Major League baseball managers generally follow the Closer Usage Protocol (CUP). The CUP goes like this: A team should designate a single pitcher as their closer. The closer enters the game in only three circumstances, whenever: (1) There is a save situation in the ninth inning, (2) It’s the top of the ninth inning in a home game and the score is tied, and (3) In a lopsided game if the closer hasn’t pitched in several days. Period. That’s CUP.
Dusty Baker followed CUP like night follows day. And Aroldis Chapman
threw exactly 68 innings (correction: pitched in exactly 68 games) for Baker in 2012 and 2013 as his closer. Before the season started, Bryan Price offered a bit of hope that he might deviate from such an inflexible pattern. Price said on December 9:
“I do think there’s a way to increase his ability to influence our club by maybe pitching at times in the eighth inning.”
Since returning from his head injury on May 10, Aroldis Chapman has pitched twentyt-two innings for the Reds this year. Here’s a break down:
These are mop-up situations where the Reds are either way behind or way ahead. Chapman gets used in these games because he needs the work from not having pitched in a few days.The WPA (win probability for the team when Chapman enters) is either 99.5 percent (way ahead) or 00.5 percent (way behind). This has happened twice.
These are the layups for closers, with WPA ranging from 96-97.3 percent depending on whether the team is home or away. Those are the percentages for the average pitcher. Five of Chapman’s twenty-two innings this year have been spent doing this.
These games have a WPA ranging from 92 to 94 percent when the ninth inning pitcher enters, depending on home or away. They’re a little more difficult than the 3-run-lead saves, but you’d still expect the average pitcher to convert them more than 9-of-10 times.
These games have a WPA ranging from 81 to 85 percent when the ninth inning pitcher enters. They are the toughest save, but still, the average pitcher can pitch a shutout ninth inning about 80 percent of the time.
These are the highest leverage ninth-inning situations, where the odds fluctuate around 40-50 percent for the team.
When a home team enters the ninth inning and the game is tied, it’s no longer possible for any of their pitchers to earn the individual statistic of a Save. When managers no longer have to worry about certain players earning a statistic, they can focus exclusively on what’s best for their team. Almost invariably, that means using their strongest pitcher in the immediate high-leverage situation of a tie game.
Back to Chapman’s twenty-two innings. Two of the tie-game situations fit standard Closer Usage Protocol neatly. Price used Chapman in a tied games in the ninth inning at home.
As it turns out, in both of these games, Chapman has given up a run and the Reds have lost. On May 13, he surrendered a garden variety home run to Chase Headley. In The Horror, he gave up two runs himself and left two others on base for Edwin Encarnacion to drive in with a home run off Sam LeCure who had relieved Chapman. [Before you jump to the conclusion that Chapman doesn’t pitch well in tied games, know that in the previous two years, he pitched in them 23 times and only gave up two runs.]
Bryan Price has violated the CUP only once, on June 19, in Pittsburgh. The Reds were tied 3-3 against the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Jonathan Broxton had allowed two base runners and 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen was due up. The game was really in the balance – the Reds had a 40 percent chance of winning, 60 percent chance of losing.
Bryan Price pulled Broxton and brought in Chapman, who proceeded to strike out McCutchen. Chapman went on to pitch the tenth inning and the Reds eventually lost in the twelfth (see ya, Tony Cingrani).
I’m going to leave most of the conclusions to you, but I have three things to say.
1. Bryan Price has deviated from the way Dusty Baker would have handled Aroldis Chapman by exactly one game. In fact, Dusty Baker brought Chapman into the eighth inning three times in 2013, something Bryan Price has yet to do. In every instance in 2014, Chapman has entered the game in the ninth inning. It’s his R-O-L-E.
2. Instead of assigning roles based on innings, how about roles based on the closeness of the game? Have the best pitchers, instead of Logan Ondrusek, pitch against the other team’s best hitters in the seventh inning in a tied game. To address the phony-baloney “can’t have them pitch every game” argument, simply assign other pitchers to all the 3-run-lead saves (just like they do now with 4-run leads) and maybe most of the 2-run-lead saves. You can’t single out Bryan Price for criticism here, because he’s doing exactly the same thing as every other major league manager. They manage to the statistic not what’s best for their team.
3. Since Chapman’s return on May 10, the Reds have played 54 innings against the Brewers and the Cardinals. Aroldis Chapman has pitched in two of them.