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What if they take a wrecking ball to traditional bullpen roles and use their best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of inning?
If ever there was a general manager who would be willing to defy baseball’s conventional wisdom, it’s Billy Beane.
still keeping the closer in Rosenthal role though.
One other interesting feature about Leyland’s pitching staffs is the lack of a dominating closer. Though not known as a critic of the role of closer, his actions indicate he thinks it is overrated. He either spreads saves out amongst his relievers or gives it to a second-rate arm, but he rarely uses his best arm exclusively in the ninth. In eleven years in Pittsburgh, only once did someone have more than 26 saves in a season (Jim Gott with 34 in 1988). Across all major league baseball, players posted 26 or more saves 135 times. During Pittsburgh’s divisional threepeat, no one lodged over eighteen saves in a season for the franchise. In 1990, the main relief ace recorded only thirteen saves on a team that won 95 contests. No one on the 1994 Pirates had more than seven saves, even though the team won 53 games in that strike-shortened season.
The most obvious example of Leyland’s treatment of relief aces came with Bill Landrum, who was the best closer Leyland ever had. Landrum recorded 26 saves with a 1.67 ERA in 1989, yet collected only thirteen of the club’s 43 saves the following season despite posting a 2.13 ERA. Leyland was not using him as some sort of 1970s style fireman where others got all the cheap saves, he just removed Landrum from the role despite his brilliant pitching. On July 1, Landrum racked up his twelfth save and had an ERA of 1.62. After that, Leyland stopped using him in save opportunities. He was more likely to pitch in the eighth or when his team was done even though he was clearly the best arm in the bullpen.
Landrum was no aberration. Leyland frequently puts his best relievers in middle relief. This was especially apparent in Detroit where veteran plodder Todd Jones saved games while far superior performances came from Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, and Tim Byrdak. In Pittsburgh, Pat Clements clearly outpaced closer Don Robinson in 1986. When Jim Gott had 34 saves he was an average reliever. Dan Plesac’s ERA was more than a run lower than that of nominal relief ace Dan Miceli in 1996.
He was more likely to pitch in the eighth or when his team was done even though he was clearly the best arm in the bullpen.
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