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Jim Tracy eschews save-based managing in win

May 3, 2010, 11:42 AM EDT

Last night Jim Tracy did something I’ve been begging managers to do for years, which is use his best reliever in most important spot regardless of whether it involved a so-called “save situation.”
Tracy brought in closer Franklin Morales with a four-run lead, one out, and runners on the corners in the eighth inning, in part because Pablo Sandoval was due up for the Giants and in part because with the tying run on deck that was likely to be the most crucial spot in the game.
Morales successfully got out of the jam, preserving the four-run lead, at which point Tracy turned to setup man Manny Corpas in the ninth inning. Most other managers would have used Corpas (or another non-closer) in the tight eighth-inning spot against the Giants’ best hitter while holding Morales back for a save situation that may never have materialized (and may have been a lower-leverage spot even if it did).
Credit Tracy for doing something that has unfortunately become rare over the past 20 years or so. Better yet, Morales had zero problem with the shift in usage, saying afterward: “I think Jim Tracy did the best job. That was the best move to help us win.”

  1. Old Gator - May 3, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    Yeah, but can you imagine what the papers would have printed this morning if Corpas had gotten tattooed in the ninth? Forget the logic of it all. My grandmother was fond of reminding me that no smart move goes unpunished, or something like that ( a really thick Russo-Ukrainian Yiddish patois made her hard to figure out some times). The Rocky Mountain Oysters got away with it this time. Next time, they could be visited by that demon that Ridley reminded us lives up there in the thin air.

  2. YankeesfanLen - May 3, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    I’m so Universe-centric that this befuddles me all the time. Does no one notice a certain Mariano Rivera who gets up for non-save situations and has for umpteen years?

  3. Jackie - May 3, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    The Rockies were desperate to get away with a win from SF. Either one of them could have given up the lead, both Morales and Corpas have a history of blowing games. So to use each of them in the best situation here was a good idea. Nobody in Denver would have questioned it if Morales got through the 8th but Corpas didn’t get the save in the 9th, the Rockies needed Morales to even get to the 9th with a lead.

  4. JBerardi - May 3, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    “Economics is really about… the story of the old economist and the younger economist walking down the street, and the younger economist says ‘look, there’s a hundred-dollar bill,’ and the older one says, ‘Nonsense, if it was there somebody would have picked it up already.”
    -Paul Krugman, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/03/01/100301fa_fact_macfarquhar?currentPage=5

  5. Paul - May 3, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    All closers pitch in non-save situations from time to time, that’s not the point. How often does Rivera come into the game in the 8th in a non-save situation? Probably not often, and if he does, it’s with the expectation that he’ll finish the game. This isn’t an issue of “non-save situations,” it’s an issue of “saving” your closer for the 9th instead of using him to clean up a more urgent mess in the 7th or 8th.

  6. Big Harold - May 3, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    This practice would expand second guessing, already ingrained in the National pastime, exponentially. Not only would the manager need to defend himself if the setup man failed in the 9th but what about if the closer gave up the lead for a tie or shaved a lead to a one run lead. In the 24X7 news cycle blogosphere that we live in today a manager would spend so much time defending his actions that he’d hardly be able to manage.
    Add to that; taking guys out of defined roles, .. it makes it harder for the reliever to prepare. It has much more potential to abuse and over expose the closer. It took years to develop the closer position, it would take years to rearrange it. Not every decent closer would be good in this environment. There are a lot of things to be addressed before one should even think about engaging in this strategy.
    All that being said, I think it’s a good idea, within limits. Like in the playoffs or the WS when holding the opposition could mean the difference in the entire season. As a normal course of playing games, I think the season is too long and there are too many potential pitfalls for this to be a widespread strategy.

  7. Big Harold - May 3, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    “My grandmother was fond of reminding me that no smart move goes unpunished, or something like that ( a really thick Russo-Ukrainian Yiddish patois made her hard to figure out some times).”
    I think you are refering to “No good deed goes unpunished”. Or, perhaps there is a disconnect between Grandmomthers with thick Russo-Ukrainian Yiddish acents and Irish brogues?

