By In Stuff

The value of a closer

Diving in on the Showalter thing. You can sum up by simply saying that Tuesday night, Baltimore and Toronto played a tightly pitched 11-inning game, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter used seven pitchers, and not one of them was reliever Zach Britton. Inexplicable is a word that comes to mind.

Only, we have to be honest about this: It isn’t inexplicable at all.

Let’s look at two situations from Tuesday night’s game. In the first situation, it’s the bottom of the ninth, the score is tied, and Toronto has runners on first and second with only one out. Russell Martin comes to the plate. If you are Baltimore, you are one single away from losing the game and going home for the winter.

The obvious thing you would want in this situation is (A) a strikeout pitcher or (B) an extreme ground ball pitcher who will coax the double play.

Zach Britton, conveniently, is both. He strikes out 10 batters per nine innings. But more to the point, he’s the most extreme ground ball pitcher in baseball — his 80% ground ball percentage this year is the highest EVER RECORDED.

Showalter instead put in 34-year-old Darren O’Day. Now, it’s true that O’Day has proven to be something of a strikeout pitcher in his circuitous career, though he’s not exactly Aroldis Chapman. But as for Plan B, no, he doesn’t get grounders. At all. He’s a pure flyball pitcher (35% ground ball percentage last two years). He had not thrown a double-play grounder all year — and he had only thrown four in his entire career. Inexplicable is a word that comes to mind.

So what does O’Day do? He gets Russell Martin to hit a double-play ground ball. Because: Baseball.

“So hilarious seeing these stats heads get so worked up about Buck’s bullpen moves,” tweeted my friend and stat-needler C.J. Nitkowski. “Experience & instincts > your spreadsheet.”

We’ll get back to that in a minute.

Second situation. It’s the bottom of the 11th inning, score still tied, one out, and the top of the Blue Jays lineup comes up. The top of the Blue Jays line is pretty darned good. Devon Travis hit .300 this year with some power. Josh Donaldson won the MVP award last year and was almost as good offensively this year. Edwin Encarnacion has hit the second-most home runs in baseball the last three years.

Now, once again, you are in peril of losing. What you would want in this situation is your best available pitcher. That is obviously Zach Britton. He had one of the great relief-pitching seasons ever, whatever type of statistic you want to use — he had an 0.54 ERA, the league slugged .209 against him, he was 47 for 47 in save opportunities, he led the league in Win Probability Added and so on.

Showalter instead put in 32-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez. Until one month ago, Jimenez was pitching so badly that you had to wonder if the Orioles would just release him even though he has another $13-plus million coming to him in his somewhat disastrous contract. In September, though, he pitched better. It was only five starts, but the Orioles won four of them, and as they said on TV, Jimenez had a 2.31 ERA over that time. Like ERA over five starts means anything.

“No one has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo,” Showalter said, not only spouting the nonsense philosophy of small-sample size but also just being ridiculous. Over those five starts, Jimenez’s batting average on balls in play — the famed BABIP — was a ludicrously low .176. The rest of the year, it was .355. Do they really think that he suddenly learned how to get hitters to direct the ball right at fielders? The guy was good in September, but he was also lucky. Either way, he’s not Zach Britton. Inexplicable is a word that comes to mind.

Travis smashed a line-drive single to left, couldn’t have hit it harder.

Donaldson smashed a line-drive single to left, couldn’t have hit it harder.

First and third, one out, season on the line, Showalter decided his best bet was just to let Jimenez pitch to Encarnacion. The 440-foot bombola that Encarnacion smashed was only surprising in that it wasn’t 450 feet.

A little while later, Nitkowski tweeted a photograph of a hand waving a white flag.

But I think C.J.’s original tweet is more to the point. Experience. Instincts. Buck Showalter isn’t the only Major League manager who would have gone to absurd lengths to avoid pitching Zach Britton in a tie game on the road. He’s in the majority.

There’s a notion all around baseball, one that has been hammered home by constant reinforcement for 30-plus years, that it takes a special kind of person to pitch the last inning with a small lead. Pitching in a tie game — any good pitcher can do that. Pitching with a small deficit — any good pitcher can do that. But to close out a lead, yes, that takes someone with unique and ineffable skills.

In managers’ minds, closers are the brain surgeons of baseball. Others can operate on your liver, your prostate, even your heart. But you don’t want any of those doctors messing around with your brain.

