Kenneth Matinale June 9, 2006; posted Wednesday, February 20, 2008
- Start the closer.
- The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
- Four leagues, no divisions.
- Walks: a terrible rule.
- Designated Fielders and the Six-Player Batting Order.
- Clock, time-outs, … you know, like the other sports.
1. Start the closer.
Last night the Yanks were leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the sixth, bases loaded, no outs. Starter Jaret Wright was done. With the game on the line manager Joe Torre called for not his best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera, but his third best (at best) Scott Proctor. Proctor did an OK job allowing two of Wright’s runs to score. Unfortunately, in the next inning Proctor allowed three of his own.
Torre should have brought in Mariano Rivera, his best. Since Tony LaRussa created this nonsense called the closer with his use of Dennis Eckersley in the late 1980s, managers have adhered to this formula like their jobs depended on it. Part of the orthodoxy is: who will pitch the ninth inning? The closer is used almost exclusively to pitch one and only one inning, which he starts, and only with a lead. Save the game in the sixth and take your chances in the ninth. Is Scott Proctor more likely to allow runs entering a game with bases loaded and no out or when starting an inning?
This brings up another piece of nonsense. The closer is the only pitcher who probably will not need to pitch with runners on base. Why doesn’t he wind up? The starter is the only pitcher who winds up, yet he is the most likely to pitch with runners on base because he pitches the most innings. About 25 years ago people realized that relief pitchers often pitched with runners on base, so relievers abandoned the wind up. But the closer could and probably should wind up. How come nobody has realized that? It’s pretty simple.
In another recent game Torre announced before the game that he would pitch Rivera no matter what because Rivera needed work. Aside from the silliness that a pitcher needs to play catch in a game rather than just do it on the sideline (hey, it’s nothing like a batter needing to face game pitching), why wait until Rivera’s usual time in the ninth? Start him! Here are three advantages:
- Rivera pitches to the top of the order. The batters in the ninth are random. Rivera is as likely to face the bottom of the order as the top. Pitch Scott Proctor against the bottom.
- In the first inning the game is almost always close. Always at home. On the road it might not be close if the closer’s team scores a bunch in the top of the first inning.
- Rivera can pitch more than one inning. If Rivera retires the side in the first inning on six pitches, he did not get the work that Torre wanted. However, Rivera can pitch at least one more inning. If Torre waits until the ninth inning, Rivera may throw those six pitches, get little work and Torre may have already used Scott Proctor for an inning or two when he may have avoided using Proctor at all. Let pitch count dictate how long Rivera works, not the arbitrary wall of the ninth inning. You know, like they do for starters.
Rivera pitches in about 70 games and throws about 80 innings in a season. Why not start him every other game? He would get regular rest and the three advantages listed above would apply in every appearance. I’ll bet that Rivera’s contribution to the Yanks winning would be at least as great as it is with Torre blindly following the formula. OK, now it’s time for you to run around and scream: he blasphemes!_________________________
Along the way I further suggested that the "starter" be scheduled to enter in the fourth inning and set to pitch through the 9th, thus finishing or closing the game with little or no relief help. The extended idea was that three "relief" pitchers would pitch the first three innings and might alternate lefty/righty.
Now let's put this on steroids, so to speak. DEFINITELY, alternate lefty/righty and do so to reflect the handedness of the "starter" as much as possible.
This would paralyse the other team, whose manager would be unlikely to react. If the "starter" is a lefty, the other manager will be inclined to start righty batters and/or adjust his batting order to "protect" his vulnerable lefty batters. So, then the pitchers scheduled to pitch the first and third innings would be righties. If the opposing manager tries to compensate by mixing his lineup, have the second inning pitcher be a righty.
If the opposing manager replaces players in the 4th inning when the "starter" enters, his meager bench will be depleted early.
It's an aggressive common sense strategy that allows a team to take the initiative, something seldom done in baseball, which is limited by its refusal to allow re-entry, which football and basketball do. Yes, re-entry can be done in baseball, just do it within the construct of the batting order: players are locked into a batting order position.