Only four closers in baseball -- Brian Wilson, Carlos Marmol, Joakim Soria and Mariano Rivera -- have finished off games for two years or more with the same team. Half of baseball will open 2012 with a new ninth-inning guy, including the White Sox.
That may seem startling, but there are two perfectly good explanations for that kind of turnover: The up-and-down nature of closer performance and the high cost of paying for premium talent.
A typical closer will throw 60-70 innings per season, which is a number that is quite prone to luck-fueled fluctuations. One bad stretch can cast a pall on an entire season, and it's rare to find a pitcher who is good enough to sustain a high level of success closing games over a three or four-year span.
The White Sox had that in Bobby Jenks. From the back end of 2005 through 2009, Jenks was reliable as a game-finisher, although he began to slip in 2009 after putting up elite seasons in 2006 and 2007. Even when he saved 27 of 31 games in 2010, his season was deemed a failure.
Before Jenks, the Sox didn't have much stability in the ninth inning. And it didn't matter. Shingo Takatsu was marvelous in 2004, saving 19 of 20 games after Billy Koch failed to rebound after a miserable 2003.
When Takatsu fell apart in 2005, Dustin Hermanson stepped in and saved 34 games for the eventual World Champions. And then when Hermanson ran into some injury issues, Jenks -- a former top prospect who had a high-profile flameout with the Angels -- stepped in and saved the game that won the Sox their first title in 88 years.
Not everyone can be a closer -- there's a certain ability to forget a bad game, a loss that seemingly falls directly on your shoulders, that isn't found in every pitcher. That being said, serviceable closers have proven to be fairly easy to find. It's just that if your team doesn't have one, all of a sudden it becomes your most glaring weakness.
But going into a season without certainty in the ninth inning -- as the Sox have done the last two years now -- is something that quite a few teams are doing. Despite the availability of cheap, young power arms with the ability to close, plenty of teams still pay out the nose for closers.
Philadelphia didn't need to pay Jonathan Papelbon 50 million. Miami probably didn't need to include Heath Bell in their spending spree. Both those guys may work out, but both teams probably could've found options who could produce similar results for a fraction of the cost.
Kenny Williams hasn't sought out a high-priced closer since Koch bombed in 2003 and 2004. He and the White Sox have handled the ninth inning perfectly, seeking options on the cheap and spending their money elsewhere.
If Matt Thornton struggles as the team's closer, the Sox have Addison Reed waiting in the wings. If Reed struggles, Jesse Crain is there. And down the road, power arms like Jacob Petricka, Simon Castro or even Jeff Soptic could be in line for a ninth-inning role.
Of course, even a short stretch of blown saves might be enough to lead some to call for the Sox to sign someone to a Jonathan Papelbon-type contract. They'd be smart to avoid that, and if recent history is an indication, they won't go that route.