So many things about baseball are simply not rocket science. Baseball is very easy to quantify compared to other sports. The pitcher vs. batter, sequential movement patterns (bases) and 3 outs per inning make it easier to see correlations and draw conclusions from the action. (As opposed to other sports with many players all doing different things at once, which results in a lot of impossible to quantify randomness – not a bad thing, just different). But despite the easy to follow patterns, we fans watch and listen to discussions about strategy that are based on illogical drivel on a daily basis. Although, if I may be so bold, fans who choose to be in the dark are part of the issue too – it’s not all the managers’ and commentators’ fault.
Enter the role, and resultant terminology of the “closer”. Seriously, I’ve reached the point that even typing that word forces me to groan and roll my eyes.
The term “closer” is based on a construct that is completely devoid of logic. That is specifically, the 9th inning is more important than any other, so your best relief pitcher should pitch the 9th inning regardless of context or circumstances.
I really shouldn’t have to continue, as the lack of sense jumps off the screen with that last sentence. But…
Last night was exhibit #1,864 of this: The Yankees held a 5-2 lead entering the 9th inning. As has been covered here before, your team will hold a three run lead in the 9th about 98% of the time, regardless of who is on the mound for you. Joe “Joey Bullpen” Girardi brought in the Yankees closer (ahem) Aroldis Chapman. Heaven knows I can’t understand Joey Bullpen’s mindset when it comes to bullpen management, but I can only presume he brought Chapman in…(wait for it)…because he’s the closer. If you know of another reason, shout it out, no raised hands necessary.
Chapman pitched an inning and a third 48 hours ago, so he didn’t “need work”.
Last night, he took over for Dellin Betances, who took over for Tommy Kahnle. Those two combined to throw 29 pitches, struck out three, walked one and gave up no hits, so it wasn’t as if they needed saving.
Due up for the Mets were three batters with an average OBP of .274. One of them ended up being pinch hit for by a player with a .286 OBP. Murderer’s row, it wasn’t.
So back to the “closer” logic: You’re bringing in your best relief pitcher with a safe lead to face three batters who are below league average.
And this makes sense to people…?
What ended up happening is only slightly related to my point so I’ll come back to it in a minute. Chapman, gave up a 2 run home run to Amed Rosario, which made it interesting, but the Yankees won.
So here are my questions, fans of “the closer”:
- If Chapman is your best pitcher, as I believe the Yankees believe him to be or they wouldn’t have given him $86 million dollars (more on this in a minute), why are you using him when you have a comfortable lead and no viable offensive threats coming up?
- Or, if you believe Chapman is not your best pitcher, then why are you using him in what you’ve previously defined as the most important situation of the game?
You can’t have it both ways.
This isn’t a player comparison to decide who the Yankees best reliever is. If you prefer large sample sizes, Chapman and Betances are their best relief pitchers. If you like small, but recent samples, Kahnle and Chad Green are their best relievers.
This is about how silly the premise of “the closer” is. If you want to win games, your best relief pitcher shouldn’t be wasted throwing 14 pitches 2 or 3 times per week against weak hitters.
If you want to win games your best available relief pitcher needs to enter in the first situation in which the game’s outcome is at stake after the starter has been removed. It really isn’t more complicated.
Not so random notes:
Remember when the Yankees gave Chapman $86 million, then after “winning” their arbitration case against Betances, Yankee president Randy Levine said that Betances was worth only $3 million because he wasn’t a closer?
I.e., Yankee brass logic: Pay $86 million to fill a “role” that many relief pitchers who make league minimum can fill, (and get a player about whom you now have serious concerns given his recent poor performances.) But publicly criticize a guy who has been the 2nd best relief pitcher in baseball since he’s come into the league…literally.
Mr. Levine: This is why you hire people who aren’t averse to thinking things through. I’ve never turned away the opportunity to beat a dead horse, so I’ll say it again, even though I said it often in yesterday’s blog: This is why you get guys who are OK with doing some math.
Remember part II: I’ve defended Chapman recently. As long as a guy is throwing over 100 mph, I’m willing to chalk up recent struggles as a blip, not a reason to panic due to his larger sample size. But for the record, and I said at the time: A 5 year contract for guys (relief pitchers) with short career spans who at their best are only worth about 3 wins per season, was bat shit crazy.