For years, proponents of advanced statistics have been trying to push forth the idea of bullpen volatility, arguing that unless you have a truly elite reliever in his prime -- think Mariano Rivera -- it almost never makes sense to spend huge dollars on a ninth-inning option. Closers, the argument goes, are made, not born, and often all that separates the All-Star in the ninth inning from the relatively nameless seventh-inning setup man is the simple opportunity to collect saves.
For many of those same years, plenty of baseball's front offices have been doing their best to prove that argument invalid, spending tens of millions on "proven closers" and getting burned in the process. Just recently, you can look to Heath Bell's single disappointing year in Miami, or Brandon League losing his job in Los Angeles by June, or especially the $51 million Philadelphia gave to Jonathan Papelbon prior to 2012. As the Phillies collapse due to increasing holes in their aging roster that might have been filled by that money, their return on that investment is merely declining velocity and complaints that Papelbon "didn't come here for this."
In a sport that is often notorious for its reluctance to accept change -- note how many still want to award the Cy Young based on "wins" -- it appears the myth of the high-priced closer as a requirement for success is finally dead, or at least close to it. If the playoffs started Thursday, not a single one of the six division winners would be using a closer they paid top dollar to on the open market.