A Blue Chip Panel

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training, Uncategorized

Unlike the European model of socialism where everyone has a voice and there’s no definitive leader or coherent plan, the bullpen-by-committee concept is often misunderstood, misused and denigrated as if the idea would not work.

Based on failures of clubs that have “tried” it, it’s an easy and mistimed leap from it “failing” to it being scrapped entirely as a logistical and practical nightmare.

Much has been made of Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez‘s announcement that he intends to use both Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to close games.

The far-flung and brainless response of “it won’t work” is emitted to discredit those pushing back against the conventional and misunderstood baseball orthodoxy. According to them, there “must” be a designated closer and he “must” be only one pitcher who gets the ball in the ninth inning regardless of opposing batters; situation; circumstances and reality.

It doesn’t even qualify as outside-the-box, forward or backward thinking. It just is.

Statistics such as “high leverage” and using the best pitcher for the given situation can be referenced, but how about common sense?

The simple fact is that the Braves don’t know how either pitcher is going to react to being the designated closer; neither is in a position to make and demands on the club for a defined role; and they have the opportunity and ability to do the job and let the manager run his team as he should rather than safely for the sake of having an excuse for not thinking.

That, in essence, is what the designated and unimpeachable “closer” does for the manager. It makes his life easier by removing a strategic maneuver from his hands.

The implied glory of the “save” stat and the misapplied blame heaped on Tony La Russa for altering the way relievers are used has sired the one reliever set-up. Clubs like the 2003 Red Sox have rebelled against it, but they haven’t done it properly.

A forthcoming post will discuss the past “bullpen-by-committee” failures and successes and what has to be done to implement it.

This decision by Gonzalez is the smart one. Kimbrel has control issues and Venters was a starter in the minors up until he got to the big leagues last year; both are perfectly capable of getting righty and lefty hitters out; it doesn’t need to be a strict platoon of one faces righties, the other faces lefties. Depending on the opponent, the score and many other factors, it would behoove them to refrain from naming one or the other as the “save” guy.

This is a no-brainer and the antithesis of a “bullpen-by-committee” in which every member of the bullpen can be used anytime.

There’s no blue ribbon panel; there’s a pair of blue chip prospects with lights out stuff.

What will be most interesting is if both pitchers are performing well in the role and Billy Wagner decides to make a mid-season return (as I expect him to do). Will the Braves shun the combination of Kimbrel and Venters and hand the designated closer job back to Wagner? And would Wagner acquiesce to not being the automatic ninth inning man if he truly wants to pitch and have a chance at a championship?

Egos are currently not involved here (at least to the point where you have to consider them) because you still have two young pitchers who could very easily be demoted from the late-inning role or out of the big leagues entirely; such is not the case with Wagner.

A Wagner comeback would be a true test of the resolve to run a game intelligently on the part of manager Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren.

With the current roster and the personnel, this is the correct call on every level.

Let’s see if they stick to it if either Venters or Kimbrel struggle or if Wagner comes back.

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.