The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The (Probably) Lucky Genius of Lou Piniella

Do you know what drives those of the SABRmetric ilk bonkers? Closers. We hate closers. The notion of a baseball closer is so stupid that it's hard to believe that we have to explain this to people, and that they still don't believe us. Closers suck because:

1. They limit the innings of your best relief pitcher.

Usually your closer is your best pitcher, which means that your best pitcher will only get to pitch for a maximum of one inning per game, only in games where you enjoy a lead, but not to big of a lead. Only LOOGYs are more limited. So, where Francisco Cordero is only allowed to pitch in these situations, shitty pitchers like Chris Spurling are free to pitch in any situation. Consequently, shitty pitchers get to pitch more than your best pitcher. It's like if the Yankees restricted A-Rod to hitting in the 9th inning of close games. That would be insane. Just like the closer.

2. They keep your best relief pitcher from pitching in tough situations.

You should use your closer to put out fires. If you have a small lead, and your starter is getting tired and a bunch of guys are on base with no outs, you should call upon your best reliever to escape this situation. Instead, most teams save their closers for the 9th inning, just in case the shitty pitcher that goes in now maintains the lead so that he can get a save later. This is stupid, like if you have David Ortiz on your bench, and it's the World Series, and Tim Wakefield is due up next in the 6th, and he's been struggling on the mound, and they're down by two but have two guys on, and instead of pinch-hitting Ortiz they stick Royce Clayton out there, because they want to save Ortiz in case they need to pinch hit in the ninth. That's really stupid.

3. Saves are expensive.

Aside from being a stupid stat for losers, "saves" go a long way towards determining what your closer makes. If he has over 40, he's going to cost you. This is stupid for several reasons. First, a save is easy to get. You just have to not give up 3 runs before you give up 3 outs most of the time. That's easy. Second, most relief pitchers see their numbers vary a ton from year to year. Yeah you get your Riveras here and there, but most of these guys flame out pretty quick. Sometimes they rebound, sometimes they don't. Francisco Cordero used to suck. Now he's good. Eric Gagne used to rule. Now he sucks. Giving a relief pitcher a big contract is really stupid. Doing so based on saves is monumentally idiotic. Billy Beane used to rip people off like this all the time (Billy Koch).

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella has, I believe accidentally, managed his bullpen in an almost ideal fashion this year. The Cubs' best pitcher, and indeed, perhaps the National League's best relief pitcher, is Carlos Marmol.

Carlos Marmol has an ERA+ of 320 and a WHIP of 1.096. For those of you not acquainted with these stats, it means that he's fucking awesome. For instance, Mariano Rivera's career high ERA+ is 323. On the other hand, the Cubs' closer has an ERA+ of 97 and a WHIP of 1.335, not terrible, but slightly below average.

Carlos Marmol has been the Cubs fireman since May 19th. He comes in when the Cubs are in danger of blowing the lead. Most of the time, he succeeds. He throws hard, with movement, for strikes, and despite the fact that he missed more than a month and a half of the season, he appeared in almost as many games a Dempster and pitched in MORE INNINGS than Dempster. (Note: Dempster did spend some time on the DL too, but the point still holds.)

This is exactly how you should use you best reliever, and it's a big reason why the Cubs managed to catch and surpass the Brewers in the NL Central. While the Cbs were having Carlos Marmol put out their fires the Brewers relied on Chris Spurling, Greg Aquino, Scott Linebrink, and a bonkers Matt Wise.

So when the Cubs faced a situation in which they were likely to give up runs (men on base, less than two outs), they called on Marmol. Is it any wonder that the Brewers blew more leads down the stretch? The Cubs blew a ton of leads early in the season, until Marmol was called up and became the fireman. When he started pitching on a regular basis, they stopped blowing leads.

I don't think that Lou Piniella meant to do this, which makes it infuriating for Brewers fans. Dempster was the incumbent closer and most managers won't strip them of their titles unless they suck for an extended period of time. (It's the reason that Joel Zumaya never beat out Todd Jones for the job. Dempster never really pitched bad enough to lose the job, which is the best thing that ever happened to the Cubs.

Not a day goes by on Chicago sports talk radio without some goober complaining that Marmol isn't the closer, and as Brewer fan, I heartily agree. In the meantime, everyone should emulate this model. It's the only correct way to run a bullpen.

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