Chapmania / Nasty Boys

Billy McCool, Cordero and Chapman: A History of Reds Closers

The “save” didn’t become an official statistic in baseball until 1969, although it had been tracked for years. The definition of a save itself was defined in 1960 by Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman but it has been redefined, examined and criticized since. (The first official “save” went to Bill Singer on Opening Day 1969, who relieved Don Drysdale and pitched three scoreless innings in a 3-2 LA win over the Reds at Crosley Field.)

Reds history has mirrored that of most other baseball teams when it comes to the use of the bullpen and the creation of closers. “Closers” used to come in at all times of the game. Our very own Sparky Anderson brought Wayne Granger into Game 5 of the 1970 World Series in the 2nd inning in relief of Jim Merritt. Anderson also brought in Rawlins Jackson Eastwick III in the 7th and 8th innings of games in the 1975 World Series, refusing to just limit him to the 9th inning and a potential save situation.

The one-inning save was “too easy” according to one of the best ever, Rich Gossage. He’s in the Hall of Fame (rightfully so) despite holding the record for the most blown saves with 118. But the one-inning save is “the book” now to a lot of managers in baseball, including Dusty Baker.

Thus, Chapman is somewhat limited in his role. Thus, Reds fans are a bit upset. And I have to agree with them.

These historical references are brought up simply because Reds fans in 2013 are getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of use of one Mr. Aroldis Chapman. And when you look at the recent history of the Reds in the playoffs, it’s easy to understand why.

The Closer of 2010 (Francisco Cordero) didn’t throw one pitch in the Reds 3-0 series loss to the Phillies that year. And aside from a shaky save in Game 1, Chapman was a non-factor in the Reds 3-2 series loss to the Giants last season.

The Reds have had a lot of productive and solid closers in their history. You can list them from Doug Bair to Ted Power to Pedro Borbon. But aside from Clay Carroll in 1970, Will McEnaney in 1975 and The Nasty Boys in 1990, contributions by the closers in post season were negligible.

Fred Hutchinson used two solid veteran relievers (Jim Brosnan and Bill Henry) in winning the 1961 NL pennant.
Brosnan, a righthander, was 10-4 with 16 saves while Henry was a lefty that saved 16 games as well. Hutch went
with percentages, his gut, and situations to dictate who closed the games that year. Neither were a factor in the
Reds 4-1 World Series loss to the Yankees.

Manager Dick Sisler gambled on Billy McCool in 1965 as a closer and the 21 year old lefthander produced back to back seasons of 21 and 18 saves before flaming out. He was the lefthanded Scott Williamson of that era. McCool never made it to the post season but had one of the neatest names of any Reds player.

Granger, a skinny sidearming righthander with a rubber arm, had some good seasons for Anderson but he had a disastrous 1970 World Series in which he gave up a grand slam home run to an opposing pitcher (Dave McNally) in a 9-3 loss in Game 3. The Reds best pitcher that Series was Carroll (1-0, 9 IP, 0 runs allowed) and he later became the Reds closer.

The Reds career leader in saves is Danny Graves with 182. But Graves never captured the hearts of Reds fans and was routinely ripped after blowing a save. It was even worse with David Weathers, who from all accounts was a good guy, but was routinely booed by Reds fans. In 1998, Closer Jeff Shaw was named to represent Cincinnati in the All-Star Game and the Reds promptly traded him to the Dodgers, where he appeared in the game wearing an LA uniform.

Anyway, here’s my Top 5 list of Reds Closers. It’s not based on statistics, saves, WHIP, WAR or anything else. These are the five guys I felt most comfortable and confident with in the ninth inning and the Reds clinging to a one-run lead. I could listen to Marty and Joe on the radio, have another Keystone Ice and look forward to the Hall of Famer’s signature call of a Reds win. (I omit Mr. 106 from consideration because I still hope he will be moved to the starting rotation at some point.)

1. John Franco
2. Clay Carroll
3. Jeff Brantley
4. Rob Dibble
5. Randy Myers

13 thoughts on “Billy McCool, Cordero and Chapman: A History of Reds Closers

  1. @RFM: Also, did not using Francisco Cordero’s cost the Reds games in the 2010 NLDS? Was that a sign of mismanagement? Absolutely not. To put that in context, the Reds were shut out in 2 games (in games 1 and 3 the starters gave up all the runs the Phillies needed) and the second game was basically over in the 7th inning.

  2. Love the look back … any reference to Cool Billy McCool makes me smile.

    My mother used to laugh at Sparky’s use of Eastwick and McEnaney. Sparky would bring in McEnaney in the 7th or 8th for what we now call “high-leverage” situations, then give the ball to Eastwick at some point in the ninth inning to get the “save.” Made us happy when McEnaney was on the mound to close out the World Series in ’75 and ’76.

    Didn’t David Weathers also incur a fair amount of wrath for being the union’s player rep during a strike?

