May 07, 2012, 06:47AM

Crowding MLB's Disabled List

Closers are on the DL? What else is new?

Mariano rivera injured.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

You tell me that MLB closers, who are just relief pitchers with fancy titles, are filling up countless DL slots this year, and you expect me to be surprised? Seriously? After all, who’s ever heard of a truly durable late inning man?

Relievers in general are volatile. You can’t count on their performance, you can’t count on their injury history, and you certainly can’t count on their facial hair (Brian Wilson and John Axford aren’t the only ones who look like circus folk). Relying on a reliever is like trusting a fat kid to watch your lunch. It’s just not going to work out. There are a few exceptions, like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, but in those cases they probably should’ve been converted into a starter at some point in their career.

Speaking of Rivera: he’s on the DL! But I thought he was one of the good ones? He is, and his injury, a freak one at that, wasn’t caused by pitching, so he really doesn’t fit with the rest of MLB’s ailing closers. Those guys have chronic problems that pop up through the course of a career a couple of times. Joakim Soria and Wilson recently underwent their second Tommy John surgeries. Ryan Madson is now on the mend from TJ, which is not his first operation by a long shot.

They’re relief pitchers for a reason. Either the team saw fundamental/mechanical issues in the minors, or injuries held their development back, pushing them to the bullpen. Boston’s Andrew Bailey would be more than competent in the rotation, but he simply wouldn’t be able to handle the workload. Detroit’s Jose Valverde is the opposite; he’s been durable, but would get shelled as a starter.

The fact that so many closers are injured right now is a coincidence, but it does bring up the question: is the bullpen system flawed? Are relievers more prone to injury because of inferiority or the manner in which they’re handled? Throwing three, or more, times a week, with all you’ve got on every pitch, is an immense strain on the body. Is the structure of the modern bullpen unintentionally designed to hurt its inhabitants? It’s hard to tell. I have no answer.

The theory should be taken seriously, though. It might make more sense to carry three long-men instead of six or seven one-inning guys. The trouble is finding even decent long-men, let alone stars.

Either way, major league teams consistently have trouble forming strong bullpens because of injury and ineffectiveness. Hardly any club consistently has a successful relief corps, which speaks to their intrinsic volatility.

  • Don't like East Coast teams, mostly because the media pretends West Coast clubs don't exist, but have to say that any baseball fan had to cringe when a graceful guy like Mariano goes down.

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  • It's amazing that long term contracts are still handed out to relievers. Heath Bell just got demoted. The Fish are on hook for a ton of money for the next three years for that waste of space.

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  • You really can't say that Bell is a bust just yet. It's only May. Seriously, he could totally turn it around. Even if he doesn't this year, like the author said, relievers are volatile. They can always bounce back. Regarding Rivera, though, I think he's done. ACL injuries are dangerous.

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  • Fine, he's not a total bust yet, but I don't think he's going to turn it around. He has an 11.42 ERA for god's sake. His K/9 is lower than his BB/9. He was worth 0.5 fWAR last year, and he's already been worth -0.4 fWAR this year. The dude is awful. And what makes you say that about Rivera? Seriously, players come back from ACL injuries all the time. He's still got as many years left in him that he wants to play.

  • You failed to mention that Bell's FIP is almost 5 points lower than his ERA. And this year he's not leaving nearly as many men on base. And I think Rivera is done because he's old and ACL injuries are hard to come back from. Simple as that.

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  • I didn't fail to mention his FIP, I omitted it out of kindness. His FIP is 6.88. That's horrendous. There's no stat that agrees with you. He's not leaving as many men on base because they're all scoring cause he's pitching terribly! Oh, and name 3 players that have legitimately had their careers ended because of ACL surgery.

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  • Whether Bell is performing badly or not right now is not in question. Of course he is. I'm talking about in the future. He will not pitch nearly as poorly as he has this past month. That's a guarantee. I could look up how many players have ended their career's with ACL surgery, but I really don't have the time. I just know, really through common knowledge and reading done on the subject, that ACL surgery is especially debilitating for people over forty. I stand by my prediction that Rivera is done.

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  • So you have enough time to look up stats on Fangraphs but not enough to do a simple Google search? Whatever. Just an FYI, people who are debilitated by ACL surgery generally aren't professional athletes. Rivera will be fine.

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