When Closers Get Replaced Because They Suck

A few closers seem to be on shaky ground with their starts to the season, most notability Chris Perez and Sergio Santos. Both have started out horribly, but how horrible do they need to be to lose their jobs? Today, I am going to look at how bad a pitcher needs to suck to lose their closer role.

To get the list of players, I asked fellow Rotograph writers and the participants last night’s Fangraphs chat to list any closers that lost their job permanently because of poor performance. I didn’t want pitchers that went on the DL, became starters or eventually got their job back after a few games. For example, I didn’t use Joe Borowski from 2008. Even though he pitcher horribly to start the season, he went on the DL after appearing in only 6 games. I was not for sure if he lost the closer role because of injury or suckitude. Another pitcher I did not use was Joakim Soria in 2011. Even though he was removed from the role, partially by his own request, he got the job back and dominated for the rest of the year.

In all, I was able to get 12 pitchers that met the criteria:

Matt Thornton – 2011
Frank Francisco – 2010
Fernando Rodney – 2011
Chad Qualls – 2010
Kevin Gregg – 2009
Trevor Hoffman – 2010
Jason Isringhausen – 2008
Ryan Franklin – 2011
Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) – 2006
Billy Koch – 2003
Shingo Takatsu – 2005
Scott Williamson – 2003

I wanted to find was how bad the group’s ERA and results (Blown Saves, Losses, etc) had to be until they were relived of their duites. After looking at various time frames, I found that a closer is only as good as his last 5 games. Here is how each of the 12 pitchers did in their 5 appearances prior to losing their closer role:

Name Year ERA SD MD H SV BS W L Good (SD+H+SV+W) Bad (MD+BS+L) Good%
Matt Thornton 2011 7.71 0 4 0 0 4 0 4 0 12 0%
Frank Francisco 2010 15.75 1 3 0 0 2 1 3 2 8 20%
Fernando Rodney 2011 4.15 2 1 0 2 1 0 0 4 2 67%
Chad Qualls 2010 19.64 1 3 1 2 0 0 2 4 5 44%
Kevin Gregg 2009 7.94 2 2 0 2 1 0 2 4 5 44%
Trevor Hoffman 2010 13.50 2 1 0 2 1 0 1 4 3 57%
Jason Isringhausen 2008 12.27 2 3 0 2 3 0 2 4 8 33%
Ryan Franklin 2011 12.27 1 3 0 1 3 0 2 2 8 20%
Fausto Carmona 2006 13.50 0 3 0 0 3 0 3 0 9 0%
Billy Koch 2003 9.64 2 3 0 0 2 3 2 5 7 42%
Shingo Takatsu 2005 4.15 3 2 0 3 0 0 2 6 4 60%
Scott Williamson 2003 1.42 2 2 0 3 2 0 0 5 4 56%
Average 10.16 1.5 2.5 0.1 1.4 1.8 0.3 1.9 3.3 6.3 37%

On average, the 12 pitchers had an ERA over 10 for the 5 starts. Also, the percentage chance of a “Good” result happening was only 40%. These pitchers nearly averaged 2 Losses and 2 Blown Saves in their 5 appearances.

Of the 12, there seems to be a few exceptions to the preceeding generalizations. The first is Fernando Rodney in 2011. He was having a reasonable season and then replaced with Jordan Walden. I have a feeling that the Angels planned on replacing him when the season started. Two others that seem out of place are Scott Williamson and Trevor Hoffman. Both of them had Good%’s over 50%. If a person goes back 7 starts for the pair, the Good % drops to 38% for Hoffman and 40% for Williamson. Also their ERAs jump to 18.00 for Hoffman and 6.14 for Williamson. The final exception was Shingo Takatsu. His game results weren’t bad for the entire season, but he did have a 9.64 ERA in his first 8 starts. He seemed to just be on a short leash.

As a whole, the last 5 appearances will be a good measuring stick to see if a closer has a chance of being replaced. Sometimes a person may need to look back a few more games to see if there is any history of problems closing.

With these numbers as a reference, here is a look at how Chris Perez and Sergio Santos measure up so far this season (3 games for each):

Name, ERA, Good%
Perez, 10.13, 60%
Santos, 15.43, 0%

Of the pair, Santos is definitely on thinner ice.

Hopefully, I have been able to shed a little light on determining when a person can get an idea of how much a team can tolerate a struggling closer before they replace him.

We hoped you liked reading When Closers Get Replaced Because They Suck by Jeff Zimmerman!

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Mike M
Mike M

Santos has a longer leash than we all think. After all the Jays traded a top pitching prospect for him… 🙂

Steven McEwen

Well, I wouldn’t say a top pitching prospect.

Mike M
Mike M

My bad, he was the Jays’ top pitching prospect, but he’d easily be the #1 pitching prospect in a lot of systems. Nestor Molina was their #2 prospect at the time of the trade (behind Travis D’arnaud.)


Nestor Monlina is only a top pitching prospect for the White Sox. No one else.

Steven McEwen

No. Nestor Molina would have ranked #19 in the Blue Jays system according to Baseball America. John Sickels is the only one who had him inside the top 15 of Jays Prospects.

Steven McEwen

Although thats not the whole point of the article at all, so I’m not going to get into any debate that derails the thread.