The Fightins'
The Mentality of Closers
Posted by Dash Treyhorn at 12:35 am ET 48 Comments

A week ago tonight, the Phillies suffered what is perhaps their worst loss of the season when the Washington Nationals scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Ryan Madson to erase a two-run deficit. In the grand scheme of things, the loss doesn’t really mean anything given that the Phillies are in the driver’s seat as far as the division is concerned, but a loss is a loss and people need to find something to complain about. In this instance, the object of much derision happened to be  Madson, after he allowed four hits, including a game winning grand slam to Ryan Zimmerman, to ruin what was an otherwise fine effort from the Phillies.

It was his only his second blown save in 25 opportunities this season, so Brad Lidge from 2009 he isn’t. What’s more, it was his third straight day of work, so he was understandably a bit gassed, and even then, he gave up one hard hit, so it’s not as if he was throwing beach balls. However, that didn’t stop a familiar point of contention from creeping it’s way back into the conversation, causing some of us to yet again defend Ryan Madson from a silly, silly, notion.

That notion: Whether or not he has what some refer to as “a closer’s mentality,” a  state of mind that is only granted to those worthy of getting three outs in the ninth inning. This talking point has existed for a good two years, and it’s used by some, at times, to explain the shortcomings of Madson when it cannot be accomplished through statistical means, where it usually cannot be accomplished, anyhow.

In reality, the “he doesn’t have a closer’s mentality” excuse is nothing more than the confirmation bias hard at work, thanks to the silly explanation that was created sometime over the last two years, because there is nothing to suggest that Ryan Madson is not the best man for the job in Philadelphia.*

*A case can be made for Antonio Bastardo, but you’d really just be splitting hairs.

Of course, this a non-argument and the fact of the matter is that I’m only taking up space by defending someone who really doesn’t need defending, because those that employ logic and reasoning in the proceedings don’t need to be convinced, and those that buy into the idea that Ryan Madson is somehow not mentally suited for the job aren’t going to be convinced, anyhow.

In a way, it’s not too dissimilar to a piece I wrote in early 2010 about the perceived shortcomings of Cole Hamels following his disastrous 2009 season. Following that campaign, a lot of people were willing to throw in the towel on the young lefty, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. Like now, I defended Hamels despite the fact that he really didn’t need defending, and those who were so eager to call for him to be run out of town weren’t about to have their minds changed by anything that I had to say.

In a way, what I wrote was needless. But that did not stop me from writing about it, just like it didn’t stop people from writing about how Cliff Lee’s struggles earlier this year were only temporary or the same thing with player x, y, and z when they dealt with whatever. Some things are just implicit and understood by the room and don’t need to be spoken aloud.

But blogging is nothing if not a lot of people giving different takes on something that is already wildly accepted. It’s not all like that, because sometimes people come up with mind blowing ideas that legitimately change the way you think about something, but usually it’s “hey this is a thing that is true so I’m going to write about it.” It’s repetitive, but it’s It’s human nature to want to be correct about stuff and everyone wants to be the alpha and sometimes the way to accomplish that is to write or say something that’s already been said, only differently.

In summation: sometimes we like to talk just to hear ourselves talk.

But enough with the preamble. We’re here to talk about Ryan Madson and whether or not his mental state is at all a cause for concern.

What is a “closer’s mentality,” anyhow? On the surface, I suppose it means that, unlike a left-handed specialist or mop up guy, a closer needs to have some innate ability or mental mindset or killer instinct that makes them more suited for the ninth inning. A closer needs to forget about the previous night’s blown save, and when they take the mound the slate must be wiped clean, as opposed to or in concert with what actually makes a good closer a good closer; that is to say “having actual talent.”

The human psyche is a strange and often misunderstood creature, and different people react to different situations in all sorts of different ways, so positing that someone might or might not have the proper mental mindset to achieve something is admittedly not that crazy. However, these aren’t just ordinary people working a 9-to-5. These are professional athletes who have undergone tremendous physical and mental tolls on their way up to The Show, and those that can’t hack it typically get weeded out sometime during the process. The ones who somehow manage to sneak through? They aren’t long for the professional baseball world, and they certainly don’t perform at an elite level.

