Saturday, April 08, 2006

Waiting for Guffman


The Yankees blew a game this week when Joe Torre refused to use Mariano Rivera in a non save situation. The game with the A's was tied 3-3 in the ninth inning and Joe in all his wisdom decided to go with Scott Proctor. Now I'm not saying that Scott Proctor can't be a valuable member of the bullpen, but why on earth would you bring him in for that situation. There were days when managers were not afraid to go to the closer in any situation. I remember Billy Martin brining in Sparky Lyle in the 4th inning of a playoff game. Sparky not only got out of that inning but pitched the rest of the game. He pitched something like 5-2/3 of shutout ball. He also pitched the 9th inning and closed out the series the next day. Of course that is an extreme example and I wouldn't recommend using your closer that way (unless you want a closer with a blow out elbow or shoulder), however the Tony LaRussa method limits the contribution that the closer makes to the team.

It's not like Rivera has never been brought into a tie game. He pitched three innings in the '03 ALCS against the Red Sox. What would have happened if Torre had decided to stick to the formula on that night? Do you think that the bullpen would have been able to hold the lead? Probably not. Joe made the right decision in using Rivera in a tie game but for some reason, he thinks that only applies to the post season. Here's a scenario for you; 7th inning two out and the tying and go ahead runs on 2nd and 3rd. The question is do you want the third best pitcher out of the bullpen to handle this situation? Why would you save your best pitcher for the ninth when he may never get used if those runners score? There was a time when managers were not afraid to use their closers before the 9th inning, but Tony LaRussa and Dennis Eckersley changed all that. Now closers are only used in the 9th inning in save situations. That has done wonders for the save totals that closers can rack up, but I believe it has made them less valuable.

If I can watch the game and know that the winning or losing time is in the 7th inning, then why can't the manager? Closing out the game is an important function, but coming into a game with no one on and a three run lead is not the most stress filled situation in baseball. I would argue that using your closer in tie games or in critical situations before the ninth inning makes him more valuable to the team. Save totals would go down, but team wins would undoubtedly go up. It's going to take a manager with the balls to go against the current trend, but hopefully someone will see the wisdom of using their best pitcher out of the bullpen in the correct way. I don't know if the Yankees would have won the '03 World Series if Joe Torre had brought in Mariano Rivera instead of Jeff Weaver (Jeff Weaver??? What the f#@K?!!) in game 4, but I would rather have lost that game with our best pitcher on the mound, rather than a cast off from the starting rotation. Joe Torre probably would have too.

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