Tom Tango makes an interesting point in a post over at The Book Blog:
Twins’ bullpen is first in MLB in Situational Wins (WPA/LI), and 4th in MLB in WPA. They are 5th in ERA and 10th in FIP.
This is just like your buddy coming back from Vegas, and only telling you about the days he won big and ignores the days he lost big. “Look at me! I’m nostradamus! I’m going to make 100 predictions, 50 of which will be wrong, but boy will I tell you about the 50 that are right!”
Media: do me a favor, and next time an ace reliever goes down, just say this: “It’s going to be a tough road for the team, but there’s a decent chance that the team won’t miss him at all. That’s because baseball is subject to such random variation that to pin the outcome of the season to any one player is foolish.”
Yes, I know this means that the 1000 articles that were written about Joe Nathan gets lowered down to 1. And I know that means that you won’t get easy money on the standard woe-is-Twins article when Nathan went down. Be a man about it, and write something with more inspiration.
You likely have not heard much about the Twins’ pen this season, simply because it is a boring story that does not hold interest like the initial panicked missives that questioned whether the Twins could recover from the loss of their star closer. Now, I too am surprised at how good the Twins bullpen has been, as they have had little drop-off from last season despite losing one of the two or three best closers in the game. It illustrates that a good pitcher like Jon Rauch can slide into the role and perform adequately, and that closers in general are overrated. But those are themes that do not fit the media driven narrative about the sheer difficulty of closing baseball games, so you are unlikely to find much written about this topic.
When the Red Sox went with a closer by committee system and did not succeed, most media members clucked in derision at the stat-heads and their silly ideas about baseball. Yet when the facts cut in the other direction, we hear nary a peep coming from the skeptics. I am not suggesting that the success of the Twins bullpen proves that anyone can close or that a bullpen can be constructed by just tossing together some solid arms, but it does warrant a more in-depth look at the issue from people who have long claimed the opposite to be true.