Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The committee approach: Pros and cons

Having now had almost 24 hours to digest the unappetizing news that Joe Nathan's elbow is shredded, I'm increasingly inclined to argue for bullpen-by-committee. Not that it's going to happen.

Everybody in the crew that had had been slated to set up Nathan does something well. Nobody is overpowering.

Jose Mijares struggled against right-handers last season (.283 BA allowed) and wiped up lefties (.155). Things started to slip away from him late in the season, especially after the Delmon Young incident. Between the platoon split and the continuing questions about his composure — and the fact that he's currently the only southpaw in the bullpen mix — he's not going to get the ninth inning job. He's best leveraged for the key at-bats involving opposing left-handed bats — Grady Sizemore, Johnny Damon and the like.

Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch aren't similar physically, but they are as pitchers — 31-year-old right-handers with mediocre fastballs and career ERAs in the mid 3s in a bit more than 400 innings. Both have been typecast as middle relievers. Newcomer Clay Condrey is basically Guerrier and Rauch reprised, only older and less experienced (which suggests less talented).

It's possible that, put into the enter-with-nobody-on role that is typical of today's closers, that either Guerrier or Rauch would thrive, as Ryan Franklin and Eddie Guardado did. It's more likely that either would be a subpar closer.

Jesse Crain has "closer stuff" — meaning a mid-90s fastball — but his pattern of inconsistency probably rules him out. He hasn't had an ERA below 3 since 2005.

Pat Neshek's bizarre delivery makes him a strong counterpoint to Mijares as a righty specialist. He's been vulnerable to the long ball against lefties, and, of course, he's coming off his own elbow problems.

If these were Strat-O-Matic cards, I'd play mix-and-match. That was once commonplace, but it's out of favor now.


  • Workload. Relievers in the mix-and-match era frequently worked 100-inning seasons, and burned out fast. They also warmed up without entering the game more frequently.
  • Simplicity. With a rigid ninth-inning guy, the strategy is worked out in advance, and managers can focus their mix-and-match needs in the seventh and eighth innings.
  • Convention. The players don't question the ninth-inning specialist approach, and no matter what the manager does, the players have to buy into it for it to work. Also, the press buys into the closer myth. If the closer fails, he fails. A bullpen-by-committee is an invitation to second-guessing and criticism. If it fails, the manager blew it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Gardy should but he won't be able to perform such out-of-the-box thinking. He's far too conventional in his approach to decisions: banjo-hitting infielders in the two spot, use of sacrifice bunts, etc. I personally expect that later in the season we'll look back and hardly miss Nathan--not because he isn't a good closer but because closers are vastly overrated.