Last night, the Braves dropped an 11-inning decision to the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Closer Craig Kimbrel, freshly in the game to protect a 4-3 lead, gave up four straight singles, including a deflected grounder, to cough up the lead. Ironically, Kimbrel was in the game in the 11th because with a 3-2 lead going to the bottom of the seventh inning, manager Fredi Gonzalez had opted to eschew his normal set-up team in favor of old Joe Torre whipping boy Scott Proctor, who gave up the tying run on a walk, bunt, and two-base wild pitch.
From David O’Brien’s story:
Asked why reliever Eric O’Flaherty didn’t start the seventh, Gonzalez said, “When you’re on the road, you’ve got to push guys back a little bit, because you can’t use your closer on the road in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame.”
In saying “you can’t,” Gonzalez is obviously referring to the Old Testament, where it says in Numbers 32:23 that—wait a second, hang on—I just re-read the entire Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, the assembled wisdom of the ancient Greeks, and the collected sayings of Confucius. This is really strange, but… I can’t find where it says that you can’t use your closer in a tie game on the road! If you hang on a sec, I’ll just page through some books on John McGraw, Connie Mack, Casey Stengel, Earl Weaver… Funny, it’s not here either. Did I miss a class?
I’m not a general manager and will never be one, and there are good reasons for that, in part that I would probably fire a manager for making a statement like that, because he had just revealed himself to be a spectacularly limited thinker. Only someone missing half a lobe of their brain would fail to understand this very basic idea: saving your closer to protect a lead that might never come is like not taking a life-saving medicine because some day you might be sicker—if you don’t die.
I can give you one great manager on this subject. Leo Durocher said, “Never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain.” We can paraphrase this to “Never save a pitcher for later—later the game might already be over.” In a tie on the road, the visiting team should have one goal and one goal only when on defense from the bottom of the ninth onward: keep the game alive so you get to bat again. If the home team scores, the game is over and you don’t get to try to win it. Saving your best relievers for some hypothetical save situation that you might never get to is idiotic.
Look, I’m not big on using negative, condemnatory words like “stupid” here at Baseball Prospectus or anywhere else. I give the nation’s baseball men a great deal of credit and in any case, I want to run a high-tone operation. Yet, it’s hard to think of an occasion that demands such language more than the manager of a major-league contending team with the illustrious recent history of the Braves repeating this kind of illogical nonsense.
Mr. Gonzalez: if you had just gone with your normal order of operations in a game in which you had the lead you might never have had to worry about using your closer in extra innings. Further—and this is just for future reference—if you should end up in a tie game on the road, go with your best option and deal with protecting a lead when you come to it. You never know—if the game goes on long enough, you might finally take the lead, and not a one-run lead, but a ten-run lead. Then it won’t matter if the bloody bat boy pitches the bottom of whatever-inning-it-is. Thing is, if you keep Scott Proctorizing yourself, you’re never going to get the opportunity to find out—and someday you will be remembered as the disappointing successor to a Hall of Fame manager, a footnote.
(H/T to J.C. Bradbury.)
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