There was a big situation in tonight’s game that pretty much summed up all of my feelings about what is wrong with the closer’s role. The Pirates had a comfortable 8-4 lead in the seventh inning. Then Jared Hughes and Tony Watson combined to give up three runs while recording zero outs, making the score 8-7.

Watson was pulled and Brad Lincoln was brought in with two runners on. Lincoln responded with two key strikeouts and a fly out to escape the jam and preserve the lead. The Pirates scored three runs in the top half of the eighth, adding some insurance and gaining back their four run lead.

Jason Grilli preserved the four run lead in the eighth. The Pirates carried that four run lead in to the ninth inning, where Joel Hanrahan came on in a non-save situation. Hanrahan pitched a scoreless inning, allowing just one walk, and the Pirates took the game 11-7.

To recap, the Pirates used their best reliever to get through an inning where they had a four run lead. They also used their second best reliever an inning earlier to preserve another four run lead. But with the bullpen falling apart, the other team gaining momentum, and the tying and go ahead runs on base with no outs, the Pirates opted to leave their best guys in the bullpen, all because you can’t use your best guys prior to the 8th and 9th innings, even if your lead might not make it to those innings.

Lincoln has been outstanding in the bullpen this year, and tonight was just another key example. He’s looking like a closer candidate in the future. Unfortunately, that means he’ll be limited to ninth inning duties, and the Pirates will have to find someone as good as Lincoln to handle all of those key situations that a closer can’t participate in, all because they come before the ninth inning.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Phillies 11-7. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at the three key homers, plus the key relief appearance by Brad Lincoln.

**Prospect Watch: Home Runs Hurt Taillon; Hanson Leaves Game.

**Live game reports: Indianapolis, West Virginia, State College.

**Pirates Claim Oscar Tejeda, DFA Doug Slaten.

**Shairon Martis was traded to the Twins.

**Gerrit Cole Shows No Signs of Concussion.

**Clint Hurdle feels the mentality is different this year.

**Surveying the National League: Part 2 of 2.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. I remember clearly Face and Tekulve coming into a game in the 7th and finishing the game.

    Another problem with pitching today is the starters are geared to only go 6. Remember what AJ said about JMac….that he was happy having gone 6. AJ had to encourage him to go more innings.

    • A lot of years, Teke’s role wasn’t all that defined. Not only did he frequently pitch more than an inning, but Enrique Romo and Grant Jackson often got save ops. Jackson had 28 saves during a 3-year period when Teke was ostensibly the closer, with a high of 14 in 1979.

    • The limiting factor here is human psychology. There is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that bullpens function better with defined roles. The Red Sox tried to challenge this about 7 or 8 years ago and suffered disastrous results. It just works better when each guy has a defined job to do. On paper it makes sense to use guys as the situation dictates, but in practice it doesn’t work. There’s a reason that even the most forward thinking teams like the Rays still use a structured format. They figured out that just about any guy can close, but they still designate roles.

      • Exactly. Defined roles help you survive a 162 game season. Not only does it help the players with their mindset it also helps prevent burning individual bullpen arms up. Without defined roles it makes collectively managing the pen more difficult. For a long season collectively managing the pen is a greater priority than managing individual instances. In the playoffs any manager worth his salt will alter this strategy and shorten his pen.

      • Right now they have defined roles. All I’m saying is that instead of using Lincoln in that situation, the Pirates use Hanrahan. And that’s not just last night. That’s all the time. Whatever Lincoln’s defined role is, give that to Hanrahan. Then give someone else the defined role of pitching in the ninth inning. Nothing changes here, except your best reliever isn’t limited to the 9th inning, and can be used in a more important situation.

        • Gotcha, I’m all for not having your best reliever being limited to the closer. In an ideal world your best RH and best LH would be the setup guys to work the 7th and 8th as needed. Then you would have your 3rd best guy work the 9th with a clean slate (no one base).

    • If we’re talking psychology, this is a good starting point. There’s all sorts of data that shows that people simply don’t like making decisions. It’s easier for a manager to go on autopilot and reflexively put reliever A in for the 8th inning and reliever B for the 9th. No decisions to make that way.

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