Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
At the start of the week, Larry Drew was head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Now he's not. Here's how it went down.
1) Jason Kidd tried to big-time the Nets, a pretty gutsy maneuver when you consider how mediocre Brooklyn was last season (44-38).
2) The Bucks inexplicably got involved, sending the Nets two second-round picks for the rights to Kidd.
3) Since the Bucks can't have two people coach them at the same time, Larry Drew is now unemployed.
Remember, this is the same league that saw George Karl get canned four weeks after winning Coach of the Year in 2013. Clearly, no job is safe in the NBA.
Unfortunately for players of fantasy baseball, neither is the ninth inning.
On the surface, closing seems like a great gig. Closers make millions of dollars to pitch one inning maybe three or four times a week. Compared to a starter who might throw 14 or 15 innings in a given week, that's nothing. Sure the stakes are a little higher, but if you get it right, the fans will treat you like royalty. Just think of the following Mariano Rivera had in New York.
The trouble is, Riveras don't grow on trees. And compared to starters, managers tend to have a lot less patience with relief pitchers. If you can't do your job, they'll find someone else who can.
Though baseball enthusiasts will tell you we're living in a golden age of pitching (a polite way of saying hitters aren't using PEDs anymore), the closing business has never been as unstable as it is right now. Three former All-Stars have been ousted from their closer roles just in the last month (Grant Balfour, Jason Grilli, and Sergio Romo). Joe Nathan, who has been teetering on the edge of self-destruction for a while, could soon join them.
The trend of ninth inning incompetence seems to be spreading like wildfire. Of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, only 16 are using the same closer they used on Opening Day. That means about 47 percent of closers are gone in three months. A long-lasting relationship with Taylor Swift seems more likely than finding someone capable enough to pitch the ninth inning.
Of the 16 Opening Day closers who are still employed, only ten were used in the same capacity last season. Even fewer (just six) have been on the same team their entire career.
It's the nature of the beast. Closers are viewed as replaceable and therefore are rarely offered long-term deals. That's why we were all left speechless when Jonathan Papelbon signed a landmark four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies in 2011.
As troubling as it is to see someone make almost $13 million a year while only throwing one pitch, what truly amazed us was Philadelphia committing to the same closer for four whole years. Any closer who can hold onto a job that long deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.
For fantasy owners, this means a lot of mixing and matching. A few months ago, only the most ardent A's supporters could identify Sean Doolittle. Now he's owned in 78 percent of Yahoo leagues. Cody Allen, who recently took over the closer's role from John Axford in Cleveland, is another good example of this.
The career trajectory for players like Robinson Cano or Albert Pujols is rather predictable, while the path of a closer is almost impossible to map out. One minute you could be on top of the world, the next you're in Triple-A. Perhaps that's why managers view them as so expendable.
Eric Gagne, who is one of two relief pitchers in the last 25 years to win a Cy Young Award, was out of baseball entirely by the time he turned 32. Similarly, Fernando Rodney had a 0.60 ERA in 2012. A year later, the Rays didn't even bother to re-sign him.
The constant shuffling of closers is confusing on many levels. I can't think of a more important inning than the ninth, so why does it always seem to be in flux?
Exactly. The ninth inning is too important to waste on someone who's slumping. When a hitter goes cold, there are eight other guys who can pick him up. If a closer can't find his mojo, it's game over. Makes sense doesn't it?