After a disastrous finish against the worst National League team the other day, the Milwaukee Brewers have a problem.
The Closer Myth
It’s a plague in the MLB. A plague that disguises itself as an unproven idea that being a closer requires a golden ticket to occupy the role. And no reliever is accepted into this exclusive group without going through the ringer. Yet, every successful closer sneaks in there and nobody notices until they have ‘x’ amount of saves and now have “closer experience.”
Yet, what happens when ol’ reliable in the ninth inning fails? More importantly, what happens when he consistently fails? When he can’t consistently locate one of his two elite pitches, and as a result, blows a game?
Well, exactly what should happen. A manager announces he is “going by a committee” and that’s that. Except it’s not that simple. Managers say that, then a reliever is simultaneously pegged as the next closer, and the cycle repeats itself. That same closer eventually struggles and his role is questioned. And such is life.
That isn’t how it should be. The idea of pitching should be using the best pitchers against the best hitters.
So, when Craig Counsell sends Corey Knebel to face the 7-9 hitters simply because its a “save situation,” how does that make sense at all? It goes against every logical argument that a manager uses his best reliever against the best hitters. And now, the Milwaukee Brewers are once again forced to consider this idea, similar to when Knebel went on the DL.
Milwaukee’s closer walking the bases loaded to set up for a grand slam will hopefully spark change in this organization. Not the change that many fans are calling for. Not Counsell banishing Knebel from the closer’s spot for the rest of eternity. Nor to leave him be. Instead, I simply ask for logic.
What Should Craig Counsell Do Now?
Logic says use the best reliever when he is needed most. If the heart of the order is up, throw the guy with the best stuff. That holds for any inning a reliever is needed. Why save the most elite guy for a later inning against inferior hitters? The chance of a game-altering grand slam in the 6th inning instead of the 9th is just as likely.
The only reason you save your best guy is because of the artificially created saves category that is about as ridiculous a statistic as any in professional sports. Saying a reliever “saved a game” for allowing two runs in a three run game is absurd. That pitcher did nothing for the team other than drag the limping body across the finish line.
Guys like Fernando Rodney and others have been extolled for this very reason season after season. Spoiler alert: they aren’t actually good, they’re just in the right position at the right time.
We’ve seen the Brewers’ manager turn to the more logical alternative before. Hell, I praised him for it. When Knebel went down early in the season, Counsell ignored every idea of a true closer and went with the best guys. Whether it was Josh Hader, Jacob Barnes, or Matt Albers (yes, the Matt Albers who currently has a 6.23 ERA), it didn’t matter.
Being a closer doesn’t require you to be right handed, to have a specific arsenal, or to have previous closer experience. The three names mentioned above combined for a maximum of four saves in any year previous to this. So let’s dispel any notion that being a closer requires anything more than pitching in the last anything with less than a four run lead.
Rather than adhere to this outdated tradition, make use of a dominant bullpen. Use your best against the best. Only then will this unreal bullpen reach their exceedingly high potential.
The Milwaukee Brewers have four more than capable “closers” in the back of their pen. Wait, seeing as Barnes and Albers got saves early on, I’d venture to say Milwaukee has more than enough relievers to fill that “closer” role.