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The Stopper

By Craig Tacheny

Joe Nathan is out for the season and that’s definitely bad news. However, I notice many Twins fans lamenting all those saves we’re going to lose. I say this is the wrong way to look at it.

Those fans should worry less about the saves (somebody will pick many of them up) and worry more about losing what Nathan really is: a pitcher with the ability to consistently get good hitters out.

In fact, it’s time that all teams stop emphasizing saves and the role of the closer, and move in a new direction.

Follow me.

It’s the bottom of the seventh, one out and runners on first and second. You’re up by one. Albert Pujols is coming to the plate and Matt Holliday is in the on deck circle. You need a strikeout, badly. The way things are done in baseball today, the manager will send out a middle reliever (see: failed starter) to face Pujols.

This makes no sense to me. This is the at bat you need to win now, so why save your best pitcher, the guy you’re so confident can get guys out, until the ninth? So in the event that you still have the lead he’ll close it for you? Who would you rather have on the mound in a crucial situation: The Great Mariano Rivera or Nameless Middle Relief Guy? The choice is obvious.

I say bring in your best pitcher to get Pujols and Holliday in the seventh and let the rest of your bullpen deal with the five through nine hitters (an inferior part of the order) in the eighth and ninth, where they’re more likely to succeed.

A philosophy such as this eliminates the role of the “closer” but creates a new one, “the stopper.” The stopper is the guy you go to when you need outs now. Doesn’t really matter what inning it is, or how many runs you’re up by. If the manager feels that things are getting out of hand, he brings in the stopper.
(Think of the stopper as Winston Wolfe from “Pulp Fiction.”)

The stopper’s role would float somewhere between the sixth and ninth innings. Need him to get two tough hitters out in the eighth? Bring him in. Don’t need him at all and you go to the ninth with a two-run lead? Then bring him in just like you normally would in the old save situation.

I get the idea behind the closer now: Send out your pitcher with nasty stuff to stop the opponent from mounting a final charge in the ninth inning. But that final charge doesn’t always come in the ninth, sometimes it’s the eighth, sometimes the seventh. And if you don’t get out of those jams, you might not hang around long enough to even see the ninth.

Granted, this would take some very sound judgment by each team’s manager, and managers are prone to making mistakes.

Do I think any major league team would actually do this? Maybe, actually. I think Oakland and Kansas City both fit the description of teams that would be a perfect testing ground for the stopper philosophy. First, both teams have good closers right now -- Andrew Bailey in Oakland and Joakim Soria in KC. Second, neither team is very good and might benefit from thinking outside the box a bit, rather than trying to win by simply doing what all the other teams are doing.

Also, Oakland GM Billy Beane (a former Twin!) is known for doing things just a bit differently, so maybe this is right up his alley.

Managers won’t be the only ones standing in the way of the stopper, you know agents will want a say in it as well. Right now guys who get a lot of saves get paid: Rivera, Nathan, Pap, all those guys are duly compensated for the work they do. If we took saves off the table, there would be a huge uproar.

That’s why I’d not only replace the closer with the stopper, but the save with the “stop.”

What’s a stop, you’re asking? A stop, as defined by me, occurs when a pitcher enters the game with the tying run on base or at the plate, and gets out of the inning with the lead intact. So in the Pujols/Holliday scenario I proposed above, if your stopper comes in and sets down the uprising, he gets a stop. Simple.

Scott Boras can then come to the negotiating table and tell the GM of whatever team that his guy had 40 stops last year, most in the league.

So I’ve covered the baseball strategy side of things, and I’ve covered the business side, too. Since this is a blog, I’d appreciate if you leave me comments and questions about “the stopper.” Ways I could improve the theory, etc.

I don’t know, just a thought.


  1. I like your notions on the stopper but today we have built the closer into such a monster that I think that anybody coming into the 9th needs to have a solid mentality no matter who they face. A guy who isn't your "closer" who could easily get out the bottom of the order might choke with getting them out in the 9th with the increased expectations. What I do think this brings up is that everybody needs a stopper and a closer, and maybe it is the stopper who is the better pitcher.

  2. I think the idea of a "stop" would add a lot of weight to marginalized middle relievers, because the way you describe it, a stop is really the same as a save, but in the mid/late innings. Also, if the Twins are mounting a 7th inning comeback rally, I'd much rather be facing their middle relievers. Rivera in the 7th inning? "Damn," I would say.