  8. Old Gator - May 3, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    Lucky her boat went straight from Vilnius to Ellis Island at that. If she had stopped over in Dublin for any length of time, not only would she have piled a brogue on top of it, but I would have had to figure out what the hell she was talking about when she read to me from Finnegan’s Wake at bedtime while mom and dad were out dancing.
    ‘Course if she had disembarked in Vichy Arizona she probably would have been deported to Mexico and then I’d have to sort through yet another layer of incomprehensible pronunciations.
    .
    Incidentally, you should solicit Craig some time for the particulars of his mongrel pedigree. Just as interesting as mine, if not more so. At least he doesn’t have a little bit of Chow in his.

  9. David - May 3, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    1) It would only lead to exponentially increased second guessing for people who don’t understand what “high leverage” means, and presumably, were this practice to become common, managers and writers would explain the change in philosophy in the following fashion: “We used to think that it was smartest to save our closer for a save situation, so that we ensure our wins. Now, we have new methods for determining ‘high leverage’ situations. This allows us to use our best reliever in the most effective way possible.” Determining whether or not a situation is high leverage is largely a matter of common sense (and actually makes MORE sense than what qualifies as a “save”), and even if there was doubt about it, a quick trip to Fangraphs would settle any dispute about whether it was a high leverage situation appropriate to bring in your best reliever.
    2) Regarding preparation and defined roles. The only reliever on a major league team who almost invariably enters at the same time is the closer. Setup men sometimes enter in the 7th, 8th or 9th; long relievers can enter in the 4th, 5th or 6th, and may even enter in extra innings; “7th inning” guys might have to pitch in the 8th, or might enter in the 6th. This notion that the inning defines the role is silly and easily modified. Instead of saying to your closer, “be ready to pitch the ninth,” just say to him, “be ready to come in if we need you.” The closer sees his team with a two run lead and a single and double to lead off the seventh and thinks to himself, “they’re gonna’ need me.” So he prepares.
    Finally, it’s an almost complete contradiction to maintain that closers are important because of their tough mental make-up, but then to say that some variability of when they’ll enter the game will ruin their focus and preparation. The “closer” role is just another example of established baseball minds being remarkably rigid in their thinking.

  10. Joey B - May 3, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    I agree there are times to use your closer other than the 9th.
    Having said that, one-out in the 8th isn’t far off from a regular save. That used to be the norm, but even now, a 5-out save isn’t a blue-moon experience.

  11. trampslikeus - May 3, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    I thought it was “a watched pot never cooks”???

  12. I Love Baseball - May 3, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    YankeesfanLen,
    Since 2001 (from baseball-reference.com) Mariano has appeared in 595 regular season games. He finished 539 of those. Of the other 56 games he did not appear in a single game with all the following:
    1) non-save situation
    2) his team had a lead
    3) when he didn’t also finish the game or left with a lead
    Zero.
    He was never used the way Jim Tracy used Morales last night and then removed from the game.

  13. YankeesfanLen - May 3, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    Just for fun, no offense:
    4) no one in box 304 had a hot dog to drop from a stray foul
    5)why would anyone replace Mo during a game unless it was the 12th inning?