So, if the Orioles were ever going to score a run (an unlikely possibility based on the feebleness of the lineup in the late innings) Showalter wanted, NEEDED, his brain surgeon. No one else could bring the team home. It’s not inexplicable. It happens practically every day all around baseball.

Not inexplicable. It is, however, ludicrous and illogical and many of Nitkowski’s spreadsheet friends have been making that case for years. People often argue about the value of a closer. This year, many people think that Zach Britton should win the American League Cy Young Award even though he only pitched 67 innings, even though he mostly pitched in games that the Orioles were all but certain to win anyway.

But Showalter just gave a dramatic demonstration of why Britton ABSOLTUELY SHOULD NOT win the Cy Young Award.

Look: Here’s a very general little chart to pull out whenever a closer comes into a game in the ninth inning. This is the team’s general likelihood of winning a game with a lead going into the last half-inning:

When up 1 run: 79-82%

When up 2 runs: 90-92%

When up 3 runs: 95-97%

Britton saved all 16 of his one-run save opportunities, which is impressive. You would expect an average pitcher to blow three of those, a good pitcher would probably blow one or two. Britton did not allow a single run in one-run save opportunities, which speaks to his awesomeness (and let me state for the record, I do think Zach Britton is awesome … this is about role, not player).

Britton  saved all 16 of his two-run save opportunities, which is a bit less impressive. It’s like a 91% free throw shooter making 16 straight free throws or a 91% kicker from 40-yards-and-in making 16 consecutive kicks of that length. Nice but hardly earth-shaking.

Britton saved all 15 of his three-plus run save opportunities (he had two four-run saves because he came in with men on base). These were a complete waste of his time and talent. You would expect any pitcher to save those. Putting in a pitcher to blow any of those games would have been like finding one of the three percent of climate scientists who do not believe the earth is warming or (if it is warming) that human beings are the main cause.*

*I would not normally use a politically charged topic like global warming as an example, but when you type in 97% into a search engine, you are flooded with the 97% climate scientist consensus. I could have used the three percent of customers who apparently are not satisfied with Geico but that would have been pretty obscure.

All of which to say: Zach Britton had a closer year for the ages … and it really didn’t add up to all that much because of how he was used. Yes, of course, every win counts, and closing out all those one-run leads matters. But the limitations managers put on these great pitchers is absurd. Throwing your best pitcher only when you have a lead is self-defeating; you are probably going to win those games anyway. It’s the tossup games, when you are tied, even when you are down a run, that demand greatness.

All of this has been obvious the spreadsheeters for a long time but the Orioles gave us a vivid display of it on Tuesday. No, the Orioles didn’t lose because of Showalter’s choice to leave Britton in the bullpen. They lost because they didn’t get a hit the last five innings of the game. They lost because Michael Bourn misjudged a catchable fly ball. And so on.

But a manager cannot win or lose a game anyway. What a manager can do is give his team the best chance to win, to extend their chances. When you are tied on the road, and your offense is tanking, your pitchers cannot win the game for you. What they can do is give you more time. Bottom of the ninth, the Orioles desperately needed just to make it to the 10th. Bottom of the 11th, the Orioles desperately needed just to make it to the 12th.

Showalter decided to take his chances based on experience and instincts and the overriding belief that he needed Britton and only Britton in case the team got a lead.

Unfortunately, the lead will not come until next April.

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58 Responses to The value of a closer

  1. Jake says:

    I like how this story is titled “The Value of a Closer” since “The Dumbest Call Ever” was already taken, mere days ago. Should have saved that one!

  2. Darrell Cushion says:

    contrast with how Terry Francona has used Andrew Miller since he arrived in Cleveland…”With Cleveland, Miller has appeared in every inning from the sixth on, picking up nine holds, four wins and three saves, logging eight multi-inning efforts.”

    • Dale says:

      I was going to write basically the same thing. Cody Allen is a typical competent closer, so Francona uses his best reliever, Miller, as a Swiss Army knife.

  3. Mike says:

    Stopped reading after the climate change comment lost all credibility. Gieco would have been better.

    • Scott P. says:

      It wasn’t a ‘comment’, it was a simple fact that it is very hard to find a climate scientist who is not convinced of human-caused global warning.

