Responding to Evan Grant on closer usage

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Evan Grant says you shouldn't use your closer in a tie game on the road. I disagree.

So, in the midst of today's game between the Blue Jays and the Rangers, around the time Ross Wolf was brought into the game in extra innings while Joe Nathan stayed in the bullpen, there was much discussion on Twitter about whether Nathan should be in the game.

After tweeting that the Rangers shouldn't use Nathan in a tie game, Evan Grant expanded on his thoughts with this:

Why you don't use a closer without a lead

A closer's job is to protect leads. If you take him out of that role, there is still no guarantee he is going to get you a clean inning and no guarantee your club is going to score the next inning. And if it does, then a manager is forced to use his long-reliever or mop-up man to get the hardest three outs of a game. Better to not take multiple guys out of multiple roles. If the Rangers pitched Nathan in a tie game, then went ahead in the next inning and the Ross Wolf or Michael Kirkman blew a lead, then the same group carping about "Use Nathan," would likely be screaming about "how could you burn your closer and then have nobody to protect a lead." This is baseball conventional wisdom and it is how every club deploys closers. And you would think with the input of statistical analysis these days, that if there was a distinct advantage to be gained by using a closer in a tie game on the road, plenty of teams would be taking that step. It's easy for you to say: Nathan is best pitcher, he should be in there. If you were managing a club, you'd not want to have to explain to your team, your media and your fans how you lost a game by attempting to let your worst reliever protect a one-run lead in extra innings.

I think Evan summarizes the conventional wisdom of why closers aren't used in this situation, the way the majority of managers think (and the majority of media members). However, I also think this is quite wrong.

Let me explain...

A closer's job is to protect leads.

No, a closer's role is to not give up runs, regardless of the situation. The manager may choose to define the closer's role in such a way that he is only put in the game to protect leads, but that's not what the closer's job is.

If you take him out of that role, there is still no guarantee he is going to get you a clean inning and no guarantee your club is going to score the next inning.

Of course not. No one said there was.

And if it does, then a manager is forced to use his long-reliever or mop-up man to get the hardest three outs of a game.

Here's the fundamental assumption that this entire argument is based on. Managers and members of the media would have you believe it is harder for Ross Wolf (to use an example from today's game) to get three outs in the bottom of the, say, 13th inning, with a lead, than it is to get three outs in a tie game in the 13th. They'd have you believe that it is less stressful to pitch knowing that one mistake means the game is over and you lose than to pitch with a lead, be it a one run lead, a two run lead, or more. I cannot believe that's the case. And for what it is worth, neither, apparently, does Brandon McCarthy:

If the Rangers pitched Nathan in a tie game, then went ahead in the next inning and the Ross Wolf or Michael Kirkman blew a lead, then the same group carping about "Use Nathan," would likely be screaming about "how could you burn your closer and then have nobody to protect a lead."

Since I'm one of those who thinks that Nathan should be used in a tie game, Grant is apparently saying I would be one of those complaining about burning the closer without a lead. Rest assured, I wouldn't be.

This is baseball conventional wisdom and it is how every club deploys closers.

The fact that it is conventional wisdom and every team does it doesn't make it right.

And you would think with the input of statistical analysis these days, that if there was a distinct advantage to be gained by using a closer in a tie game on the road, plenty of teams would be taking that step.

Some teams have started doing that. But along those same lines, we know that statistical analysis shows that bunting is, generally speaking, a bad idea, and yet teams continue to bunt in situations where they shouldn't.

It's easy for you to say: Nathan is best pitcher, he should be in there. If you were managing a club, you'd not want to have to explain to your team, your media and your fans how you lost a game by attempting to let your worst reliever protect a one-run lead in extra innings.

The first one of these things -- explaining to your players -- is a valid concern, although I think a manager with good communication and leadership skills would be able to do so, since it is the right move.

As for the last two, though...a manager who makes the wrong move because he's scared of the reaction the fans and media would have to the right move shouldn't have a job. And it is a bit ironic for a member of the media to seemingly be blaming the media for the manager not making the right move.

At the very least, it seems like you should consider who is coming up when making this decision. Wash, today, brought Ross Wolf into the game to immediately face Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays' two best hitters. Rather than put Wolf into that situation, why not use Nathan to face the heart of the order, get as many outs out of him as you can, and then turn to Wolf?

And who knows, if your offense puts up multiple runs on the board in the top of the next inning, it might not be a save situation anyway when the bottom of the inning comes back around.

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