. Chad Cordero - $346,500
  29. Derrick Turnbow - $320,000
  30. Chin-Hui Tsao - $317,000
Average closer salary: $3.81 million
Median closer salary: $3.58 million

Percentage of Total Payroll Devoted to Closer

Miguel Batista - 10.55%
Danny Graves - 10.48%
Danys Baez - 9.87%
Eric Gagne - 9.87%
Billy Wagner - 9.44%
Jason Isringhausen - 8.88%
Troy Percival - 8.56%
Octavio Dotel - 8.50%
Trevor Hoffman - 7.95%
Francisco Cordero - 7.19%
Bob Wickman - 6.57%
Keith Foulke - 6.18%
Armando Benitez - 5.33%
Jose Mesa - 5.24%
Mariano Rivera - 5.10%
Braden Looper - 5.06%
Eddie Guardado - 4.66%
Guillermo Mota - 4.31%
Danny Kolb - 3.99%
Joe Nathan - 3.71%
B.J. Ryan - 3.49%
Dustin Hermanson - 2.66%
Jeremy Affeldt - 2.58%
Ryan Dempster - 2.29%
Derrick Turnbow - 0.80%
Chad Cordero - 0.71%
Chin-Hui Tsao - 0.66%
Brad Lidge - 0.65%
Brandon Lyon - 0.56%
Francisco Rodriguez - 0.46%

Average payroll percentage on closer: 5.22%

Looking ahead to free agency this year, there are a few closers who could be available: Billy Wagner, Braden Looper, Octavio Dotel, B.J. Ryan, and Trevor Hoffman are all unsigned past this season. Uggy Urbina is, too.

At this point, Wagner is worth top dollar, assuming he stays healthy. Top dollar for a closer is $7.5 million or above, probably closer to $9 million. If Ryan has a solid year, he might be a good bargain for someone. His raw stuff, however, makes it more likely that he will get a large contract. Dotel is the interesting case. There is a belief with Dotel that he's not suitable to close, but I still think he could give someone one or two good years. I have no idea what will happen this offseason with him, but it's a safe bet that he won't be with Oakland. Looper hasn't pitched well this year, and unless he turns it around, it's doubtful that he'll get a big contract. Urbina will sign somewhere to close, at least temporarily, I'd guess. He probably will get a mid-level deal, similar to Looper's now. Hoffman is most interesting. As good as he's been, it doesn't make much sense for the Padres to keep him, so he could be available for a year or two of good relief.

So how do we intrepret all of this:

  • There are, max, 10 closers in the league to whom it is worth paying serious money: the 6 relief deities, K-Rod and Lidge when they get the service time, and perhaps Jason Isringhausen (who was a borderline deity). Joe Nathan is close, too. Bottom line is that outside of that group, the others, especially the older guys, aren't particularly special. They can be valuable, but their value is limited.
  • Second, the spread of the salaries shows that you can have a good closer at pretty much any salary. Nathan at $2 million is again a good example.
  • Much like the free agent market in general, the middle tier is where the biggest wastes of money are. This is where the payroll percentage comes in. The top two are Miguel Batista and Danny Graves, both of whom are overpaid and not particularly good at closing.
  • As much as it's fun to root for the guys who don't throw that hard as a closer and just get it done, few of those can survive, and few are worth being a long-term solution.
  • Chad Cordero's success is a harbinger of future successful closers drafted for that purpose. Ryan Wagner, Huston Street, Cla Meredeth (perhaps?), and, this year, Craig Hansen, all look to become the top notch closers of the future.
  • Young arms out of the minors can be as good as older ones; that is, experience is not really a big factor. K-Rod and Lidge are the best examples.
  • The Billy Taylor Phenomenon, or, trading a player who is closing games successfully for younger prospects, makes a lot of sense and can get even the best of GMs. John Schuerholz jumped at the chance to acquire Danny Kolb and, thus far, the Brewers "scrap-heap" guy, Turnbow, is doing better than Kolb.
My last point: with so many good young arms coming into the league specifically to close, plus the young guys succeeding now, it will be interesting to see which ones really pan out. The best I can equate this to is in the NFL when a team drafts a quarterback. If you're drafting a closer in the first round, you're expecting 5+ years of excellent/high-caliber work. But what constitutes "excellent?" Here's a list of a few first round NFL quarterbacks, off the top of my head:
  • Peyton Manning
  • Ryan Leaf
  • Tim Couch
  • Trent Dilfer
  • Kerry Collins
  • Donovan McNabb
  • David Carr
  • Vinny Testaverde
Pretty much anyone will tell you that Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb are both successes. Likewise, Couch and Leaf are busts. But what about the middle guys? Carr's been good but not game-changing. Collins led the league in passing and has had some real good seasons, but is that enough? Dilfer won a Super Bowl. Testaverde is in the top 10 in history in a lot of QB stats. Which ones are successes?

Not everyone can be Mariano Rivera, just like, in football, not everyone can be Peyton Manning. So the question is: how good does Ryan Wagner have to be to be considered a success? Or any of the others?

Note: After writing this article, it was learned that Danny Graves was released by the Reds.