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Thinking Outside The Closer Box

Can you differentiate these two stat lines?
14 11 32 32 4 2 211.0 152 77 75 24 100 266 3.20
15 11 35 35 3 1 243.7 208 104 98 23 100 208 3.62

Pretty darn similar, aren't they?

The first is Kerry Wood's 2003 season. The second is John Smoltz' 1993 season.

Both pitchers were 26 years old whe they put up those numbers. The difference between the two pitchers is that Smoltz was always quite durable till his initial elbow surgery after 1999, while Wood has spent tons of time on the DL.

And today, Jayson Stark of ESPN has heard a rumor that the Cubs are kicking around the idea of making Wood the Cubs' closer, a la Smoltz.

I've thought about this from time to time, myownself, and it begins to make more and more sense to me.

Here's why.

After Smoltz' elbow surgery, it was thought that throwing 200 innings as a starter would be too tough on his arm, and instead, throwing one inning (or two) at a time would make him more durable.

It worked, at least up to the last month of 2004, when he had tendinitis. Smoltz threw 286 innings total the last four years.

This is precisely the reason to consider such a move. Wood has the mental makeup to be a closer, and his walk rate decreased significantly in 2004, down to 3.27 per nine innings, from 4.27 in 2003 and well over 4 in all his previous seasons. Too many walks would be the reason I'd worry about making Wood a closer, but I'd bet he could make the adjustment.

It also presumes that the Cubs could find another starting pitcher to take his spot, and that may be more problematical, though there are options in the farm system (Pinto, Guzman, Mitre), and perhaps there will be some intriguing names out there after the non-tender deadline of December 20.

This shows me that Jim Hendry is continuing to try to give some original thinking to the 2005 Cubs. I'm not 100% sold on this idea... but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, either.