Tim Marchman writes about one of this season's most interesting developments:
- More important for the game on the field this season, though, is something else that hasn't happened: Two contending teams are closing games by committee, and no one has cried heresy.
The first is the Atlanta Braves. They don't have a winning record, but sit four games out in the National League East and could make rapid gains by fielding live players in the outfield. Manager Bobby Cox is using left-hander Mike Gonzalez and right-hander Rafael Soriano essentially interchangeably -- Gonzalez has 13 save chances, Soriano 11 -- and getting fine results.
The second is the Tampa Bay Rays, who, even if they're in third place in their division, may be the best team in the majors. (They've outscored opponents by the second-highest margin in baseball and play much stronger competition than the Los Angeles Dodgers, who rank first.) Ten different Rays pitchers, from famous veteran Jason Isringhausen to Dale Thayer, whose greatest virtue may be his fabulous moustache, have had a save chance this year. Six have had at least two.
I've been meaning to write about this for a while -- Jonah Keri tipped me off -- but then again I've been meaning to do a lot of more important things for a lot longer.
As Marchman mentions later in the piece, the Red Sox were roundly ridiculed when their committee failed in 2003. Broadcasters still bring it up, when they feel a need to beat us over the head with the all-consuming importance of an established closer. But the Red Sox' problem wasn't the system; it was the pitchers. Once you got past their three best relievers -- who got the lion's share of the saves -- there just weren't enough good pitchers to make the system work. Not that season, anyway.
But while the Red Sox may have given "closer-by-committee" a bad name in the media, there was never much doubt that it could work in the modern game, given the right pitchers and the right manager. If you've got Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon, go ahead and use him as your one-inning closer. Sure, that's not optimal, either. But it works well enough and sure does make the manager's job easier. There aren't enough Riveras and Papelbons to go around, though. If you don't have one, you're better off mixing and matching depending on your pitchers' abilities and the situation at hand.