      • MikeN says:

        No it is not that hard. The 97% is a lie. The paper changed their definitions around to get to a number they had preselected prior to doing the numbers. There have been numerous people who have demonstrated the flaw in the study. Brandon Shollenberger and Richard Tol are two.
        Bart Verheggen did his own less thorough study with better methodology, and he got about 2/3 as the number. He is part of that 2/3 and as such kind of hid this result.

        Basic summary is climate scientists agree it is warming, and that humans cause global warming. They are not in agreement on the amount that humans can cause or whether the current global warming is mostly human caused.

        Basic problem is that physics says doubling CO2 levels causes warming of 1.2C. Scientists are then using models and theory to say that this warming will be amplified with positive feedback, while others argue for negative or no feedback that would produce a smaller number, and would also be what people expect from Nature.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Actually, it was fact that when Joe typed climate change into Google, that’s the figure he got. He wasn’t vouching for the figure itself, just noting it.

    • Marshall says:

      How does Joe’s use of a politically charged fact cause him to “lose credibility” on a post about baseball?

    • invitro says:

      It is true that 97% of climate scientists believe the Earth has warmed. That’s good, because it’s a fact. But it is NOT true that 97% believe humans are the main cause of the warming. It looks like a majority believe humans are a significant cause, but majority != 97%, and significant != main, and these differences matter. Also important: restricting to climate scientists is, well, unscientific; anyone with a peer-reviewed paper on global warming should count, whether they’re a climate scientist, a physicist, a chemical engineer, or anything else.

      Putting political comments in baseball articles is fun! 😉

      • John G says:

        Invitro is dead on. Setting aside whether it’s a good idea to mention global warming in an article about baseball at all*, it’s important that if you *do* mention it, that you don’t misrepresent the facts.

        *Personally, I don’t frequent sports blogs to read political comments that have nothing to do with sports, but that’s just me. I suppose you could argue that the comment is not political, rather that it’s just making a point about numbers. I would disagree, since certain topics (including global warming) are political per se.

        Also, citing climate scientists is an appeal to authority. The implication is that if 97 percent of climate scientists believe that humans are the main cause of global warming (which is not the case–see Invitro’s comment), then basically everyone else should too. I think it’s basically impossible to successfully argue that the comment isn’t politically tinged.

        • MikeN says:

          Easiest way to remove the politics is turn around and mention that all these scientists have a consensus that the proposed policies do not reduce global warming. For example, the Paris Agreement is estimated by their models at a few tenths of a degree.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Almost everything relating to science is an appeal to authority. How do we know that HIV is related to AIDS? Because scientists said so. How do we know that smoking causes cancer? Because “authorities” say so. How do you know that your cholesterol is too high? Because your doctor, the “authority” says so. It’s really a question of which “authorities” you choose to believe because there is really no way of discussing things like this without appealing to authority unless you have actually done your own research on the issue. So using the “appeal to authority” as a way of denigrating an argument is silly. 100% of the criticism about appeals to authority come from people who don’t like what those authorities say.

    • John says:

      Good thing that came near the end!

    • Lee Malone says:

      I’m all for global warming. I envision Chicago turning into a tropical locale and that makes me happy. That’s precisely why I use aerosols all day long, let my car pump out as much carbon monoxide as possible, and bake cookies for everyone at my local coal refinery. =)

  4. Considering the number of times Royals’ fans bang their collective head against the wall for Yost’s decisions, I have to point out that in the Wild Card game of ’14, even Yost used Herrera, Davis, and Holland early and then used the extras from the pen.

  5. Richard says:

    Everyone SHOULD know that CLOSERS ARE OVERRATED. Because the “save” stat is pointless, as anyone who really delves into it will know. I’d rather have a guy who can be ready to pitch in two minutes and then come in with runners on first and third and no one out in a tie game and get a popup, strikeout, and groundout than a guy who can nap in the clubhouse until the sixth inning because he knows he won’t be coming in to the game until the start of the ninth inning, when there’s no one on base.

  6. invitro says:

    “But the limitations managers put on these great pitchers is absurd.” — I’m not sure that Showalter is the one that put the limit on Britton. Maybe Britton did. I’ve read many people who say that many closers demand to be used in save situations and save situations only.

    • PhilM says:

      That may be true for some primo dons, but judging by Britton’s comments to Heidi Watney after the game, he took the high road. “I was ready, sorry I didn’t get a chance to help the team, I’m here to help when they need me, etc.” Given how disappointed he must have been, he was pretty stand-up about it.

