By Chris Drosehn – @GopherTheTopher
The closer role and relievers in general are starting to be used differently. In 2016, we saw Andrew Miller and Cody Allen used as a two headed monster at the back end of a lights out Cleveland Indians bullpen. This year in the World Series, we saw Brandon Morrow in different innings during every single game. The save stat is slowly becoming out dated because of the nature of it. A three run lead in the top of the 9th inning isn’t exactly the place a team should use its best reliever. The question here is, will the Red Sox be willing to use Craig Kimbrel in a hybrid role? And a better question, will Kimbrel allow it in his contract year?
Let’s take a flash back to this season. It was a back and forth battle of whether or not John Farrell would use Craig Kimbrel outside of the 9th inning. To his credit, he sometimes used Kimbrel earlier, but then he reverted back to a paint by numbers routine, which just doesn’t work when you have only one lights out reliever. This was evidenced in a loss to the Kansas City Royals in June. Kimbrel was sitting in the bullpen when Robby Scott gave up a grand slam to Salvador Perez, who is one of the best hitters in the Royals lineup. Why not use Craig Kimbrel in that spot? Mostly because of the save stat, and the feeling that he needs to record a save every time he enters the game, which is a true shame.
Kimbrel spoke about this specifically during the Winter Weekend in January, and his sentiments did not give me the best of feelings. He feels there needs to be a plan in place, and that it is all about work load. Newly hired Red Sox manager Alex Cora echoed those same sentiments. Time and place were the words used. Personally, I believe Kimbrel and the Red Sox need to adapt to a different philosophy for how to utilize their best reliever.
The 9th inning up by three runs isn’t exactly a “game on the line” scenario. Kimbrel entered the 9th inning in that situation 15 times. Not to mention nine other times in the 9th inning with a LARGER than three run lead as well. Farrell and Kimbrel were firing bullets when they may have not been needed.
As a couple of comparisons: Cleveland Indians closer Cody Allen was deployed five times in the 9th with a three run lead. He was also utilized in the 8th inning seven times when it was three runs or fewer margin, which also leads me to believe Allen simply had the willingness to work in different innings when the situation called for it. Specifically the 8th inning or earlier (regardless of the situation), Kimbrel was used six times. Cody Allen was used 16 times. Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome led the league in saves, and appeared nine times in the 8th or before. Corey Knebel (Milwaukee Brewers closer) was ranked 3rd in saves throughout MLB, and appeared 24 times in the 8th inning or before.
This isn’t a knock on Craig Kimbrel, or any closer for that matter. We are seeing a shift away from the save stat in baseball. It is important for the Red Sox to embrace this shift within their bullpen. The past few postseasons, bullpen usage have been revolutionized. It’s still ever important to have that dominant start, followed by a dominant reliever outside of the traditional closer. The Red Sox will need to identify or quickly develop that reliever. It will also be important for the Red Sox to use Craig Kimbrel in this capacity if they cannot find one among the current roster.
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EPISODE 28: THE JD MARTINEZ/ROB MANFRED EDITION!
Also available on iTunes!