It’s Saturday night, and for the second straight day I am watching Joe Torre criminally mismanage the Yankees. More specifically, I’m watching Joe Torre completely annihilate the bullpen. He does this often, and it drives me nuts. Both tonight’s and last night’s games against the Oakland A’s went into extra innings, which means I’ve been seeing lots and lots of the Yankees’ bullpen. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
The idea of a closer is stupid. Just plain stupid. As I’ve seen tonight and last night, the idea of a closer often leads to a team’s best relief option (Mariano Rivera) sitting on his tush all game. Why is this? Because managers, broadcasters, and writers have bought into this idea that a closer should only pitch in the 9th inning, with a lead. I actually heard a broadcaster say recently that “closers cannot pitch without a lead”. Managers (or maybe this is just Torre) simply will not use their closer unless they have a lead.
Tonight, Torre has used Sean Henn, Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth in relief – all of whom are completely burned out by recent usage – entirely to avoid using Rivera in a non-save situation. He simply will not put Rivera in unless the Yankees have a lead, even though it’s the freaking 10th inning. He didn’t do it yesterday either, even in an 11-inning game. Why? Well, duh, because a closer can’t pitch without a lead. Then he wouldn’t get a save.
I have officially been converted to the idea that teams should use their closers/best reliever during the most important situation. If it’s tied 3-3 in the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and 1 out, then I’d bring in Rivera. Doesn’t that make sense? Use your best pitcher in the most dire of situations, because he’s your best pitcher. If you had an important task at the office, you wouldn’t give it to one of your average employees. You’d give it to the best available option. If closers were used in this way – in the most important situation – it gives the offense a chance to come out in the next half inning and get the team a decent lead.
A great example of this – even though it pains me to say it – was the Red Sox last night. I forget the specifics of the situation, but it was the top of the 8th inning, and the Angels were threatening to score. It was a critical situation. So, Terry Francona brought in Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon blows the Angels away, giving up no runs. What happens in the bottom of the 8th? The Red Sox score like 4 runs, giving them a sizable lead and allowing them to use Mike Timlin in the 9th inning. Red Sox win.
I don’t understand why more teams (all teams?) don’t do this. The idea behind it is the present value of outs versus the future value of outs. In really important situations, the present value of outs is higher than the future value. Why? Because it’s the freaking present, and there are definitely runners on base, right now, with good hitters coming up in the lineup. These are definites, and you need outs now. The idea of holding off on bringing in your best relief pitcher is ludicrous because it’s planning for something that very well might not happen – a relatively small lead late in the game.
I’m not articulating this very well, mostly because I’m livid watching the Yankees’ inability to hit and Torre’s inability to manage. But I just don’t understand this loyalty to a ridiculous convention. I would argue that relief pitchers should enter the game according to the importance of the situation, not according to arbitarily assigned roles (7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, closer). If it’s an important situation, bring in your best reliever and hope your team scores some runs later. If they don’t, oh well. But to religiously subscribe to the idea that closers must pitch with leads, late in games – that’s madness.