Closers Who Rose And Fell
If John Axford never regains his role as Brewers closer, it would hardly be the first time a reliever amassed a lot of saves (in Axford’s case, a franchise-record 46 in 2011) and then drifted off into the sunset. In fact, the baseball landscape is littered with members of the “rise and fall of the closer” club.
Here’s a sampling, listed in alphabetical order:
Antonio Alfonseca: Perhaps best known for having six fingers on each hand and six toes on both feet, Alfonseca saved 45 games for the Marlins in 2000, saw that number dwindle to 28 in 2001 and then to 19 in 2002 for the Cubs. He pitched from 2002-07 for the Cubs, Braves, Marlins, Rangers and Phillies without ever recording another save.
Rocky Biddle: One of the players acquired by Montreal in an offseason trade with the White Sox for Bartolo Colon, Biddle was made the closer for the Expos in 2003 and saved 34 games – despite a 4.65 ERA and 1.549 WHIP (walks+hits/IP). He saved 11 games in 2004, but lost the job to Chad Cordero and was moved to the rotation. He made nine starts and finished with an ERA of 6.92 in what turned out to be his final pro season.
Joe Borowski: Borowski saved 36 games for the Marlins in 2006 and 45 for the Indians in 2007. However, the more important stat with Cleveland might have been his 5.07 ERA. In 2008, Borowski had six saves in 18 games – but a 7.56 ERA and 1.920 WHIP – before being released in July.
Bill Caudill: Caudill was a bright spot on bad Seattle teams, saving 52 games from 1982-83 before moving onto Oakland, where he saved 36 games in 1984 and made the All-Star team. He was traded to Toronto, but eventually lost the closer’s gig to Tom Henke. He had just two saves and a 6.19 ERA in 1986 before finishing up with eight forgettable innings with the A’s in 1987.
Mark Davis: Perhaps the poster boy on why you don’t give free-agent closers big money or a long-term contract. Davis won the National League Cy Young Award after recording 44 saves and a 1.85 ERA for the Padres in 1989. A free agent, Davis signed for the then-largest annual salary in baseball history – $13 million over four years – with Kansas City. Davis would lose the closer’s job with the Royals after saving just six games. He’d save one game in 1991 and was traded in 1992 after posting a 7.18 ERA with K.C. He bounced around and even tried a comeback with the Brewers in 1997 after sitting out a year, but that lasted only 19 games.
Billy Koch: Thought to be the next great closer, from 1999-2002 Koch saved 31, 33, 36 and 44 games, the first three years with Toronto and 2002 with Oakland. The A’s traded him to the White Sox, where he’d post just 11 saves and a 5.77 ERA in 2003. He’d save eight games for Chicago in 2004 before being dealt mid-season to Florida. He retired after the season due to being afflicted with a rare disease, Morgellons.
Danny Kolb: Kolb emerged as Milwaukee’s closer in 2003 and would save 39 games in 2004. However, the Brewers would deal Kolb to Atlanta in the offseason (for Jose Capellan and a player to be named later), a move that was supposed to pave the way for John Smoltz to return to the rotation. Smoltz did remain a starter, but Kolb would save only 11 games for Atlanta (with an ERA of 5.93) and would be dealt back to the Brewers for the 2006 season. He’d save one game for Milwaukee and pitch three innings for the Pirates in 2007 before leaving baseball.
Bobby Thigpen: After saving a then-record 57 games for the White Sox in 1990, Thigpen saw his save totals dwindle (to 30 in 1991 and 22 in 1992) and his ERA rise (from 1.83 in ’90 to 3.49 in ’91 to 4.75 in ’92). Thigpen would finish his career with Philadelphia and Seattle – not recording a save for either team – before heading over to Japan to play for two seasons.
Derrick Turnbow: Turnbow emerged from nowhere to save 39 games with a 1.74 ERA for Milwaukee in 2005. But hitters started waiting on his fastball as Turnbow couldn’t throw anything else for a strike, and the result was a 6.87 ERA in 2006 (although he did have 24 saves). He remained with the Brewers in 2007 (77 games, 1 save, 4.63 ERA) and 2008 (6 1/3 innings). He last pitched in Texas’ minor-league system in 2009, although the Marlins did sign him – for less than two months – in 2010.
Duane Ward: Finally getting his chance to be Toronto’s full-time closer after Tom Henke left via free agency, Ward saved 45 games in 1993. But he missed all of 1994 with an arm injury and pitched only 2 2/3 innings in 1995 (allowing 10 runs – eight earned – on 11 hits and five walks) before calling it a career.
Mitch Williams: The hard-throwing “Wild Thing” helped the Phillies make the World Series in 1993, saving 43 regular-season games (and two more in the NLCS). But his season – and Philadelphia’s – ended on Joe Carter’s World Series-ending home run. Traded to Houston, Williams, who always had control problems, had problems throwing strikes – walking 24 in 20 innings (his WHIP: An obscene 2.250). As a result, he had just six saves and an ERA of 6.75. Stints with the Angels in 1995 (6.75 ERA, 3.188 WHIP) and the Royals in 1997 (10.80 ERA, 2.700 WHIP) didn’t fare any better.
Mark Wohlers: Wohlers was the closer on Atlanta’s playoff teams from 1995-97, saving 25, 39 and 33 games. But in 1998, he lost his control – walking 33 in 20 1/3 innings. He’d save eight games with a 10.18 ERA. He’d pitch in set-up roles for the Reds and Yankees but wouldn’t save a game until he had seven with the Indians in 2002, his final season.