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  1. These odds appear to suggest that there’s a more than 50% chance of the White Sox not having a closer at all.

    Comment by Simon — April 2, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  2. Also, people usually over-estimate the chances of a closer situation changing once someone wins the job. If a competent pitcher, such as Thornton, gets set, then, unless he’s traded, it’s pretty likely he keeps the job all year.

    Comment by Simon — April 2, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  3. If Reed is the closer of the [near] future and is capable of the job now, why wouldn’t the White Sox just give him the job?

    Comment by Ben — April 2, 2012 @ 9:22 am

  4. Ozzie somewhat unexpectedly employed a very saber-friendly bullpen strategy. It will be interesting to see if that strategy was his own or Don Cooper’s and whether Robin Ventura will do the same.

    I think they’ll try to pump up Thornton’s value as much as possible with the hope of trading him mid-season.

    Comment by Gregory — April 2, 2012 @ 9:30 am

  5. Heh, that’s what I was going to say. So i guess add Bullpen by Committee at 5:2 and leave one point for the bookies?

    Comment by jon — April 2, 2012 @ 9:37 am

  6. Yeah, the odds aren’t computed right – any handicapper will tell you that (CC would lose his shirt if he put out these numbers for public play). But I suppose what really matters is how the players relate to one another.

    Comment by lester bangs — April 2, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  7. Right. I’m not a professional handicapper. And this should tell you how much I gamble. But lester has the right idea here.

    Comment by Chris Cwik — April 2, 2012 @ 10:23 am

  8. Screw it, I took out the odds because I’m a moron. But I do appreciate the comments. I think the point of the article still comes through without my terrible math.

    Comment by Chris Cwik — April 2, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  9. The “White Sox not being any good” statement is one that should not go overlooked. Since it is unlikely they can compete for the playoffs and are making moves to get younger I think that adds to Thornton’s chances to be the closer, initially.

    Why not showcase Thornton for the first half of the season, hope his value builds, and flip him in July to a bullpen-needy contender? He is set to earn $5.5m in ’12 and ’13 with $6m club option in ’14 ($1m buyout).

    While those numbers are high for a set-up man, if Thornton pitches well for the first half, the White Sox could use that to convince another team, Thornton is actually a reasonably paid closer.

    Comment by Gary Langlais — April 2, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  10. Yeah, he played match-ups really well for the most part. The one major issue, which cost the team several times, was his insistence on pretending Ohman should face righties.

    Comment by Eminor3rd — April 2, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  11. The other thing to note is that any contending team that may be in the market to add Thornton will almost certainly already have a closer (unless someone just got injured). This would allow them to utilize Thornton as an elite setup/matchup guy, which is where his lefty heat really plays up. Thornton is a devastating weapon when used correctly, but I’m afraid his lack of a decent breaking pitch will limit his success in a role where he’s expected to pitch the 9th inning regardless of the game situation. I always thought the White Sox had a great thing going (still do) with their fireballing bullpen as a contrast to their soft-tossing lefty laden rotations.

    Comment by Eminor3rd — April 2, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  12. Does Thornton really have to close to have value at the trade deadline? His value in the setup role is well known to baseball people. Besides, contenders usually have their closer in place and are looking to strengthen the bridge to the closer and trade time, or am I simply off my rocker?

    Comment by Jay — April 2, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  13. Should be “at trade time” not and. Poor typing skills.

    Comment by Jay — April 2, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  14. Because the culture of baseball doesn’t let you promote rookies to “premier” positions like top of the rotation pitcher, clean up hitter, or closer. It seems somewhat stupid, but there are a bunch of anecdotal stories about guys whose careers were ruined by placing too much pressure on them as rookies.

    The difference between Reed and Thornton isn’t enough to justify violating this convention, so Reed probably doesn’t get the job out of the gate.

    Comment by philosofool — April 2, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  15. As long as Thornton sticks to his fastball, he should be fine. He has a world class fastball, but when they put in the closer spot last year, he tried getting fancy by throwing his sub-par slider and his awful “changeup” and hitters punished him for it. Hopefully he learned from that last season.

    Comment by Ben G. — April 2, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  16. No, but demonstrated “closer” skills will add to his value, at least a little.

    Honestly, I’m not sure that anyone in baseball besides the Elias people who make arbitration decisions really believe that much in proven closers anymore. You will hear baseball people talk about it, but I really think this is just a narrative getting fed to the media.

    Comment by philosofool — April 2, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

  17. I’m thinking along the lines of the Capps-Ramos deadline trade from 2010. The Nationals had Clippard, Storen and Burnett on that team and elected to have Capps be the closer from opening day.

    The move paid off as they were able to send Capps to a contending bullpen-needy team. Had they not had Capps be the closer from day one, not sure they could have gotten Ramos in return.

    There are some differences: Capps was younger and under team control for another full season after the trade. But the latter is immaterial as Capps avoided arbitration at a higher cost then what Thornton will make next year. Bottom line, a pitcher who has success closing in the season’s first half carries more trade value in July and for that reason, if I’m the White Sox, Thornton is my opening day closer.

    Comment by Gary Langlais — April 2, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  18. Very true. Am surprised this isn’t more widely realized.

    Comment by Dave Seville — April 2, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  19. Oh, Lester. You’re positively & thoroughly incorrigible..

    Comment by Greil Marcus — April 2, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  20. Well said. Thornton is an elite lefty specialist and teams will look at him as such. Having him close (read: face right handers) will only inflate his overall numbers and damage perception (Thornton 2011 BB/9 vs. LHH: 2.08 ~ BB/9 vs RHH: 4.01) This would do more harm than good.

    It really comes down to a process of elimination. Zach Stewart is a long reliever. Of the left-handed veteran options, Will Ohman doesn’t have the stuff and Matt Thornton is too valuable as a late-inning lefty matchup guy.