    • Dan says:

      Britton says he was ready to go and frustrated that he didn’t get in. But of course he would say that. He’s been used in multi-inning situations seven times this year, so I would guess he’s the type who pitches when asked, not when he wants.

    • Patrick says:

      I suspect that’s more of an issue in the regular season, when you might have language in your contract giving you bonuses for reaching certain levels of saves/games finished—as Britton did in 2015, for example. And I suspect many managers put up with it on May 4th for the sake of clubhouse harmony on May 5th.

      In the postseason—especially a win or go home situation—however, I would imagine pitchers being more open to an all-hands-on-deck policy

      • pjr1427 says:

        Are performance bonuses allowed? I thought they were not, but maybe I haven’t been keeping up.

      • James says:

        Not necessarily bonuses but contracts. The same pitcher who is a closer with 30+ saves will get a much better contract than a reliever with the same stats.

        Plus there is the ego thing.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      It certainly seems, anecdotally, that closers often perform poorly in non-save situations, which seems very unprofessional to me.

  7. RohanV says:

    The problem with the closer stats used is that they involve the closer, not a random pitcher.

    The stat states that in a one-run game, the closer will win 80% of the time. Well, maybe if you took a random pitcher and put them in, the win rate would drop to 60%. That would indicate that the defined closer is actually valuable in the specific role.

    To take another example, maybe it turns out that for every team, the player with the most home runs is the fourth batter. Does that mean that I could take any random player, have them bat fourth, and expect them to hit the most home runs?

    I do agree with Joe’s general point about closers. I just don’t think you can get there from the statistics he cites.

  8. Charlie B says:

    Agree to a point, but the fallacy of the argument is that if Britton was used in the 9th, it might not have changed what happened in the 11th when he was no longer available (or if still being used had tired).

    Hard to argue he should have been used both times, but I would argue Britton shouldn’t have been put out there in the 9th, but in the 11th when the stronger part of the lineup was in (and arguably after the first double, but would agree with either starting the inning or going in after the double).

    • DB says:

      Exactly, Charlie B.
      If Baltimore scores in any of those innings, just knowing Britton is coming in affects both teams exactly how the Orioles want. However if he’s used, even if he holds them for three innings and is taken out in a tie game, the momentum swings hard to Toronto and Baltimore is left feeling like they’re out of bullets.
      Once Toronto gets a man on with less than two outs in any of those innings though, Britton HAS to be used.

    • Hamster Huey says:

      No, no, no. If Britton were used in the 9th and maybe 10th, they’d have had better pitchers than Ubaldo Jimenez available in the 11th, because they wouldn’t have pitched in the 9th and 10th. In a must-win game, a tie from the 9th inning on is the situation with the lowest margin for error – any run allowed guarantees a loss (for the road team; the home team never has a save situation after the 9th so managers are not tempted to use this illogic – call it the home-field advantage for the irrational). A save situation is actually far more forgiving than a tie game in the 9th and beyond – depending on the lead, you can give up one or more runs and still have a chance to win the game. So when would you want your best pitcher on the mound? When a single run ends your season, or when you have a cushion (yes, even one run is a cushion compared with zero)? It’s really no more complicated than that. Pitch your best pitcher when the most is at stake, and if you lose him for later situations, well, at least you used him as much as you could. This is not as hard as people make it because of the Save statistic. Britton should have been in no later than the start of the 9th.

      • Charlie B says:

        No, no no. If he uses Britton in the 9th to get out the very cold Russell Martin then he saves the better pitchers for any other high leverage situations that might come up later (such as runner on 2nd, 0 outs in the 11th :)).

        Probably putting Jimenez in either way, as the offense wasn’t producing and he knows he might need multiple innings from whomever he puts in at the time.

        • Hamster Huey says:

          Yes, yes, yes. Oh wait, no. 🙂 This only works if you know in advance that (a) there will be an 11th inning, and (b) it will contain a higher-leverage situation. (a) is the real doozy there. If you want to roll the dice that you can get through a weaker part of the order, that’s probably fine – depends on how good your other pitchers are, how bad that part of the order is, etc. Sure, Jimenez might have come in during the 12th or 13th, but maybe not. I mean, if you can’t ever score, you can’t ever win, and it doesn’t matter whom you pitch when. But since that’s not ever really true, best not to pitch a bad pitcher until after you’ve pitched your best one.

