Should the Orioles look to establish one pitcher as their closer in the 2021 season? Baltimore had five pitchers record saves in the shortened 60-game season in 2020.
The short answer for me is definitely not. No reason to try and find one established closer right now. In fact, on a rebuilding team, why not give several players a chance to save games next year?
Find out which players seem to handle the ninth-inning pressure well and which do not. Closing games is hard and there are pitchers that are very fine hurlers through eight innings but have struggled when they get the ball with a one-run lead with three outs to get.
The Orioles had 11 saves in their 25 wins this year and they tied for 13th in the American League in saves - they were even with Detroit and recorded just one more save than Texas, which ranked last in the league with 10. It stands to reason that teams that win more will have more save chances and thus more saves.
Tampa Bay led the AL with 23 saves followed by Cleveland with 20, Kansas City with 19, and Minnesota, Oakland and Toronto tied at 17.
The Royals had an amazing save percentage, converting 19 of 20 for 95 percent. No one else was close. Oakland was second at 81 percent, followed by Tampa Bay (74.2 percent), Cleveland (71.4 percent) and Minnesota (63 percent). The Orioles were seventh in the AL in save percentage, converting 11 of 18 for seventh at 61.1 percent.
Cole Sulser was 5-for-8 in save chances, while César Valdez was 3-for-3. Miguel Castro was 1-for-3, Tanner Scott 1-for-2, Travis Lakins Sr. 1-for-1 and Thomas Eshelman 0-for-1. Sulser was the only player in the major leagues with two saves of at least two innings each. Scott picked up his first career save Aug. 23 versus Boston.
The AL champion Rays had 12 different players pick up a save in the regular season. That is a record, 12 players with saves. They added to that in the postseason and now have 13 players with regular season and postseason saves, which is an major league record. The Rays are amazing in how they were willing to spread the wealth in the ninth inning, but still led the league in saves and were third in save percentage.
Here is how amazing their spread the wealth theory has gone: Pete Fairbanks is 3-for-3 to lead the club in postseason saves through the AL Championship Series. Fairbanks made 27 appearances in the regular season with zero saves. Yep, their postseason saves leader had none during the 60-game season.
The Rays’ approach to the ninth seems to be “whatever.” They feel like they’ve got several power arms they like late in the game, and when the ninth inning arrives, they’ll figure it out. Having 13 players with saves is ridiculous. But they are also 29-12 (.707) counting the postseason in games decided by two runs or less. They have won 63 straight games when leading after the seventh inning since July 28, 2019.
The Rays, man. They aren’t followers. They are trend-setters and leaders. They don’t worry about labeling anyone their closer. They have 13 closers.
I’m not saying the Orioles should look to set records for number of players with saves and/or give everyone a save chance. I’m saying now is not the time to settle on one guy as closer. Not when they are not yet ready to contend for the postseason. Valdez is probably the best pitcher to close as we discuss this today. But why not also give a few chances to Scott, Dillon Tate, Hunter Harvey, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong and others?
Doesn’t it help the team to have set roles? Sure, but I think this is needed in general terms only. We know usually which pitchers will be used in higher-leverage situations and which ones are long relievers or more likely to pitch in blowout games. So keeping them in those general roles works for me and, I think, the Orioles right now.
At some point in the next year or two or three, there may be a time to try and find one set closer. Or a time when that would truly benefit the team. Or a time when they develop someone or acquire someone who is best suited to be that guy.
But right now, as they continue to build a good bullpen - and they moved forward in doing that in 2020 - is not the time to be concerned with this.