When the Twins brought back Matt Capps on a one-year deal back in January, I tried to wax philosophical about it and pointed out that while his salary was pretty high, there were also a number of advantages in going to a one-year deal with an in-house guy. Well, that's the problem with philosphy. Because going back and reading it, I still agree with everything I said. In theory.
In practice, well...it hasn't turned out quite so rosy. Capps has been, arguably, baseball's worst closer this season, and that gets tougher to stomach when you consider that Twins fans are used to having one of the best in the business locking things down. From 2004 - 2009, Mariano Rivera was the only closer in baseball who might have been better than Joe Nathan. And if he was better, it wasn't by much.
Ron Gardenhire rightly pointed out that the loss doesn't just sit on Capps' shoulders, it sits on the shoulders of the whole team. Namely, the offense.
"We scored one run tonight. In defense of [Capps], we scored one run, we had plenty of opportunities to score more runs," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Everything gets thrown on the closer. Sure, he gave it up at the end, but a lot of people misfired, too."
Again, philosophically I agree with Gardy here. Wins and losses, even when one or two players really stand out, still belong to the whole team. When you're down by three with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and some injury replacement kid from triple-A smashes a grand slam for the win, it's a great story but the homer wouldn't have mattered without the runners on base. In a complete game shutout the pitcher will get all the credit, but I guarantee you the defense made at least a couple of nice plays behind him.
In reality, however, philosophy sometimes breaks down. One game is just one game, yet eventually you need to look at how many times you've shrugged off "just one game". Baseball is a marathon not a sprint, but that doesn't mean you don't tactically re-examine yourself from time to time. Ultimately, the Twins did have the lead and, once again, it was Capps' job to maintain that lead. And, once again, Capps wasn't able to do that. How many more times does he need to blow a lead before changes are made?
To be fair to Gardy, part of his job is player and ego and psychological management. Capps has been obliterated by local media, and Gardy himself has made a few ambiguous comments in the past. It certainly doesn't change the fact that Capps probably shouldn't be the Twins closer anymore, but sometimes the manager will choose to say things to the media that he isn't thinking and won't be saying behind closed doors.
The most lamented closer in Twins history is Ron Davis. There are bound to be some comparisons. Davis wasn't a terrible pitcher, but with the focus of the closer role upon him his weaknesses were magnified. A penchant for home runs as well as avoiding a great number of hits; a tendency to pick up a lot of strikeouts as well as too many walks; saving most of his games but memorably blowing some, too.
Going into his 1986 season, Davis had converted 83% of his save opportunities. Not great, but for a struggling Twins team he'd totalled 106 saves from '82 - '85. And certainly better than Capps' save percentage this season (68%). Davis' reputation caught up to him in '86, as after successfully recording good saves in his first two games of the season he wouldn't record another one all year. He blew late leads on April 20th and 26th, and let a close game get out of hand against the Yankees on the 29th. The Bombers again extended a small lead against him on May 13th, then blew games on the 16th, 19th and 27th. On the 28th he let a three-run deficit turn into a seven-run deficit. His ERA had ballooned to over 10, and he'd eventually earn himself a trade to the Cubs.
Capps hasn't been '86 David bad. But he has been less reliable this year than Davis was from '82 - '85, and that's saying that Davis wasn't entirely reliable in that period. Capps deserves to lose his job.
I'm torn on who should close between Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins. Honestly, it doesn't bother me because I think both of them could do it. And I should be clear: it's not about having "A Closer", it's about having a pitcher you feel you can trust with the game on the line. Perkins is that guy, to me. But Nathan has the experience, and he's looked much closer to the closer (see what I did there?) we used to know. Maybe Gardy can mix-n-match until he gets comfortable with one of them.
One of the phrases in life I sometimes question is: "Life is to short to [fill in the blank]." Because while I understand the sentiment of needing to take advantage of life as it's presented to you, I also think life is just too long to be miserable. Maybe both are true. Life is too short to waste time, and it's too long to subject yourself to pain you don't need.
The baseball season is both too short and too long to keep Capps as closer. So right now both of those phrases are true for the Twins as well. (That is, if you buy into philosphy.)
Bonus reading: Due Diligence on Joel Hanrahan