Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt tweeted today that the Brewers have yet to choose between lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress for the team’s closing job. This was once a completely commonplace idea that divided fans simply because they disagreed about who should come out on top.
Recently, however, there has been increased sentiment among fans and writers that Major League teams should not choose just one closer, because it might handcuff the team’s bullpen. The premise is that having two or three pitchers who all close games occasionally can help avoid using a fatigued pitcher, and help gain situational and platoon advantages.
I can’t disagree there. And the Brewers having a lefty and a righty at the back end of the bullpen offers an excellent opportunity to embrace the “closer by committee.” If the eighth inning is going to feature more players that struggle against lefties, then Smith can take the eighth and Jeffress can close, and vice versa. It’s the same principle as platooning, just for pitchers.
Over the last three seasons, Smith has held his fellow lefties to an OPS of .636, while righties have a .607 OPS against Jeffress. As could be expected, neither are as good against players of opposite handedness.
This idea makes perfect sense to me on a competing team. Even if the Brewers had a chance to sniff the playoffs, I would back this theory with gusto. But the Brewers aren’t going to compete in 2016, and GM David Stearns has made it clear he wants to get the highest possible return for his trades.
In this way, it makes complete sense to choose one closer and one setup man, simply because it should elevate the trade value of each pitcher. If a team feels that it is a closer or setup man short of a World Series push, they will want to trade for a proven commodity.
Of course these competing teams could use a combination of their own relievers to fill the void, but the idea of a closer by committee has very little traction among MLB teams at present, as 21 pitchers saved at least 30 games in 2015. And with teams parting with tons of high level prospects to strengthen the back ends of their bullpens, it makes sense to maximize the value of two of the best pitchers of the team.
To be honest, I don’t think this is what the Brewers are doing, at least not intentionally. More likely, manager Craig Counsell just prefers a traditional bullpen, like almost every other Big League manager. That doesn’t mean the Brewers can’t benefit from a more traditional system this time around.