Stat geeks have for years bemoaned the evolution of the "closer" role. They would prefer that the best reliever is used in the most important situation, rather than always come in to start the ninth inning. Managers tend to understand this in a World Series game. But during the regular season, this strategy is rare.
Last night the most critical moment came with two outs in the eighth inning. The bases were loaded, and the tying run was on base. The bullpen was deep with the expanded roster. Jim Leyland could have turned to Bruce Rondon or to Al Alburquerque. He could have justified the move saying that they need the experience and he needs to figure out who will be used in that situation in the playoffs. But he wanted the best chance to win, and brought in Joaquin Benoit.
This is very rare in today's game. Looking around the league this year....
Terry Francona has never brought in Chris Perez before the ninth inning.
Ned Yost has never used Greg Holland before the ninth inning.
John Farrell has summoned Koji Uehara three times with two outs in the eighth inning.
Joe Girardi had kept Mariano Rivera in the pen for the ninth inning, until September. He has now used him three times in the eighth inning. Funny how the chase for a playoff spot clarifies your thinking.
Joe Maddon has handed the ball to Fernando Rodney three times before the ninth inning, but Rodney blew two of the saves. The flaw here is that while Rodney is their "closer", he is not the best arm in the bullpen.
Buck Showalter never used Jim Johnson in the eighth inning until September. He did once this month, but not in a high leverage situation.
Bob Melvin has similarly used Grant Balfour; never before the ninth inning, except two outings just to shake the rust off.
Ron Washington has always saved Joe Nathan for the ninth inning.
Joaquin Benoit did not start the season as the closer. But since assuming the role in mid-June, he has entered in an eighth inning jam four times.
So here's to you, Jim Leyland, hero of the sabermetricians.