FLB: Closer Report

Spring training statistics can be rather misleading, and saves are a perfect example of that. Look back at the 2005 exhibition season saves leaderboard, and six of the 11 pitchers to register three or more never spent a day as a closer once Opening Day passed. In fact, the only pitcher to save four spring games was Aquilino Lopez, who saved 14 games for the 2003 Blue Jays but hasn't notched a regular-season save since.

Why are the preseason numbers so unreliable? In early exhibition contests, teams generally pull their starting hitters well before the ninth inning, meaning the pitchers asked to finish the game would be facing reserves, prospects or minor-league journeymen. As a result, teams with established, veteran closers often use those pitchers in the middle innings, facing starting hitters, and only enough to get them enough work to prepare for the regular season. Teams with closer battles will often rotate the times they call on each candidate, with the leader in the race usually the one who pitches earlier in the game, not in the ninth.