  9. Rick Rodstrom says:

    What’s the value of a few blown saves? Well, the Orioles were in the post-season partially because Zach Britton never blew a save. Meanwhile, Detroit was eliminated on the final day. Their closer Francisco Rodriguez had 5 blown saves. Seattle was also eliminated on the final weekend. Their closer Steve Cishek blew 7 games before losing his job. I don’t think either team would consider Zach Britton overrated.

    • Brad says:

      Great point. KC missed the playoffs this year with multiple pitchers blowing late inning leads, including Jack Soria who single handedly (with an assist from Ned Yost) set fire to eight (8!) late inning leads. While watching the game, I thought why not throw Brittan for two innings? He could surely handle 30+ pitches.

      • Rick Rodstrom says:

        Particularly when your other option, Jimenez, had a 5.44 ERA.

      • Dave says:

        You have a point Brad, but my thinking is that KC missed the playoffs (as did Detroit) simply because those two teams couldn’t win much against Cleveland.

        KC went 5-14 and Detroit 4-14, making it a combined 9-28. Either team plays .500 ball and they are easily a WC team and competing for the AL Central title that last week where both played them.

        Did Cleveland lead the league in home walk-offs with 11? Yep. But they also had the second best offense in the AL and I believe that happened in all 9 innings, not just the last. If Baltimore could manage something other than 4 hits and one 2-run HR in the first 8 innings, we wouldn’t be talking about closers today.

        Make no mistake, I agree with you (and Joe and everyone else) about the illogical assumption and use of a closer. I’m just pointing out that the *real* reason KC, Detroit, and now Baltimore are involved in the 2016 season goes WAY beyond playing a closer in a tie game on the road in a late inning.

        Go Tribe!

        • invitro says:

          Well… Detroit would’ve been a WC, but not KC, they would’ve tied Seattle at 86-76. If Soria had been perfect, KC would’ve tied BAL & TOR though. Hey I’m rooting for your Injuns too, though I think the Commie Sox will probably crush them. 🙁

    • Patrick says:

      Detroit lost 75 games this year. Why are the games they lost via blown saves any more critical to them missing the playoffs than the dozens they lost for other reasons?

    • Marc Schneider says:

      No one is saying that blowing leads is not important. But the saves rule as currently constructed makes it ridiculously easy to get a save. What’s the big deal about coming in with a 3-run lead and only giving up two runs? And every team-except, I guess, the Orioles-blow some leads. If the closer was only being used to protect one-run leads, that would be one thing. But they aren’t; they get a lot of cheap saves that any competent pitcher should be able to get. So a guy gets, say 50 saves. How many of those saves are difficult saves that requires more than minimal competence?

  10. invitro says:

    Maybe the Orioles should get Bumgarner. He doesn’t need relief pitchers.

  11. pjr1427 says:

    I’m preaching to the choir here. But…

    Imagine if you had the perfect closer. ERA 0.00, someone who could guarantee you just one scoreless inning, every game. When would you take that scoreless inning? Maybe the bottom of the ninth? Maybe keep it for the bottom of the 12th, which might not come?

    Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

    Piling on, if you were keeping Britton for when the lead comes, then it might have been a one run lead, or two, or three, or six… So maybe you wouldn’t have needed your best pitcher then.

  12. Richard says:

    And Terry Collins sticks with his “Closer”….. who gives up a three-run home run that sends the Mets home for the winter.

    Compare and contrast……

    • Brad says:

      Familia had this too cocky air about him the entire 2015 season, then Alex Gordon blew him up with a crushing home run. I think he’s a big game head case now. Need a save in April or June? He can handle that. October? Not so much.

      • invitro says:

        Dear Lord, you are a moron. He had five saves in the 2015 postseason. He had a save in his only October regular season appearance in 2016. He had one in two October regular season appearances in 2015, giving up no runs. He didn’t pitch in October in 2014 or 2013, and in 2012 he pitched four scoreless innings. But no, he’s incapable of getting a save in October.

        • Patrick says:

          Players have a funny way of fluctuating in value in the postseason because of small sample sizes. In 1995, John Wetteland was so in Buck Showalter’s doghouse that he was stapled to the bench during a save situation in Game 5. In 1996, he was the World Series MVP.

