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Just The Sports: Misusing the Closer

Just The Sports

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Misusing the Closer

In yesterday's Yankees-Red Sox game, with the Yankees holding on to a slim 2-1 lead in the top of the 8th inning and Boston's 2-3-4 hitters coming up to the plate, does Joe Torre signal for Mariano Rivera to come out of the bullpen to pitch to Boston's best hitters? No, of course not. Instead, he calls on Kyle Farnsworth. Why exactly would he bring in the reliever he trusts second-most, according to leverage, in a situation that screams to be handled by the best reliever on the team? Why indeed?

For the season, Rivera has 1.412 WXRL (Wins Above Replacement Level) to Farnsworth's .384. While, thankfully, Rivera does have a higher leverage than his set-up man, there is still not reason to pitch him exclusively in the ninth, especially when his talents would be better served than waiting around in the ninth to face 6-7-8 batters.

While Farnsworth was able to retire the three batters in order, the inning was not without drama. The third batter he faced, Manny Ramirez hit a home run ball that was snatched back into play by left fielder, Melky Cabrera. Had Cabrera not caught the ball, Farnsworth would have been blamed for blowing the lead, which probably would have led to him being cascaded by boos from the Bronx faithful. Yet, the onus of the blown lead would have been squarely on the shoulders of Joe Torre for making a poor managing decision.

In Torre's defense, he is not the only manager to misappropriate his bullpen assets. Managers are still so firmly entrenched in the thinking that a team's best reliever always has to pitch in a save situation that they leave themselves unable to use any sort of creativity with their bullpen. Also, using relievers like everyone else uses them allows the managers to avoid harsh criticism from the media who hate change as much as anyone, probably because it forces them to do actual research.


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