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rookie closers

i can’t believe any team has a day off on memorial day. only with bud selig in charge . . . .

can’t complain about that road trip, despite the loss yesterday. they only scored more than 4 runs twice on the trip, yet they won both series. they come home well positioned to post a winning record for the month, and if they achieve that the cardinals will essentially have gone a full season --- 6 months --- with only 1 losing month:

june 2007 13-13
july 2007 15-11
august 2007 15-13
sept 2007 13-18
april 2008 19-11
may 2008 12-11

they’ve got 86 wins in their last 163 games. can this team win 90 in 2008? doesn’t seem nearly as far-fetched today as it did on april 1.

mike parisi’s loss yesterday was the bullpen’s first blemish since izzy went onto the DL. in the 9 games since then (including yesterday’s), the pen has thrown 24.1 innings and allowed just 6 runs (a 2.22 era) while recording 50 percent more strikeouts (26) than hits allowed (17). granted, they haven’t faced the world’s most potent offenses in those 9 games; they’re still damn impressive numbers. chris perez has made an immediate impact, retiring 14 of his first 17 big-league batters (and one of the 3 who got on base reached via an error). the kid looks dominant so far, but don’t look for him in the closer’s role any time soon. here’s la russa on perez:

Chris Perez is not ready to close on a daily basis. That would not be good for him and it would not be good for us. He needs to grow into his responsibilities here. I don't even worry about how that sounds, because clearly from the way he's being used, there's a confidence factor there.

before you go crazy on tony here, realize that rookie closers are extremely rare. take a guess --- how many guys in the history of baseball have ever saved more than 20 games during their first year in the big leagues? the answer is 9 --- and one of them pitched for la russa, salome barojas (who saved 21 games for tlr’s white sox back in 1982 as a 21-year-old rookie). moreover, 2 of the 9 guy closers weren’t really rookies, but rather 30something veterans of the japanese leagues (kaz sasaki and takashi saito, yesterday’s winning pitcher) who were in the first season of u.s. baseball. to see the 200 highest single-season save totals for first-year players, click here. tony’s being conservative with perez, but no more so than most other managers would.

here’s another way to look at it: let’s take the all-time career leaders in saves and see how many years they’d been in the league when they took over the closer’s role on a full-time basis.

year age
t hoffman 2d 26
l smith 3d 24
m rivera 3d 27
j franco 3d 25
d eckersley 13th 32
b wagner 2d 25
j reardon 4th 26
r myers 2d 25
t hoffman 2d 26
r fingers 4th 25
t percival 2d 26

wagner was sharing the closer’s role with xavier hernandez by the end of his first season, but he only registered 9 saves in his 37 games as a rookie; he ranked 3d on the team in games finished, behind hernandez and todd jones. aside from him, every one of these guys served at least a full season in some other role --- setup man, mopup man, starter, whatever. i'll grant that none of them had to understudy behind a pitcher as unremarkable as ryan franklin, but franklin does have a 1.50 era. managers are a conservative bunch; i doubt many would handle this situation any differently from how tony is handling it.

now, if i were in charge i'd make perez the closer; i think he's got the best stuff and puts opposing hitters in the most distress, and by all accounts he's hard-headed enough to deal with the growing pains that may occur. but the vast majority of managers would play it exactly as tony is playing it. by the end of this year we may very well see perez in the closer’s role, but for now he’s gotta go through the same getting-feet-wet period that even the best closers in history went through.

nothing more for today --- this is no day to be sitting in front of a computer. enjoy the holiday.