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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Use Of Closers Amid The Fuentes Firestorm

I wish I could remember who first pointed this out, but Brian Fuentes' second-half splits are just godawful, with a 4.3 K/9 and a 0.75 K/BB ratio since the break. Historically he's been pretty even in both parts of the season, so it seems to raise the question of whether he's hiding an injury. One thing's for sure: you can't win a whole lot of ballgames that way.

Of course, it doesn't help if you have umpires screwing up the ball-strike calls, something Wednesday's home plate umpire Rick Reed came close to doing:

"I saw the strike zone," Reed said of the pitch to Green, referring to the telestrator box used on television replays. "That said it was a strike -- it was a pitch I thought was borderline. The catcher did a nice job of bringing it up, and that was a telling blow. If a catcher moves his glove, it's to improve the pitch.

"I called a [strike] earlier in the game that I thought was low, and I said, 'I'm not going to let that happen again.' I wish they were all waist-high. They'd be a lot easier to judge."

So he gives up a random make-up call in a close game situation. Call that unsatisfying.

Joe Sheehan recently penned a piece on the Angels' closing situation and how Fuentes has disrupted a team that should be on "cruise control". His response is that we should go back to the 1970's usage patterns, the pre-Dennis Eckersley bullpen-by-whoever's-throwing-best approach.

Now, the most consistent objection I've heard to this idea is that the pitchers themselves won't stand for it, that they "have to know their roles." My standard counterargument is to spend a day at Retrosheet (God bless Retrosheet!) looking at boxscores from games in the 1970s up to about 1984. Look at the usage patterns for relief pitchers. There were no "roles" beyond "pitch when the manager calls upon you." I'm not advocating the more extreme examples you'll find in those years, guys coming in in the fifth and throwing four innings. The point is that this idea of "roles" isn't even 30 years old, it's been bred into the species by the industry, and it can just as easily be bred out. Pitchers won't be happy about it? Adapt or die, and for that matter, how many relievers' opinions are worth caring about? Seriously, how many closers are there who you might argue are so good and so established that rebuilding a bullpen with them would be an issue? Can you find a dozen? A half-dozen? I see Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Rodriguez. Guys like Jose Valverde, Heath Bell, and Bobby Jenks are good pitchers, but they're not immovable objects.
Dave Cameron earlier made the point that even if you still liked the chance for a Fuentes recovery, his historic tendency to get outs on fly balls didn't leave him with a lot of options should he suddenly stop striking out batters. Cameron suggested that the Angels might be better served with Kevin Jepsen, who gets ground balls to his infielders with some regularity (1.39 G/F ratio this year) coming out of the pen in the ninth; certainly, Jepsen's second-half rate stats are encouraging, with a 9.1 K/9 and a 5.33 K/BB ratio. The bad news, however, is that he's simply horrible against lefties, allowing a .351/.406/.423 line against. There really are no good choices here; but it seems like allowing Fuentes to continue blowing games, last night's success notwithstanding, is no longer acceptable.


In other words, Reed calls balls and strikes based not on what he sees the ball do, but rather on how the catcher reacts. He basically just admitted that he doesn't know what he's doing.

And to follow up on the last post, my case for Santana as post-season closer is on my site.
Put Reed's word and Sam Miller's review together, it means Reed at least make 5 bad call to the Angels during the game and then try to say he try to make right call and that call is at the bottom of the night to the Redsox?

I swear I saw Lasorda do this is in a game in the mid-80s - he brought in a lefty reliever to face one batter but moved the RHP to the outfield spot that the batter was least likely to hit the ball to. Then after getting the out, the LHP went to an outfield spot that the next batter was the least likely to hit it to. If you are going to tinker with an orthodoxy...
Mat -- this is a fairly famous game, and I believe Fernando Valenzuela was the reliever. I can't find it off the top of my head (I was thinking of this crazy game on August 17, 1982 against the Cubs) in which Valenzuela played the outfield but did not pitch.
Nope ... on second thought you're thinking of this October 1, 1991 game in which Roger McDowell entered the game as a reliever in the eighth, moved to left so John Candelaria could face Fred McGriff, and then retired the remaining two batters in order to close out the game. And McDowell got a save!
Whitey Herzog did it a bunch in the mid to late 80s (i'm gonna say 1986-87?) with Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley.

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