    That leaves Jesse Crain, Addison Reed and Hector Santiago. Crain is interesting, but there’s a reason he only has 4 saves in 447 inning of relief work. Stuff, mentality, control – pick your preference. Assuming Thornton gets traded, who fills his role as the late-inning lefty specialist? It has to be Santiago. He’s the only other lefty in the bullpen and he has the talent to be that guy.

    That leaves Reed as the Sox closer. It makes sense too. For a rebuilding team, you have to find out whether Reed can handle the job he was brought here to do. You don’t rush a kid through the system to make him a setup guy. The Sox brought Reed here to close and I don’t see any sense in making him wait to do it.

    Comment by Chike — April 2, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  21. Thornton is elite against lefties and just average against righties. Just taking his 2011 into consideration, you have:

    Thornton vs. LHH: (26 IP) 11.77 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 1.60 FIP
    Thornton vs. RHH: (33.2 IP) 7.75 K/9, 4.01 BB/9, 3.41 FIP

    Even if you took his righty numbers and slapped 15 saves onto them, you’re still looking at a very average pitcher.

    Look at what happened with Francisco Rodriguez last year. He was a closer, but the Brewers turned him into a setup man to accommodate their needs. I think you’re overlooking the ability for teams to adjust and adapt based on the market, the player and the price.

    Comment by Chike — April 2, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  22. How’d that work out for Kimbrel and Santos last year???

    Perhaps it’s time to “buck” that old philosophy?

    Comment by Brownie — April 2, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

  23. Chike…

    I think you’re misunderstanding my point. I’m saying CWS would be smart to boost Thornton’s value to trade at deadline and the best way to do that is to make him the closer. He doesn’t need to be the closer to the team he goes to. However, his trading value would be higher if he performs slightly worse in a closer’s role then slightly better in a set-up/specialist role. If he fails, you put him back into that specialist role and since you’re not competing this year, what have you lost?

    The K-Rod trade I don’t see as comparable. That was strictly a financial move by the Mets. They saved $15m+ on that move: K-Rod needed 20-something more Games Finished (before being traded) to vest his $17.5m option for this season. They had to pay the $3.5m buyout but also got MIL to cover half of his remaining ’11 salary.

    Comment by Gary Langlais — April 2, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  24. Not to mention…K-Rod fired his agent over that trade. His agent didn’t file the 10-team “no trade list” which was supposed to include the Brewers. Boras was kind enough to take on the impending free agent.

    Comment by Gary Langlais — April 2, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  25. I’d be very surprised if it isn’t Matt Thornton.

    Comment by Adam Dunn's Bat Speed — April 2, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  26. Any boost to Thornton’s trade value as a closer would be offset by his decline in overall performance (see the splits). There isn’t a skill set that goes along with being named the closer. It’s just a title. Closers have their mistakes scrutinized, recorded (blown saves) and magnified.

    There are more things that could go wrong as a closer than as a specialist. I just don’t see how exposing Thornton to righties in high-leverage situations would increase his perceived trade value.

    Comment by Chike — April 2, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  27. I think what makes Santiago so intriguing as a closer candidate is his ability to keep righties honest with the screwball. This is such a rare pitch, and with the game on the line, it’s a fantastic thing to have in the hitters mind in the 9th inning. From what i’ve read and seen, it looks to be an awesome pitch with some serious reversed movement. Hitters are just shaking their heads.

    Comment by Nick — April 2, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  28. Also, why not put a young guy in the closer role, and “pump” up his value for an offseason trade? Kenny Williams seems pretty confident he’s got a pipeline of young arms that can be quality RPs. The Sergio Santos scenario is perfect and it brought in a much better haul than Thornton would get at the deadline. Go a step further and sign the guy to a team friendly deal and trade him for a quality prospect like Nestor Molina.

    Comment by Nick — April 2, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

  29. Brownie, you forget that Thornton was named the closer to start the season last year for the White Sox. He blew his first four save opportunities and had an April stat line of 8.1IP-15 hits-8ER-2HR-6BB-10K-8.64ERA.

    Then, after Thornton, Sale was given a shot to close and didn’t do to well and THEN Santos was given the job, although he was never officially named the closer by Guillen.

    Also, Kimbrel, wasn’t technically a rookie last season. He pitched 21 games for the Braves in 2010. Over 20.2 innings he went 4-0-1SV-2HLD posting an 0.44 ERA while posting a K:BB ratio of 40 to 16 and giving up only 9 hits.

    It was also a much, much different situation for Kimbrel. With Wagner retiring, he entered spring training knowing that he would competing with Venters for the job, who himself only had one season under his belt. The only real mainstay in the Braves pen was O’Flaherty, who prior to last season, was considered to be nothing more than a lefty specialist/solid reliever, not closer potential.

    The White Sox situation this season is much different. Thornton is entering his seventh season with Chicago and has been one of the best middle-relievers in baseball for five out of those six seasons. With a former player in Robin Ventura being the manager of course he is going to make the closer’s role Thornton’s to lose and so far in spring training Thorton’s numbers have been the best of the bunch. If, Thornton struggles out of the gate and Reed or Santiago dominate then they will get the job but that hasn’t happened so until then it will most likely be Thornton who will be closing games.

    Comment by Ryan — April 3, 2012 @ 1:36 am

  30. Big time +1 here. I figured this out after about 4 seasons of consistently punting saves in an AL only league and drafting the number 2 guys. It basically takes an injury or an ungodly amount of incompetence. Teams resist changing the roles quite a bit which is why as bad as Matt Capps is for example, he will probably still get 15-20 saves.

    Comment by Colin — April 3, 2012 @ 11:14 am

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