In reality, the thing that separates a closer from every other pitcher isn’t something above the neck. It’s that a closer is just a really, really good relief pitcher, and he is more suited to be on the hill during the ultimate inning (usually the ninth), which is often viewed as the most pressure-filled moment of the game, even when that is not always demonstrably so.* If you look at a random bullpen on any given season, the closing pitcher is typically one of the best two or three relief pitchers on the team, based on empirical data like strikeouts and walks and the like. For proof of this, look at the best single seasons for closing pitchers among active players. With a few exceptions, the closing pitcher is far and away the best relief pitcher on the team. A notable exception exists in that Mike Adams, now with the Texas Rangers, was the best reliever on the San Diego Padres for the past few seasons, but was relegated to setup man in favor of Health Bell, who was, at best, Adams’ equal.

*There is often talk about how managers misuse their closing pitchers, especially when it comes to tie games on the road. More often than not, the closing pitcher is the best pitcher in the ‘pen while simultaneously being misused because the situation isn’t one where a save would be recorded. We could talk about this ad nauseum, but you’re probably already bored to death with what I have to say. For more reading, I suggest checking out this post over at Crashburn Alley, but not until after you’ve finished with this column, of course.

No one on that list jumps out and screams “closer’s mentality!” more so than anyone else. The single season saves leader, Francisco Rodriguez, is not without his share of personal problems, Joe Nathan has a reputation for being a bit of an odd bird, Carlos Marmol is as space cadety as anyone, as Chris Wheeler would say, and Brian Wilson is, well, Brian Wilson. And if you’re looking at the best closers in the game, you start and end with Mariano Rivera, who owes his success on the best cutter in the game as opposed to some sort of zen state that allows him to be the best to ever toe the rubber in the ninth inning.*

*One of the greatest single season performances by a closer in recent memory belonged to Brad Lidge, when he went a perfect 48-for-48 in 2008, including the playoffs, where he helped to deliver the first World Series to Philly since 1980. But throughout that season, Lidge vacillated between being downright nasty to terrifyingly shaky, but still managed to not blow a save, thanks to a ton of timely strikeouts and more than a couple great defensive plays behind him. I bring this up because, before he came to Philly, Lidge was a lights out closer in Houston. That is, until Albert Pujols homered off him in the 2006 National League Championship Series, which many claimed to have broken his brain. If there is ever a case to be made for a pitcher not being right in the head, it’s Lidge.

The one commonality among these pitchers share is that they are just really, really good. And that comes more from the arm and legs than from the head. That’s not to say that they don’t mentally prepare themselves for an appearance, but having a stoic look on one’s face doesn’t add more break to a splitter.

So, all this chatter about mentality? Nonsense. At least concerning Ryan Madson, who has been as good as anyone over the past few seasons.

But this talk about him had to originate somewhere, because it didn’t just appear simultaneously in the consciousness of baseball fans in the greater Philadelphia area. Someone actually had to think that thought and express it in some fashion so that it reached the masses.

Best I can figure is that this occurred in 2009, when Madson began to fill in for the injured and/or ineffective Brad Lidge as the team’s closer. This is about the same time that Twitter came into prevalence, which allowed one’s social circle to triple in size in a matter of minutes, making it much easier to circulate an opinion. The likely scenario is that Madson blew a couple of saves within a relatively short span – probably around late June, when he blew a pair of ninth inning saves and took three losses in the course of about two weeks or so. At the time, the team was struggling, and it makes sense to place a lion’s share of the blame on the guy who single handedly cost the Phillies a few wins.

Whatever it was, the reputation stuck, and came back to haunt him throughout the rest of the season and into 2010, when he once again filled in for Brad Lidge and once again was less-than-perfect, providing more opportunity for some to suggest that he wasn’t quite ready for the ninth inning.*

*Losing a fight to a chair didn’t help.

