There's a middle way, of course, but it's plainly and simply excluded. In the ongoing need to differentiate themselves in some way--any way--from the mainstream press, the structural economists (we like to call 'em "neo-sabes," in case you've just emerged from a tin can that doubled as a makeshift space vehicle) need to tarnish, diminish, tear down, and ultimately destroy the current deployment pattern for relievers. Their conclusions (which don't really rise to level of "findings" because the science is always partial in both senses of the word...) are that "closers" are a pernicious categorical myth that's been inflicted upon modern baseball.
But even as they say this, a large preponderance of the same cadre of thinkers advocate an increased usage of relievers due to the measurable effects of focusing on fresh arms late in the game. What is ultimately being advocated, of course, is a "system" in which starters will go five innings and be replaced by a succession of four "closers."
Mo Rivera was one of the exceptions to the rule--or should we say, to the corollary that any Tom, Dick, or Ugueth could crawl in on his belly in the ninth inning and take care of business. His sustained level of performance flew in the face of that precept, so he's created a double dread in the schizoid underpinnings of neo-sabe theory. Schizoid? Yes, based on the mutually exclusive but nonetheless-joined-together categories of fan interest and scientific detachment.
|The "warrior model"...|
The irony in the nature and context of Rivera's injury leads to the second blind alley--what we might call the "fallacy of aesthetic hierarchy." Confronted with news of a possible career-ending injury, some wish to make a determination regarding which form of ending is preferable--as if we were critiquing a film or a play. While an aesthetic approach is potentially interesting, it requires something more than a simple binary ("better to go out at your best on your shield"--the warrior model; or "better to be brought down from the level of the gods by age"--the kingly model).
No, the simple lesson in Mo's dance-impairing, possibly career-finishing injury is simply this: he's human after all. He will still be the same unique historical personage if he comes back and pitches well, if he comes back and doesn't have it any more, or if he never comes back.
What should matter to us is that we have now seen the full measure of his humanity, and while it is sad that it had to happen in the way that it did, it is a moment filled with meaning for those who will look at it outside the lenses they've imposed upon themselves.
[UPDATE: Rivera has announced that he plans to pitch again. Peter Gammons--once his obligatory "look how smart I am" opening paragraph--has written a heartfelt column about Mo's character--the exemplary man that lurks inside the android's shell.]
Now, briefly, on to an intriguing discovery here in the second month of the '12 season. We have serious walkmen popping up again. It could be that as whatever exactly it is that has brought pitching back into a more dominant position in the game is starting to spawn a willingness to use players with a more extreme approach to hitting.
That approach? Leave the bat on your shoulders.
Individual players with such an approach are starting to pop up on the radar screen: A. J. Ellis for the Dodgers, getting his first chance at age 31 to be a starter in the majors.
the "other" Carlos Santana...
|At 6'5", a most unlikely walkman:|
The Tribe seems to have also allowed several players to channel their "inner walkman." Journeyman Shelley Duncan (of the famed Duncan family), used as a platoon player in Cleveland for the past couple of years, became a markedly more selective hitter in the minors; in his last (partial season) stint at AAA, he had more walks than hits. If he can stay in the lineup against all comers (and the Tribe is giving him a shot to do so thus far), he could add 80-100 more walks to the total. The well-traveled Jack Hannahan, no kid (like Duncan, he's 32) is also someone with an elevated walk rate in the minors, and could add 70-90 walks to the mix. And Shin-Soo Choo, though he's still underperforming a good bit from his 2008-09 levels, has also drawn 80+ walks in a season.