The Myth of The Closer By Committee

Forgive me for a little rant here…

Roles are bullsh-t. Your job is to throw strikes when I put your a– out on the mound

Dick Radatz, as pitching coach of the North Shore Spirit, 2004

You’re going to have to take my word for it that that’s what “The Monster” said because it was during a pregame radio show for a small AM station in Lynn, Massachusetts. The context, as the headline suggests, was a question about how the Spirit were going to align their group of pitchers and no sooner than the word “roles” came out of the announcer’s mouth did the Radatz growl that quote. One does not forget such bluntness.

The year before, the Boston Red Sox had gone into the season without a clear-cut closer. Newly anointed GM Theo Epstein announced the club would go with a closer by committee, which drew snickers at first because the success of the Tony LaRussa model had become firmly entrenched in the baseball lexicon and because it had become sportswriter code for “the bullpen sucks.” When the Red Sox got off to a slow start and the bullpen began to falter, everyone and their grandmother crowed that it was the committee that was to blame.

As you might have guessed, the subject has been broached again. And yet again, the 2003 Boston Red Sox are being trotted out, with the usual bromides: “The history of using a platoon of relievers for the final three outs of the game is spotty” from the Kilgore story, failing to cite the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1986 New York Mets, or even the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.

What never gets discussed is that the 2003 Boston Red Sox bullpen failed because they didn’t throw strikes.

Take a look at the April/May numbers for the relievers in question…

Pitcher Innings Walks
Alan Embree 14⅓ 5
Chad Fox 9⅓ 10
Ramiro Mendoza 30⅔ 10
Mike Timlin 31⅔ 2
Bobby Howry 4⅓ 3

If I were to list only the April splits, it would be even worse, which is why I wanted to demonstrate how it started to even out by May as manager Grady Little stopped using his ineffective relievers and started using his more effective relievers.

Oddly enough, in “the closer-by-committee doesn’t work” mythology, Byung-Hung Kim is widely credited for settling the bullpen, despite the fact that former/future closers Todd Jones, Brandon Lyon, and Scott Williamson were acquired during the stretch run while Kim was left off the playoff roster.

In the playoffs that season, Little mixed and matched between Timlin, Williamson and Embree, even using closer-turned-starter Derek Lowe to finish a 4-3 win over the Oakland A’s in the ALDS. How is this is not a closer by committee?

Radatz had it right, even if he may have been brusque about it. When pitchers don’t throw strikes, they fail. The idea that only one guy is capable of pitching the ninth inning makes for a powerful scene — “Enter Sandman” or “Hells Bells” perhaps even “Wild Thing” — but it’s image over substance and the evidence does not support the delusion.

Maya Takes A Step Back In Pitch For #5 Spot

Maya gives up 2HRs in 5IP…

Yunesky Maya is one of three pitchers battling for the No. 5 spot in the Washington rotation, but four runs on five hits (including two long HRs to center) last night in a 7-6 loss will hurt his chances, even if it was his first truly bad outing of the spring.

That’s because Maya and Ross Detwiler are already handicapped in this (media created, but that’s what we do) horse race by a singular word: options.

Listening to the radio last night while watching the video from the MLB Network, that word that kept coming from Mike Rizzo in discussing how team will break camp. For a GM, they’re wonderful thing, but for a player they’re not — just ask a reliever like Adam Carr or Cole Kimball, who both got cut despite stellar results for the same reason. They’ve got options left and they’re competing against guys that don’t (e.g. Henry Rodriguez, who struck out two in the 8th last night and did not walk a batter).

Maya was decent for the first three innings last night, stranding a leadoff double in the first while flashing some serious leather. It’s not often that a scorekeeper writes 1-5-1-3 in the scorebook, as Maya made three throws and a tag in making the Braves pay for bad baserunning.

He also worked his way out of two-out, two-baserunner jam in the second that he created with a hit batsmen and a walk to 2010 ROY runner-up Jason Heyward and 2011 ROY contender Freddie Freeman.

But in the fourth, Maya wasn’t so fortunate as Chipper Jones took him deep to CF and a Heyward walk followed by a Freeman HR put the Nats in a 3-0 hole. Jones would double again in the next inning for the fourth run surrendered by Maya. His final line 5IP 5H 4R 4ER 2BB 2SO 2HR and a HBP.

Other notable prospects…

  • Wilson Ramos went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout.
  • Tyler Moore pinch-ran and scored a run, then grounded out in the 9th. He played an inning on defense but had no chances.

The loss drops the Nats to 10-9 for the Spring. They return to Viera to face the Cardinals this afternoon, a game that will broadcast on 1580AM (not 106.7FM) as well as MLB Radio and XM Radio.

