This week at BP Boston I had the audacity to ask the team’s best reliever, Craig Kimbrel, to do more for the team. Traditionally, at least since the early 1980s, teams have used their best reliever in the Closer role. Closers are responsible for getting the last three outs of games in which his team is leading by no more than three runs. In so doing, they rack up save totals and get all kinds of accolades. As has been pointed out ad nauseam by folks in the analytics crowd, managing an excellent pitcher to the save statistic is silly. It means that the team’s best reliever is not necessarily being used in the most important moments of a game. Save situations just seem like the most important moment because of the proximity to a win. The best way to use a lights out reliever is to get them in critical situations at any point in the game (after the fifth or sixth inning). Nate Silver, at FiveThirtyEight, even came up with a new measure called Goose Eggs that managers and relievers can work toward, rather than the convoluted and largely useless save. This idea is not a call to just increase the workload of these guys – although that would be nice in some cases. It is a call for their workload to be distributed more effectively. It will mean that the glory of a high saves total goes to someone else, but they can rest easily (on a pile of Goose Eggs) knowing they are helping the team more than they are currently. Anyway, I want John Farrell to do more of this with Craig Kimbrel, however reports are that Kimbrel does not like being used in non-save situations, so Farrell is stuck. While this stubbornness from Kimbrel is silly and an actively me-first perspective, I understand where he is coming from. After all, being a team’s closer is really the only thing he has ever done. As such, he has developed strict routines that are oriented around the concept of being ready for the 9th inning. He is likely extremely confident that his routines are the thing keeping him in top form. I agree that having routines is good and can contribute to consistent performance, but I am sure they can be adapted to accommodate a more flexible role that benefits the team to a greater extent. It would be nice if we would do so.
Head over to BP Boston to read more of my plea: Asking For More From Craig Kimbrel.