  14. Big Harold - May 3, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    At the end of the day every pitcher’s job is to get batters out. How they go about it does make a difference. Starters have one mind set, long relievers another and they have also have different ways to prepare. Essentially the same skill sets just applied differently. There too is a difference between setup men and closers. All these varied roles could be likened to race cars. They all have the same components but how there are prepared makes all the difference.
    The real problem with this suggested change in philosophy is;
    – Second guessing. It would be a significant unwanted distraction.
    – I absolutely think that the best way for a pitcher to succeed is to have a defined role that matches his skill set and mentality. Mariano Rivera was never a great starter when given the opportunity but he’s a first ballot HOFer as a closer.
    – The biggest issue is that of over exposure and the temptation for over use. Part of any closers success is that the other team doesn’t see him nearly as frequently as they do starters. If he’s any good it makes it hard for the opposition to adjust. And, managers will eventually over use their best pitchers and wear them out. It’s almost unavoidable. Joe Torre for all his success burned down many a decent set up man. He left his closer in the closer role and that’s one of the main reasons Mariano has lasted as long as he has.
    In theory, if you absolutely need a win, like the end of the season to get into the playoffs or to avoid losing a playoff series, I think this is a good strategy. In general there are far too many variables, far too few pitchers that would thrive in that environment and the season is too long for it to be common place.

  15. whitty - May 3, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Joe Torre burned down many a setup man because he is terrible at managing a bullpen. He falls in love with one or two pitchers while his other relievers are left to rot.
    It’s fair to argue that Mariano’s longevity may be partially linked to his usage pattern, but the closer role only protects the closer in the scenario where the manager is otherwise incapable of managing his bullpen in anything approaching a logical fashion. That’s a false dichotomy — there’s no barrier preventing a manager from making bullpen decisions based on situation leverage AND allowing for proper rest.
    Second-guessing shouldn’t be a problem for the players, as they aren’t the ones making the bullpen decisions. All a player has to say to a reporter is that it was the manager’s decision and that he trusts the manager. Problem solved for the player.
    As for the manager, he’s being paid millions of dollars to make these decisions — he should be capable of making an informed decision and defending it in the event that things turn out badly. And using leverage to make those decisions provides an easy answer for any bullpen decision.
    The concepts of “closer”, “setup man”, etc., are useful only insofar as they define general usage patterns or guidelines for what situations are usually high/medium/low leverage situations. When the definitions get in the way of maximizing bullpen value, they become an unnecessary and counterproductive crutch for the manager.
    In short: Defining appropriate roles for your relievers is good. Interpreting those definitions in an overly restrictive and inefficient manner is bad.

  16. ralf - May 3, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Having a defined role for your closer is not the same as holding back your closer until he can pick up a save in the 9th.
    Most of us agree that saves (and holds) belong on the statistical scrapheap with wins and RBI- let’s work on popularizing a counting stat based on WPA or LI so that good relief work in non-save situations gets recognized and rewarded. Relievers can get paid based on their number of “high-leverage outs” or something. Keeping track of saves led to the roles we have now. If a better stat catches on it could lead to better bullpen usage.

  17. Big Harold - May 3, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    “.. Torre burned down many a setup man because he is terrible at managing a bullpen.”
    Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more, my second biggest complaint about him.
    “Defining appropriate roles for your relievers is good. Interpreting those definitions in an overly restrictive and inefficient manner is bad.’
    It would clearly hinge on what you considered overly restrictive. If in fact it adds structure and perspective and allows the athlete to better understand what is expected of him then it’s actually very good. It allows the athlete to better train and prepare for his role, especially mentally. Like a great baseball catcher once said “half the game is 90 mental”, .. or something like that. This is even truer of a closer. You don’t want to put him in the position whereby he has to get ready in less time than would normally be considered optimal if it can be avoided. Even worse you don’t want to warm him up just to sit him back down. Nor do you want his role so fluid that it’s in a constant state of flux. It’s important to put a player in the best position to succeed and uncertainty doesn’t facilitate success.
    There are very few circumstances that would call for abandoning those defined roles during the course of the regular season. There are too many variables and the season is too long for that much uncertainty. Situational leverage might seem like a good idea that is not implemented because managers aren’t smart or courageous enough to do it correctly. But that is not the case, it clearly has more to do with it’s not likely to work over 162 six month season. The rewards of winning the odd game here or there, that they might otherwise lose, doesn’t outweigh the overhead of the accompanying chaos. For 162 game season, you use your resources wisely and go with the percentages. Save the feats daring do for the playoffs.

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