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As an unabashed socialist, I am very much in favor of spreading out the saves. As one of the proud BB Zombies, I can recognize that the last three outs of the game are just three more outs. As a fan, I see how fun it could be to do in-game pools to guess which co-closer gets the call in the ninth. Maybe, then, it was just my imagination. Maybe, in fact, I was dreaming that Boston's Chad Fox and Alan Embree looked like they had never pitched in Little League, let alone as decent major leaguers, when they squandered that three-run lead against the Devil Rays in the 9th inning last night.

While it was just one game, watching those guys yuck the lead made me think there might be some validity to the "closer mentality" argument. Mike Timlin, for example, looked petrified every time he took the mound, while Rod Beck, even when his fastball could barely break 58 MPH, still thought he could get people out. Four twisted necks later, Beck finally figured out that it didn't matter how much he thought he could get guys out: he simply couldn't. There's also probably some validity to the argument that a Proven Closer puts a certain amount of fear in opposing lineups. After all, it must have been a grim sight indeed seeing Dennis Eckersley warming in the bullpen when you're down 3-2 in the eighth inning.

Like it or not -- and this is hardly a scoop -- I imagine this mentality pollutes 95 percent of people in major-league front offices. Even the A's, those revolutionaries, have, for the most part, used Proven Closers during the Beane era. Although Beane did replace Eck with unproven Billy Taylor, and then moved Taylor for the similarly green Jason Isringhausen, the A's have turned to Billy Koch and Keith Foulke the last two years. To be fair, one of the reasons is because the A's haven't had anyone in the minors to replace Koch or Izzy; but, for example, they could have traded Koch for one of the White Sox's extra outfielders and given the job to, say, Chad Bradford, thus saving some cash to spend on, say, another OF who can actually hit.

So color me pessimistic. I think this is going to be a short experiment -- not at all because the Sox blew one game, not at all because the idea can't work. But with each subsequent blown save, no matter the number of successful saves, the pressure will build on Theo Epstein and Grady Little to abandon the scheme. The media will demand it, the fans will demand it -- and I predict the players will demand it. Some regulars may say "We have to have someone we can depend on down there." A few pitchers will start grumbling about not having "clear roles." Now, it doesn't take a Billy Beane or a Kent Williams to figure out what a pitcher's role is: get hitters out. Period.

I hope I'm wrong; this is a sound idea for Epstein to pursue, but one that needs to be carried out for the whole season so we can gauge its value. Of course, if all goes as I think it will and the Red Sox punt the approach far too early, they'll need a Proven Closer. Trot Nixon for Kelvim Escobar, anyone?
Closer-by-committee: a doomed foray? | 9 comments | Create New Account
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Coach - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 07:43 AM EST (#91856) #
Wow. Same sentence as Beane. If I didn't know Gitz was going for the laugh there, I'd be flattered.

My doppleganger Bill James does not advocate a "closer by committee" -- he recommends more intelligent use of your "ace" reliever. The problem in Boston? That pitcher is not on the payroll; they have a large supporting cast in the bullpen, but no star.

I totally agree with the Jamesian principle that you don't "demote" your Ace Reliever into mere committee-member status. You trust your manager to identify the game's most critical matchup(s) and get him in there. Some days, that's in the eighth inning, once in a while it's the seventh. Rarely is it with a three-run lead beginning the ninth, unless the AR needs the work. That usage pattern spreads the saves around among the so-called setup men, but it doesn't mess with the minds of the pitchers involved.

Players need to know their roles; it's true even in high school, and much bigger egos are involved in the Show. Grady should declare somebody (if he's asking me, Mendoza) as his bullpen ace. Embree remains his #1 LH, Timlin and Howry -- I think Fox, held together with duct tape, was a mistake -- should be officially designated as #2 and #3 RH, and so on. Then, the pitchers (and their teammates, and the fans, and the press) all know where they stand.

I'm totally in favour of trading Escobar, and showcasing him as a Closer, in save situations only, until somebody (Boston would be great!) takes him off J.P.'s hands. The next day, the Jays should anoint Politte as the Ace Reliever and use him accordingly; his ego won't get in the way of playing that role.
_Gwyn - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 08:02 AM EST (#91857) #
The Boston Globe only has four articles about the bullpen today.

Dan Shaughnessy has a positively Griffin-esque line "Let's start with a memo to Bill James: Perhaps the seventh inning is not the most important inning to hold a lead"

Trying something like this in Boston is going to be tougher than trying it just about anywhere else. The media pressure is so over the top there that every one of the bullpen losses will be magnified so Gitz makes some very valid points. I am not sure it is doomed, but I think Grady Little has some thinking to do about how he uses the relievers he's been given. I was surprised yesterday Embree came in after Mendoza had only thrown nine pitches in the eighth, Tampa Bay did have a couple of lefties leading off but Mendoza does not have trouble getting lefties out (.698 OPS to lefties last year).
_Best_Mate - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 08:32 AM EST (#91858) #
Strikes me (not having witnessed the events at all) that this is a classic case of panning an idea before the gestation period is up.

