Is the closer role overrated? (plus ranking center fielders)

Well, I’ve softened my stance on one aspect of baseball. Years ago, I used to believe that the closer was the most important player on the team and any club with designs on a championship needed a top-notch talent for that role.

I still think it’s a pretty critical role, but maybe don’t feel quite as strongly as I once did. I still haven’t come to the other side and to the conclusion that many have that the closer is overrated and that almost any good reliever could fill that role.

It would be an oversimplification to say the last two seasons for the Orioles went as Jim Johnson did, but there is something to that notion. When he saved 51 of 54 games in 2012, the Orioles won 93 games and had an amazing record in one-run decisions, leading to a playoff berth. When he suffered nine blown saves in 2013, the one-run record and overall won-loss mark took big hits.

There have been many columns written in recent years about the role of closer and how important it is or is not. Here is one from Bleacher Report that points out a quote from Dennis Eckersley, who won a Cy Young Award as a closer in 1992.

“I don’t want to take away anything from what I did. But it’s not as tough as you think,” Eckersley said.

The article points out that Koji Uehara was the third closer Boston used last year and he did OK. It points out that 2012 AL champ Detroit had a mediocre Jose Valverde closing games.

The author points out that only three closers that began in the role at the start of the 2011 season were still there for their clubs at the end of 2013 - Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, Cleveland’s Chris Perez and New York’s Mariano Rivera.

Relief pitchers’ performances can fluctuate pretty wildly and some feel you can piece together a bullpen from year to year that is good enough to do the job.

I still feel there is some security in having a closer with some track record of success and also feel those last three outs are mentally harder to get some nights than earlier in the game.

But then again, all closers were rookies at the job at some point and had to prove what they could do in the role.

So what is your take on the closer role? Is it critical or more overrated? Can a contending team use an unproven closer in the role?

Ranking the center fielders: The Orioles’ Adam Jones led all major league center fielders last year in homers and RBIs and ranked sixth in WAR. But when MLB Network rated the game’s best center fielders last night, Jones was ranked No. 8. The ranking is done by something called a “shredder,” some sort of computer rating, I believe.

Here is their top 10:
1 - Mike Trout
2 - Andrew McCutchen
3 - Carlos Gonzalez
4 - Jacoby Ellsbury
5 - Matt Kemp
6 - Carlos Gomez
7 - Austin Jackson
8 - Adam Jones
9 - Dexter Fowler
10 - Coco Crisp

Bill James was a guest on the show and rated Jones third on his personal list, behind only Trout and McCutchen. He also somewhat dissed the fielding metrics that rate Jones poorly on defense.

“He’s an outstanding defensive center fielder,” James said.

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