But that notion didn’t start in some random tweet, or did it? Is it possible that it began as a 140 character idea based on an entirely too small sample size due to some some unquantifiable circumstance? It’s possible, I suppose. Patient zero is out there, because this idea didn’t just crop up overnight and sneak into everyone’s brain all at once. Somewhere, a blogger or a beat writer or a columnist put words on paper about Madson’s mental ineptitude, and that someone is now laughing at us and mocking our futile attempts to stem the tide that is the growing trend of insistence from the peanut gallery that Madson is stricken with some unseen ailment. Or are they? Maybe patient zero is really patients zero, because fans are reactive, visceral beings, and they need to cling to something when the chips are down. Maybe, then, Madson is the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and was unfortunately the goat one too many time in a time when the fans needed someone to come down on.

At this point, all that Madson can do is his job, and to the best of his ability. So far this season, his ability has been as good as ever, thanks to a 9.5 K/9 rate and and a nasty circle change to complement his mid-90s fastball to go along with a 3.18 ERA and 23 saves.

Will he ever be rid of this reputation? It’s hard to say. People are stubborn, and once they grab hold of something or perceive it to be true, then there isn’t much that can be done to change their mind. After all, it was only two seasons ago that people wanted to write off Cole Hamels, and that was right after he won the World Series MVP, and the reputation that he earned – that of a crybaby or a head case – didn’t get dusted off until he made the leap into one of the best pitchers in the game in 2010. It’s definitely possible to shake a public image, but I have to imagine that, for a relief pitcher, who lives and dies with one inning, it’s much harder. A starter can erase a bad inning with six shutout innings to follow, but a closer doesn’t so much have that luxury, and more than anything else, the impetus is on them more than anyone to get their job done, considering the time and place that it occurs.

As far as we, and Ryan Madson, are concerned, a “closer’s mentality” is a meaningless platitude that attempts to characterize or make sense of something that isn’t there. Because people are curious creatures, there has to be some explanation, even when you don’t need one. In the case of Madson, certain people need to reconcile just why it is that he isn’t perfect every single time out.


48 Responses to “The Mentality of Closers”

  1. Sarge says:


  2. muffin says:

    i got to the first picture, scrolled to the end and then stopped.

  3. Sal Fasano's Beard says:

    I haven’t been on here in a while but I have to agree with sarge. Even though the Phillies have off tonight, that doesn’t give you a right to write a long blog entry. I’m tanked right now because the phils are not on tv right now. I have no interest in reading this bullshit that you are throwing in front of me. Ryan Madson will be fine, and tell DashTreyhorn that he’ll be fine. We’re still leading the division, and we’ll still win the world series. Somebody needs to smoke a massive blunt and chill the phuck out. Cliff Lee is pitching like Cy Young, Roy (both of them) is pitching like theyre supposed to, so chill. We’ll be fine. Fuck the Mets, and the Braves.

  4. muffin says:

    “In summation: sometimes we like to talk just to hear ourselves talk.”

    wait … is dash fucking with us?

  5. muffin says:

    and this sudden rash of asterisks and footnotes has to stop. can someone write something anymore without stroking off to grantland or bill simmons?

  6. Sarge says:

    It’s good writing, and I must say that it is beyond the typical comprehension of the average The Fightins reader. It’s better reserved for an ESPN the Magazine column than a website. For the sake of the readers, I’ll offer the following cliffs: Ryan Madson is an elite pitcher. All closers have their issues, but the fact is they are the best of the relief pitchers. That’s two sentences, that summarize the ENTIRE entry.

  7. Garrett Jones says:

    What if ryan madson were brad lidge

  8. Douche Treyhorn's Raging Hemorrhoid says:

    Stop. Writing. Period.

  9. Greg says:

    I actually read it, and thought it was very well written, and done. I do think there is a little bit of “mind-over-mentality” when it comes to certain closers, but for the most part, a good relief pitcher = a good closer 9 out of 10 times.

  10. Griswold says:

    At least he isnt McNabb

  11. Greenman! says:

    I feel the same way when I am defending Dash to Fightins readers!

    By the way what’s a preamble?

  12. Bud Selig says:

    I rather enjoyed the piece. It was refreshing to read something on here without it being laced with foul language. As I said earlier the game of baseball, our great National Pastime, is much to precious to be denegrated like that.