While it's fair to say that the Red Sox bullpen strategy will need time to settle in, it will be a question of how many saves are blown before said time period is determined. I am loathe to use the word "experiment" here, but I suggest that managerial calls for patience are likely to fall on deaf ears if this happens again soon
_Jonny German - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 11:02 AM EST (#91859) #
I was listening to the FAN recently and heard a decent argument in favour of a designated closer (by their ESPN correspondent, Tony Blank). He painted it as a balance of pressure - you put the pressure on the closer to consistently perform in high pressure situations, or you put the pressure on the manager to make the best call on which reliever to bring in and to stand behind his decision. Even the best closers blow it sometimes, but nobody's going to ask Bobby Cox what he was thinking bringing in John Smoltz to finish the Phillies, even if Smoltz is obviously in a slump and gets tonged. Grady Little, on the other hand, could weigh all the options and correctly pick Embree as his best man for a given situation, but if Embree blows it because Millar booted a ball, the media will be all over him. Why not Mendoza? Why not Timlin? Granted a smart team doesn't play to what the media thinks (or even what the fans think, to some extent), but if I'm the manager I've got enough pressure on me already, if the second-guessing spreads to the team, to management, to myself, I've got problems. Delegate the pressure to a guy with a closer mentality and put your brain cells to work on how to get the most out of your three re-tread catchers or your two banjo hitting outfielders.

I agree with Coach, it's not about having a guy to close games, it's about having a guy anointed as the Ace Reliever and correctly using him as such. And what I take from Billy Beane using Taylor and Isringhausen, it's not necessarily about having a Proven Closer, but just a guy that's designated and that you believe has the ability. Even with Foulke, a lesser GM (say Kenny Williams) would have more confidence in a big saves total (say Billy Koch) than in the relevant numbers that say Foulke is a better pitcher, not to mention cheaper. You'll never see Beane or Ricciardi or maybe even Epstein spend big money on their closer.

Did anybody else find it amusing last night when Torre brought in his interim closer to protect a six run lead? I guess I'd never seen Acvedo in the flesh, but for anybody else who hasn't, let me tell you there's a lot of it... I see a potential candidate for the first annual Rich Garces Commemorative Award.
_R Billie - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 11:56 AM EST (#91860) #
I wanted to see if that Anderson guy could hold the six run lead last night. Apparently Torre wasn't as curious as I was.
Gitz - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 12:56 PM EST (#91861) #
Strikes me that this is a classic case of panning an idea before the gestation period is up.

That's my point. I think the idea is fine, but my hunch is the Sox won't give it enough time.
_Mick - Tuesday, April 01 2003 @ 01:53 PM EST (#91862) #
See, the Torre-Acevado example doesn't work. Sure, Torre has announced to the press that Acevado is the "interim" closer but that's seriously just to shut them up.

Last year, when Ace Reliever Mariano Rivera -- and there's an ego issue; when it's not post-season, Rivera doesn't like to be used except in "save" situations, and he's good enough so that you pander to that -- was hurt on and off, Torre was very clear ...

"Steve Karsay will close while we wait for Mo to come back."

What a load of crap. (And I'm glad it was. Lie to the press then do what's best for the team. Hoo-rah.) Sure, Rivera led the team in "saves" (28) and Karsay was second (12), but three were more than an inning and several were junk saves even when Mo was back healthy and they were worried about saving (no pun intended) him for October.

In fact -- and remember, I was Yankees correspondent last year and watching this verrrry closely because every fantasy player on planet Earth wanted to know details, and NOW -- Torre interchanged Mendoza, Karsay and Mike Stanton. And at times, he tossed in Jeff Weaver.

Weaver had two saves; Stanton had four; Mendoza had six. What was Torre doing, much to the chagrin of rotogeeks everywhere? When Mos' Ego was on the DL, he used situational matchups ... just like Boston wants to do, only he had more talented relievers to go to.
Mike D - Wednesday, April 02 2003 @ 11:12 AM EST (#91863) #
I think the less thoughtful zombies have conflated two recent theories of closing...

1. Being an "Ace Reliever" is not a skill set, so don't overpay for a Roberto Hernandez when you can find a starter/middle man somewhere in your system that has the necessary stuff to be effective for one inning;

2. Your "Ace Reliever" shouldn't necessarily work the ninth with a three-run lead when there's a high-leverage situation in, say, the eighth or seventh and you *really* need to get out of the inning unscathed; conclude that teams do not need an "Ace Reliever," period.

I agree with Coach and Jonny, and I don't like the way the Boston bullpen is constructed. I think that sports psychology demands "closure" (groan) as to one's role on the team. Little and Epstein's job should be to convince their yet-to-be-named Ace Reliever that they'll be more valuable to their team by not focusing on the save statistic. It would be more difficult, perhaps too difficult, to keep their bullpen personnel with cheerfully undefined roles and tremendous pressure not to have a bad outing, lest they be demoted within the committee.

And as Mick suggested, if the Red Sox were loaded with premium bullpen talent, then it probably wouldn't matter as much how they used it. But I'm with Coach: managing to win and not to generate saves, yes; closer by committee, no.
robertdudek - Wednesday, April 02 2003 @ 11:48 AM EST (#91864) #
This vile thing called "the save" - a cancerous growth embedded in baseball culture - has infected all relief pitchers.

Jerome Holtzman is the Oppenheimer of baseball.
Closer-by-committee: a doomed foray? | 9 comments | Create New Account
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