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Jim Leyland should learn from Jim Leyland

Leyland is throwing up his hands over closer options, but he should know better

Here's your closer
Here's your closer
Matthew Stockman

Jim Leyland is at a loss for alternatives to using his veteran closer at the end of the game. Fortunately baseball is a game with a rich history and a love for keeping records. Perhaps we can look back and find some other options than robotically bringing in the guy in the pen who at some point in his career was tagged as a closer.

The 1988 Pirates still had Jim Gott with 34 saves, but Jeff Robinson had 9 saves in 124+ innings spanning 75 games. Conclusion: a pitcher can pitch more than just the ninth inning to finish a win!

The 1990 Pirates had Bill Landrum with 13 saves but seven different pitchers had at least three saves. The Pirates finished in first place. Conclusion: a team can go to the playoffs with a "closer by committee"!

The 1991 Pirates had Bill Landrum with 17 saves and Stan Belinda with 16 saves. The Pirates finished in first place. Conclusion: a team can have two closers and make the playoffs!

Since the manager of these teams was Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager should be able to get up to speed on these findings quickly. But experience can be a two-edged sword. Because in 1997, the Marlins had Robb Nenn with 35 saves and nobody else with more than two. They won the World Series. Leyland's Conclusion: you can't win the World Series without a closer.

The 1998 Marlins had Matt Mantei with nine saves and Antonio Alfonseca with eight saves. They lost 108 games. Leyland's Conclusion: a good team can't have two closers.

So Leyland moved to the Rockies in 1999 and implemented the defined closer role. Dave Veres was the chosen one. And Leyland stuck with him all year, to 31 saves, regardless of Veres' 5.14 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. Nobody else had more than one save. The Rockies finished in fifth place. Leyland's Conclusion: relief pitching is complicated, I quit. For seven years.

So this year, what would Leyland do at the start of the season without a relief pitcher with CLOSER tattooed on his chest?

April 1: Benoit pitches the 8th and the first out of the 9th, then Coke faces the lefties for the save.

April 3: Coke is now the designated closer based on the 2012 playoff series against the Yankees and game 1 of 2013. Benoit is restricted to 8th inning duty. Coke blows the save.

April 5: Fister starts and goes five innings, Smyly pitches four innings for the save.

April 29: Smyly comes in with one out in the 8th, pitches to two outs in the 9th, and Benoit gets the last out.

So young Leyland understood that the last pitcher of game ending in a win could change from day to day. He understood that said pitcher could pitch more than one inning. And old Leyland, when forced this year, used a creative approach.

Even with the Valverde debacle, the Tigers should make the playoffs. Once there, they will use four starting pitchers. The next two best pitchers on the staff will be the fifth starter, probably Porcello, and Smyly. I suggest closing with Porcello or Smyly depending on whether the likely batters are right or left handed. Or move Verlander to the pen and let him close. Would that end the second-guessing?