  13. thisfreakinguy says:

    Fucking hell.. first people complain about a lack of content on The Fightins as of late, and then complain about a long blog entry? If you don’t want to read all of the scary words, you’re in luck! No one’s forcing you to be here! You can simply get up from your desk, and fuck off. Try it now!

  14. dudewhoknows says:

    This is longer than a post!

  15. corfball says:

    can we just have more Phillies High School cartoons please!!!!!!


  16. Big Brown Bear says:

    Ok I think I get it. Some of these words are actually links to pictures right? If so, since I do not feel like hovering cursor over every word, can someone just tell us which words to click to get to the pictures?

  17. Randy Ready says:

    Please stop fucking with the fightins by posting this bill simmons wannabe’s ramblings. You don’t have any idea want you are talking about. The mental state of your closer is “meaningless?” That is bullshit and if you played above little league you would know that. All your posts just piss on other people’s opinions like you know something. You are just a twenty something english major who throws like a girl.

  18. steveeboy says:

    I appreciate this higher level discourse very much.
    Not typical for sports blogging, sports radio, or almost anything else these days.
    –the same twitter you write about has dumbed down things to an even greater level.
    nice job!
    OTOH, “what wrong goal ammel???”
    makes me crack up every time…

  19. Nikita says:

    Scott Boras will make damn sure that Madson has a closer’s mentality.

  20. Heather says:

    Isn’t it supposed to end after the sentence that begins with “in summation”? Dear God, why didn’t it stop?

  21. Amandah says:

    I wish he would Dash all over my Treyhorns.



  22. bigmyc says:

    Wow. That was a doozy.

    I wouldn’t compare the two situations of Hamels and Mad dog. I mean, anyone who wanted to give up on Hollywood was, for lack of a better word, a short sighted half wit. Madson, understandably, is a guy for whom reservations still exist. Much of this eminates from the fact that he has never made agressive and decisive strides to take the closer’s position. He’s just kind of…evolved into it. Now, that’s not terrible on it’s own merit, but it doesn’t do much to shake the detractors.

    Someone on WIP said that Madson, in his set up role, is icy and focused. However, when he takes the mound in the ninth to nail it down, he gets that wide eyed, looking around the stadium look.
    This is interesting. If it’s accurate, this is not a good sign for the future. Now, I myself haven’t necessarily noticed this phenomenon, but I wouldn’t say it’s off base.

    For now, he gets the benefit of the doubt. The guy has dealt with this tag for long enough now and has succeeded through it. Besides, he’s been pitching long enough in general. He’ll have enough on his plate in October to worry about this flickering debate from the phan base.

    • Tony Bruno says:

      And you’re actually trusting those stunads on WIP.

    • bigmyc says:

      It never fails…as soon as you mention WIP, it doesn’t matter if one of the personalities said the sky was blue, somebody HAS to post the obligatory and hachneyed, “you actually trust those mouth breathers?”

      Did you read mypost?

  23. D. Whitmore says:

    randy ready apparently hasn’t been reading thefightins since the start…..

  24. Joe Pa says:


  25. Joe D says:

    Madson can close. Oh he can close. But do I want him closing for the coin he is going to ask for with Boras in the offseason? No thanks. This team’s focus should be as follows:

    1. Lock up Hamels long-term and avoid arbitration
    2. Sign Jimmy
    3. Tell Tony Bastard he will be the closer. I don’t see the point in locking up huge $ in the closer role. You can find someone each and every year to do the job. Closers are passing fads. The closer role in general is overstated. Sometimes games are one or “saved” in the 7th if you are facing 3-4-5 then. And I’m pretty sure the taste of the Lidge contract should be fresh in their mouths.

  26. Nikita says:

    HP3 takes it off for charity:

    Good catwalk, let’s go eat!

  27. Larry Bowa says:

    Well…..I love this site and read it everyday. But have never posted. I am no Meech for sure and don’t have artistic skills like him and many others. But, we do so desperately miss the cartoons that minus the drawings, I thought for my first (and likely last post since I will get the shit beat out of me verbally) I would take a little stab based on Uncle Cholly’s recent…well you read it you will get it.

    At Phillies High
    Location: In Principal Manual’s office. The following students are there to meet with the Principal: Cliff Lee, Doc Halladay, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence

    Principal Manual: OK, yeah um like I wanted to meet with some of you students and talk about a change that, you know, like might be happening for the better of, ya know like everybody.


