As a life-long Baltimore Orioles fan, I understand that it’s December which is the annual time for Oriole fans to moan and complain about how much it sucks to be an Orioles fan. Of course Orioles management has given us plenty of things to gripe about, but I truly believe that Buck Showalter will not allow this team to sink back into irrelevancy. Moreover I think we’ve actually already improved in one area of are ball club this year, and that area is closer. With Jim Johnson and his hefty contract being jettisoned to Oakland it no longer forces Showalter to be a slave to the closer position, and he can be free to manage and scheme in such a way that maximizes the talents of all his relievers.
In case I wasn’t clear, let me state this unequivocally: The Orioles are a better baseball team without Jim Johnson. That is we are better team without Jim Johnson if they embrace being a closerless ball club. I am not the first person to propose such a novel idea of getting rid of the closer position. (For a more extensive look into this topic check out Jim Caple’s article about the closing position being the most overrated position in sports.) Why do baseball geniuses like Showalter insist on throwing out all the percentages and matchups and just going with a guy because he’s your guy in the ninth? To me, this is one of the true mysteries of baseball.
Hopefully now without Johnson we will have the freedom to play the matchups. If you have 2 lefties coming up in the ninth, then bring in the left-handed specialist (I’m being generic here and just saying “left-handed specialist” because last year this role was filled by Brian Matusz, but this year I’m one of the chief proponents for Matusz being the 5th starter). Also, you can take batting history into account. Let’s say for example, there are couple batters in the lineup who have atrocious numbers against Darren O’Day; then bring in Darren O’Day to get these hitters out.
Also, it allows you to ride the hot hand. Last season, there were stretches of baseball where Jim Johnson was not effective; yet we could not bench him in favor of another pitcher who was pitching better at the time (i.e. any other pitcher on our ball club). Why? Because he was our “closer”. Let’s throw out the labels and if O’Day is struggling then bring in Hunter and vice versa. Koji Uhera is a prime example of riding the hot pitcher. He only was put in the closer role due to injury; however, it proves my point that you don’t need a flame-thrower (though I like a 97 MPH fastball as much as anybody) you just need to put in the most effective player at the time.
Furthermore, closers, especially closers for winning ball clubs, tend to be overused. Oriole fans witnessed the overuse of Johnson over the past three years, which often leads to a pitcher wearing down and decreasing in his effectiveness. Not having a typical closer allows a manager to rest relievers without feeling compelled to put him out there time and time again.
I feel like everything I am saying is common sense. In fact I’m simply saying manage the 9th inning how you manage every other inning! This idea that just because it’s the 9th we are going to throw out all previous strategy and take a completely different approach because we have a closer is utter nonsense. Fortunately, the good news for the Orioles is that without Jim Johnson they do not have a closer, and hopefully the Orioles play this entire year without a closer.