The demise of a closer is never pretty but always inevitable. Sooner or later, the curtain drops on all of them.
Except for Mariano Rivera.
In 2013, Rivera had more saves than birthday candles — 44 to 43 — then rode off into the sunset with his record 652 saves, the unconquerable greatest closer of all time.
Rivera was the Yankees’ closer for an unfathomable 17 years, whereas the shelf life of mere mortal closers is usually three or four years — and that’s about it.
Maybe it’s the pressure of the job, the workload or the vicissitudes of bullpen work in the analytics era. But generally speaking, after three or four years of walking the ninth-inning tightrope, all closers get taken out back, hosed down and their teams begin a search for their next closer.
So the fact that Indians closer Cody Allen is leaking oil should not come as a shock. The Indians’ record-holder for career saves has been on the job, and the hot seat, for 4ﾽ years. That’s a good run for a closer.
It also fits the profile when the majority of closers start to leak oil.
All closers have slumps. Bad games, bad weeks, bad homestands. Allen, however, has been trending in the wrong direction for longer than that.
Allen’s ERAs by month: 2.13 in April, 3.97 in May, 5.40 in June, 11.07 in July. Since he became the Indians’ closer in 2014, through the 2017 season Allen had a 2.62 ERA and 1.097 WHIP.
This year he has a 4.99 ERA and 1.261 WHIP. In his last four appearances he has a 22.09 ERA, having thrown 84 pitches in just 32/3 innings, while giving up nine runs on eight hits, including a double and three home runs, with four walks, two hit batters and an opponents’ batting average of .444.
One way or another, this is it for Allen as the closer in Cleveland. He’s expected to leave as a free agent after this season, but even if he unexpectedly sticks around for another season or two, only a dramatic turnaround this season would prevent newly acquired Brad Hand from taking over as closer next season — if not sooner.
Allen, one of the classiest, most accountable, accessible and mature adults in the Indians clubhouse, is halfway through what would be his fifth full year as the team’s closer.
That kind of closer longevity doesn’t happen very often. With Allen this year, it’s not happening, and it hasn’t been pretty to watch. It never is when a closer’s engine starts to cough and wheeze.
For proof of that, look no further than those who preceded Allen as the Indians’ closer. Since designated closers became a thing in the early to mid-1980s, the Indians have had, besides Allen, four closers who held the job for three or more seasons.
They, starting with Allen, comprise the top five on the Indians’ list for career saves, with a combined 638 — 14 fewer than the number of saves Rivera had by himself.
All of these Indians closers had the same career arc as Allen. They were all really good until, almost overnight, they became really bad:
- DOUG JONES (1987-90): From ’87 to ’90 Jones had 120 saves, a 2.50 ERA and 1.139 WHIP. In 1991 he had seven saves, a record of 1-7, a 7.24 ERA and 1.794 WHIP. The Indians let him leave as a free agent following the 1991 season.
- JOSE MESA (1995-97): He was never the same after his infamous flameout in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. In his three years as closer, he had 101 saves, a 2.47 ERA and 1.253 WHIP. In 1998 he had one save, a 5.27 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. On July 23, 1998, the Indians traded him to Colorado.
- BOB WICKMAN (2001-05): After saving 110 games from 2001-05, Wickman hit the wall in 2006. His ERA ballooned to 4.18. In his last 13 appearances with the Indians he was 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA. On July 20 the Indians traded him to Atlanta.
- CHRIS PEREZ (2010-13): His ERA went up every year, from 1.71 to 3.32 to 3.59 to 4.33. In his last 21 appearances with the Indians he had a 7.52 ERA and gave up seven home runs in 20 innings. The Indians quickly released him at the end of the 2013 season.
Lesson learned: When closers lose it, they lose it fast. With four year’s wear already on his closer’s tires, Allen’s 8.04 ERA since June 1 and 11.07 ERA since July 1 are not good signs.
What is a good sign: In 15 career postseason games Allen has a 0.47 ERA, while averaging 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings with a .192 opponents’ batting average.
So you can either hang your hat on that, or stop wearing hats.
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