    I heard an interview on mlb radio with Danny Graves early in the season, amid the Chapman furor, and he talked about how much he hated being a starting pitcher. (I don’t recall enjoying that very much either, Danny.) … One of the things he said he really hated was the extra running he had to do for conditioning and stamina. He implied that relievers don’t have to worry about that as much. Exhibit A might be Broxton…. But I couldn’t help wondering if THAT was a factor in why Chapman was content in the bullpen.

  3. Paul Daugherty wrote a column over the weekend where he talks about the Reds having the arms to redefine the way bullpens are used today.

    But, IMO, the most telling part of the column was this:

    I ask Dusty Baker why Chapman, or any closer, doesn’t pitch in the eighth inning, doesn’t pitch when the Reds are behind, doesn’t pitch when they’re way ahead, doesn’t pitch unless the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. He says, “It’s just the way things are.’’

    Why is that an acceptable answer from the guy that actually makes the decision? “It’s just the way things are”? Baker does say later, ““The toughest thing to do is close out a team,’’. Anyone believe that, when some teams seem to have just as high a success rate with some pretty pedestrian pitchers “closing”?

    • @Bill Lack: I think Dusty has made it clear in the past that he’s not obliged to answer peoples’ questions or explain and defend his opinions whenever asked – sometimes he says it’s a ‘managerial decision’ and hopes to leave it at that. “It’s just the way things are” is another way of telling people to quit asking the same question because he’s tired of answering.

      Dusty gets asked the same questions over and over again, every day. He probably gets tired of it, and I don’t blame him. Everything he does or said is torn apart and criticized.

  4. ““The toughest thing to do is close out a team,’’ And there it is. Perhaps, with a different approach to high leverage situations and bullpen usage in general, closing a team out would actually become easier. But it’s this “way it is” mentality that may perhaps be the Reds achilles heel come crunch time. See Baker, Dusty– playoffs.

  5. Always liked David Weathers. He had a nice run with the Reds and was miscast a bit as a “closer”. He was the best choice the team had though as he was the best pitcher in many a bad bullpens.

  6. If the Reds offense could get untracked for a sustained time, and go into the 8th or 9th inning more often than not with a 4+ run lead, the closer’s job is less important. But with as many times as the Reds enter the 8th and 9th innings in 1 and 2 run games, the closer’s job is important.
    Get some Jack for the offense for more consistency, move Chapman to the rotation or trade him for that Jack, and the closer’s role doesn’t get the scrutinty it does now. I saw on one telecast game the Reds have the most walk-off wins in MLB since the start of the 2010 season. By getting help for the offense, it not only helps the offense, but has to help the starting pitchers by pitching with early leads and with their W-L records too. Latos, I beleive leads the league in No Decisions since last year as I think the Reds starters, as a whole, do too. It also takes the pressure off the bullpen. By going out and getting a #4 hole hitter that can drive in runs, it’ll help in all facets of the Reds game. And most importantly, take them further into the playoffs, much further.

  7. Has anyone looked at what would be the optimal use for the Reds’ pitching staff? The numbers obviously say you want to maximize the innings of the best arms and have the best arms pitching in the highest leverage situations possible. Assuming no injuries, does that mean that the best staff usage is a 5-man rotation with Chap, Cueto, Latos, Arroyo and Cingrani? Arroyo in the article suggests a 4-man, meaning you’d have Cingrani, Leake Marshall etc for long relief/high leverage situations. From a numbers perspective, does that maximize playing time of the top guys? Y

  8. Has anyone looked at what would be the optimal use for the Reds’ pitching staff? The numbers obviously say you want to maximize the innings of the best arms and have the best arms pitching in the highest leverage situations possible. Assuming no injuries, does that mean that the best staff usage is a 5-man rotation with Chap, Cueto, Latos, Arroyo and Cingrani? Arroyo in the article suggests a 4-man, meaning you’d have Cingrani, Leake Marshall etc for long relief/high leverage situations. From a numbers perspective, does that maximize playing time of the top guys? You would also have to factor in fatigue. What do you all think?

  9. It’s amazed me since I started following the Reds in 1977 how they always seemed to find effective closers, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere – seriously, it’s rarely been a problem! Carroll, Wayne Granger, Borbon, Eastwick, Doug Bair, Hume, Power, Franco, Myers, Dibble, Charlton one year, Brantley, Jeff Shaw, Graves, Williamson, Weathers, Cordero, Chapman – and that’s just off the top of my head. Usually you have one closer and 5 starters…and I can’t come up with this many top starters through the years! I guess my point is, finding an effective closer is a lot easier than finding a better-than-average starter…and while I’m not ready to say Aroldis would be a Cy Young winner (although he has the arm for it), I think he could be sufficiently replaced in the bullpen and you must admit he has a HIGH CEILING as a starter! Right now, he’s tied for 13th in the majors in saves…behind such luminaries as Jim Johnson, Addison Reed, Casey Janssen, and Tom Wilhelmsen…without cheating, can you name the teams these guys even play for? I think he’ll be an ace someday, but not for us…
    And don’t get me started on the Leake thing! No, really, don’t…

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