          Scott Brosius hit .382 in his 47 playoff at-bats in 1998, earning a World Series MVP. He hit .201 from 1999-2001. It’s silly to draw too much from these samples

  13. Julkid says:

    “The 440-feet bombola that Encarnación smashed was only surprising in that it wasn’t 450-feet.”
    Man, that is a great line. And so true.

  14. John Leavy says:

    I recall “The Sure Thing,” an old comedy starring the young John Cusack. He and a girl are walking across the country in a downpout, with no food, no money, and no supplies. Suddenly, Cusack sees that the girl has a credit card. She says sheepishly that she’d been saving at for an emergency.

    With a deadpan expression, Cusack asks helpfully, “You think one will come up?”

    In this case, it appears Buck Showalter was saving his best pitcher for a hypothetical emergency, when he NEEDED the guy for a real, immediate emergency.

  15. John Autin says:

    On a tangent, I’ve heard people say that Showalter’s choice to hold back his closer in road extra innings wasn’t really against the grain of the modern game. But that’s not true at all.

    Of the last 21 postseason walk-off losses in extra innings (back through 2004), this was just the second in which the closer wasn’t used. And the other one had at least some justification: 2014 NLCS Game 3, lefty specialist Randy Choate (extremely effective that year) started an inning with 2 LHBs due up, sandwiching a weak-hitting righty.

    I don’t think any other manager would have gone with (or stayed with) Ubaldo in that 11th inning.

  16. NevadaMark says:

    Has there ever been a playoff or WS game where a manager used SEVEN pitchers in a low scoring tied game? Would it be polite to point out that it seemed a bit of overmanaging?

    • invitro says:

      It depends on your definition of low scoring, and whatever you mean by “tied game.” I’d think it happens all the time, at least a few times every postseason. I don’t have the data to search, but I decided to look at a few games, anyway. In the very first game I looked at, last season’s World Series game 1, KC used seven pitchers in a 5-4, 14-inning game. And the Mets used seven in game 4, a 3-5 loss for them. So you had probably better check some stats before calling it overmanaging.

  17. invitro says:

    I forgot to say: awesome article, I always love these detailed strategy analyses by Joe… nobody does them better.

  18. KHAZAD says:

    Showalter manages every game as if there were still half a season to play. That seemed to be his reasoning, and that is why the Orioles will go home with ammunition that they did not use.

    Despite the ground ball stats Joe used, I can almost see him saving Britton in the ninth, because O’day has been very reliable. I still would have used Britton, but I can see it.

    But once you got by the ninth, I can’t see not using him in the 11th when your alternative is Jimenez (and I can’t even see why Jimenez would be preferable over Bundy or Hunter even if Britton had been used.) The primary thing in the 11th is to keep the game going. You have used almost all your real relievers (partially because you have done the LOOGY thing twice. Damn, Buck loves a LOOGY) except the best one. You put Britton in there to get the last two outs and pitch the 12th, hopefully giving your team two more chances to score. If you lose, you lost with your best guy.If not you go to one of the swingmen types in the 13th, and you have Hunter as a bridge to enter in the middle if one starts to screw up. You don’t know how long the game is going to go on, but if you lose there is no tomorrow. Buck wanted to treat it like any other game and save his “closer” for a save situation that had very little chance of arriving. Britton will be well rested next year in the opener (or whenever there is a 1-3 lead win in the ninth, since Buck won’t use him otherwise.

  19. Brian says:

    Based on the probabilities in the article, it looks like Britton’s performance was worth 5.12 wins over what we would expect a team to have. Britton was actually worth more, because some of those appearances came in the eighth inning and because he also pitched well in other games that weren’t save opportunities. But I think even five extra wins do put Britton into the Cy Young discussion. That’s taking an also-ran team and putting it into the wild card game, which is real value.

  20. Marc Schneider says:

    I just don’t understand why managers think that the closer is the only pitcher who can possibly get three outs with a lead. Yes, it would best to have your best pitcher to save the game, but if you lose before then, what difference does it make? But there seems to be this idea that holding a lead is a sacred trust that only a few good men (or usually one) can handle and that anyone else given a lead in the last inning will immediately spontaneously combust. I can accept that pitchers might be more comfortable in familiar roles, but even holding a one-run lead shouldn’t be beyond the range of possibility for even a minimally competent pitcher, at least on occasion. At any rate, I don’t see why it’s any worse to lose after having a lead than to lose earlier after not using your best pitcher.

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