What is a closer? For most people it is that pitcher that comes in with the game on the line to get 1,2 or 3 outs to end a game. Over the years the Cardinals have had a number of those guys. Al Hrabosky, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Jason Isringhausen, Denis Eckersly and Trevor Rosenthal.
The "closer" is a role that has has morphed from the 50s and 60s where starters were used in closer type roles. Bob Gibson had 6 saves during his career. In 1975 he had 14 starts 8 Relief appearances converted 2 out of 3 save opportunities. In the late 70s The closer role started to take shape with guys like Tug McGraw, Rollie fingers and Goose Gossage. The closer became an essential piece of a teams bullpen. The Cardinals like other teams have had Top late inning closers as well as years of using any available arm to get the job done.
Just a little Cardinal history:
Going back to the 1950s there were only 4 years where the save leader hit double digit in saves;
Al Brazle (1943-1954)16 in 1952 and 18 in 1953, Hoyt Wilhelm (1957) with 11 and Lindy McDaniel (1955-1962) 15 in 1959.
In the 60s 9 years had the saves leader in double digits and in 2 years they had 2 Pitchers in double digits. In 1963 Bobby Shantz (1962-1964) 11, Ron Taylor (1962-1965) 11 and in 1967 Joe Hoerner (1966-1969) 15, Ron Willis (1966-1969) 10. But there was still no solid Domination by anyone
In the 70s 1970-1972 were much like the 50s with 5 or more pitchers recording saves including starters in 1973 Diego Segui recorded 17 saves backed up by 4 relievers notching 19 saves.
in 1975 Al Hrabosky recorded 22 saves backed up by Mike Garman with 10 saves 76-79 was more of a 60s theme save leader 13-15 saves with 10-15 more by multiple pitchers.
In 1981 Bruce Sutter arrived in a trade with the Cubs and so began the succession of dominate closers.
Bruce Sutter 1981-1984 - 127 saves
Todd Worrell 1986-1988- 101 *He did lead the team in 1989 with 20 saves. However 4 other pitchers recorded 23 saves.
Lee Smith 1990-1993 - 160 saves
Tom Henke 1995 - 36 saves
Dennis Eckersley 1996-1997 - 66 saves
1998-2001 saw only 1 year 2000 Dave Veres with 29 saves
Jason Insringhausen 2002-2007 - 205 saves
Ryan Franklin 2009-2010 - 65 saves
Jason Motte 2012 - 42
Edward Mujica 2013 - 37
Trevor Rosenthal 2014-2015 - 93
Bud Norris 2018 - 28
So do we have a closer option for 2019? I asked Former Cardinal closer Al Hrabosky that question at the Cardinal Caravan stop in Champaign January 18th. His first response was "We don't know." He went on to point out that bullpen and overall pitching philosophies have changed. He referenced the use of openers and the 6 man rotation. He suggested that Alex Reyes and Andrew Miller could fill multiple roles. Either could come in anywhere from the 7th to 9th inning. Hrabosky said "We pay to much attention to the closer." he pointed out that many games are won in the 7th or 8th inning. The example he gave was "You have the bases loaded 2 out in the bottom of the 7th. You are up by a run and you bring in Brebbia, Hicks, Hudson or whatever and get out of the inning then by the 9th you bring in the closer and he has a 3 run lead." After hearing that it reminded me of the 70s when the award for relief pitchers was called the Fireman award. The point being, who finishes may not be the one who closed the door on the opposition or put out the fire if you will.
I truly think the way Mike Schildt manages we could see the save opportunities being split between the entire bullpen. With out any further moves I see quite frankly a closer "rotation." What I mean we would have a 7th, 8th, 9th scenario that could involve Gregerson, Miller, Leone and Hicks. The order would be altered depending on the scenarios. There are still top RPs out there and there is Bud Norris, who has still not been offered a job by anyone yet. With the addition of Miller the left side is now more stable and with Hicks having one year under his belt Norris could be an option. Whether they stand pat or bring in one more BP piece. WE as fans may have to adjust to a changing late game landscape.
Pitchers and Catchers report in 24 days Feb 13th. Full squad reports in 29 days Feb 18th. First Spring Training game Feb 23rd.
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