    Principal Manual: OK Shane, now yeah…..Fuck…calm down, like I haven’t even said what the change was yet and like Fuck why do you always have to be acting like a fucking race car on 5 hour energy or whatever that shit is you young kids drink for energy?

    Cole Hamels: Yeah, and you know, its like, you know, Principal Manual, you know, is gonna , you know, tell us what it is, ya know, if you would, ya know, give him a chance.

    Cliff Lee: Whatever.

    Carlos Ruiz: Chane, if woo wood wet Principal Harley talk, maybe we wood know what he is saywing. But Chane, you neber, eber wisten and that pisses people wike Criff Ree off.

    Cliff Lee: Whatever.

    Principal Manual: Dang nabit ya all….I can’t even get a word in when you all start yickety yaking like you do. What the hell is the matter with you all? Ever since we brought the new kid Fisherman Pence on the team…everyone seems like you have all of this uncontrolled energy. Except for Doc and Chase…look at them. See how they are listening intently? So like shut the hell up and maybe I will tell you the big announcement.

    (Doc and Chase are intently staring each other down and appear ready to kill anyone that makes another sound).

    Hunter Pence: Mr. Manual its Hunter, not Fisherman. But when can we eat?

    Chase: We don’t eat until we take 6 hours of batting practice and 6 hours of fielding practice. Then, maybe, we eat.

    Principal Manual: Yeah doggommit, like I said Fisherman, everyone can eat after the announcement.

    Carlos: Are we habing IFE FREAM?!?!?!? Harley, I wub IFE FREAM soooo much.

    Shane: yeahandilovechompasaurusasournewmascotandicecream.Thisisthebestdayofmywholelife.

    Charlie: Like fuck kids, I’m losing control of everything. Cliff….you already know the announcement….maybe you can gain control of these silly asses and tell them what’s happening.

    Cliff Lee: Whatever.

    Charlie: Well, shit then if Cliff isn’t gonna tell you all I will. See the other day I was on the radio and let the word fuck come out of my mouth. (Chase snickers and mutters “World Fucking Champions”). So Superintendant Amaro feels like my language is well you know out of control, what with being from West Virginia. So, he wants to bring in an assistant for me to help with cleaning up my language.

    (Knock at the door).

    Shane: ThereheisnowIbetitisthechompasausus.

    Doc: I bet I am about to shove this baseball so far up your ass if you don’t shut up that people will think you permanently have three testicals.

    Hunter: Hey Shane I know I am new to the school but that guy looks pretty pissed and if we wanna eat, you probably should stop talking.

    (2nd knock, followed by familiar sound): Open the fucking door you bunch of pussies.

    Carlos: Its Warry Bowa!!!! Its Warry Bowa the baddest beisbol coach to eber wiv.

    Larry: It’s fucking Larry…where the fuck do you see any W’s in my name???

    Charlie: That’s right boys, Superintendant Amaro wants me to model Mr. Bowa for a few weeks and clean up my language. So, from here out I won’t be cussing and saying things like “he threw a fucking cutter ball” anymore right Larry?

    Larry: You may as fuck not be gonna say that shit but if I see a fucking cutterball I will call it what i see it as….a fucking cutter ball.

  28. spacecoyote says:

    Wow. Surprised at all the “TL:DR” commentary on here. Fine work, Dash.

  29. Phylan says:

    Things commenters don’t like: numbers, words.

    This leaves only symbols.

    ©£¶ϠϾ☻♣♂ﻼ bitches

  30. Aubrey Huff's his own farts says:

    Finally, an article that talks about the Beard!!

  31. Michael Trabtree says:

    Great post.

    Everyone bitching about the length of the post can go fuck themselves.

    • Dubee Dubee Du says:

      Thanks KLN for that lnk.
      I particularly was fascinated with the section on pruning the redundant.
      I’ve had this overgrown redundant by the front stoop that has become a real problem.
      Thanks to you I have a clear plan now.
      We Fightins phollowers sorely needed to gain this knowledge.
      Impressive sir.

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