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Closer (baseball)

From Academic Kids

In baseball, a closer is a relief pitcher who specializes in closing games, i.e., getting the final outs in a close game. Since closers appear almost exclusively when a game is on the line, the role usually goes to a team's best reliever.

Closers, while typically possessing as much pitching talent as any other pitcher on their respective teams, may not have a wide enough variety of pitches or enough reliability over several inning to become a starting pitcher. Some closers, however, have been starting pitchers who due to injury or fading durability become closers late in their careers (such as Jim Kalb and John Smoltz).

In general, closers are selected based on their ability to pitch effectively for one inning against both right-handed and left-handed batters (as opposed to left-handed specialists) and their ability to maintain their composure in high pressure situations. Good closers usually have an overpowering fastball and one or two complementary pitches (a full arsenal of pitches is not necessary), although this rule does have its exceptions (such as knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and sinker pitcher Derek Lowe, both of whom have spent time closing games as well as starting).

For about the past two decades, the general practice has been that a closer enters the game to pitch the ninth inning when his team is ahead by three runs or less, which aligns with the requirements to get a save. If the game is important (e.g., a playoff game), the closer has not much opportunity to pitch during recent games, or for other reasons, the manager may opt to bring him during the eighth inning. If the closer fails at his task, he has blown the save.

In a game in which the home team enters the ninth inning tied, it is impossible for that team's closer to gain a save. In such a situation, the manager will likely use his closer anyway in order to prevent the visiting team from taking the lead.

Occasionally, some teams try to employ a closer by committee, in which no single player is assigned the role of closer. Rather, the manager will select a pitcher to close the game based on whoever he feels has the hot hand or the favorable match-up. Use of a closer by committee, however, is often a signal that the manager does not have confidence in any particular member of his bullpen, and the pitcher who gains his confidence will eventually become the closer.

Statistically, one expects that the best closers will accumulate the most saves over the course of a season. However, closers for good teams will generally have more save opportunities than closers for bad teams. Consequently, the best closers may instead be considered to be those with the fewest blown saves or the best percentage of successful save opportunities. Another statistic that can be used to identify the best closers, although not readily available from normal box scores, is the percentage of inherited baserunners that score. Since closers often enter games with one or more runners on base, this statistic can be very useful in gauging their effectiveness.

Some teams with established closers also designate one or two setup pitchers to pitch immediately before the closer. In such a case, the setup pitcher will pitch the eighth inning and the closer will pitch the ninth in a close game.

Some noteworthy Major League Baseball closers include:

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