Nats Announce Next Set of Roster Cuts

Brown, Kimball, Marrero and Norris are sent to minor-league camp

Four more Nationals were sent packing as Corey Brown, Cole Kimball, Chris Marrero, and Derek Norris were reassigned to minor-league camp today.

Unlike years past, none of these cuts were particularly surprising. Brown, even if he hadn’t been hurt, was unlikely to break camp with the big boys without the benefit of a trade or an injury. Syracuse is his most likely destination unless either the injury lingers or Rizzo opts for a more veteran OF in Syracuse and sends Brown to Harrisburg to play every day.

Kimball received a lot of favorable coverage from the beat writers, but the lack of AAA experience (i.e. none), command issues, and similar relievers without options (e.g. Henry Rodriguez) make this a smart move. Now the focus will be on whether he will supplant Adam Carr (possible) as the Chiefs’ closer or if the powers that be will decide to use both in both roles and let the production (or Knorr) dictate the usage.

Marrero is arguably the most pleasant spring surprise, and perhaps not even on offense. That’s a lot to say for someone that put up a .381/.435/.476 line, but it says more about how much he appears to have improved on defense. He’ll be the everyday first baseman at Syracuse.

Last but not least, Derek Norris was reassigned to Harrisburg, a move that whittles the number of players in the major-league camp to 38. Norris appeared in 11 games and batted .200 but also drew four walks for an impressive OBP of .368 and acquitted himself defensively. Norris could very well follow the development path that Espinosa had in 2010 and be in a position next Spring Training to be battling for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Nats Fall Apart In 9th, Lose 8-7

Clippard turns 7-3 lead into 8-7 loss with four hits and two walks allowed in the 9th

Tyler Clippard came on in relief to get three outs in the late innings. Not bad, but the problem was the Nats needed four outs from Clippard, who surrendered five runs to the Astros in the bottom of the ninth for an 8-7 win.

The loss took away a spring win from Ross Detwiler, who had another subpar outing with three runs allowed (two earned) on four hits and two walks over three innings. He did not strike out a batter.

Wilson Ramos was the sole prospect to start the game and went 2-for-4 with a solo HR in the top of the 8th that had given the Nats a 7-3 lead. Derek Norris caught the final ⅔rds of an inning but did not come to bat.

Other notable prospects…

  • Eury Perez flew out in his one at-bat and played the last 2⅔ innings on defense but had no official defensive chances
  • Steve Lombardozzi grounded out in his lone plate appearance and played the eighth and ninth innings on defense without any chances
  • Chris Marrero was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and played error-free at first base, following Matt Stairs.
  • Cole Kimball walked two in his two innings of work, allowed a hit, but struck out three to lower his spring ERA to 1.13 and earn a hold.

With the loss, the Nationals spring record stands at 10-8 with a road game tomorrow night just down the road near the House of the Mouse against the Atlanta Braves. The game starts at 6:05 p.m. and will be broadcast live on MASN and shown via tape delay on the MLB Network at 11 p.m.

Espinosa Day-To-Day After Foul Tip

From who’s in shape, to who’s hurt…

With four injuries in less than five hours, it appears we’ve crossed the line from discussing who’s in shape to who’s hurt.

Prior to the game, Ryan Zimmerman (groin), Ivan Rodriguez (calf), Michael Morse (upset stomach), were pulled from the lineup in what would seem like quick succession thanks to the latest forms of communication. Morse is expected to play today while Zimmerman and Rodriguez are expected to be out longer.

During the game, Danny Espinosa went down after fouling a ball off the top of his right foot, setting the Natmosphere, um, atwitter with tweets about Espinosa being carried to the locker room “unable to put weight on his right leg.” Perhaps that pic above isn’t so inappropriate because first reports are often wrong, as this morning we now know that the injury is the more mundane “bad bruise that will require a precautionary X-ray.”

Prior to the injury, Espinosa had been 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

For the game itself, the Nationals lost to the Mets 5-2, the highlight being fifth-starter candidate Tom Gorzelanny’s four innings pitched, one run allowed on two hits and three walks and four strikeouts to make his case beyond “he’s out of options.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be written about Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez.

Stammen was torched touched for three runs in his 1⅔ innings of work, allowing three hits and a walk with no strikeouts. Henry Rodriguez managed not to walk anybody but allowed a run on two hits in his one inning pitched.

Competing relievers Collin Balester and Brian Broderick made their cases, with Balester stranding two inherited runners while getting the final out of the sixth and Broderick allowing just a walk while pitching a scoreless eighth.

Other notable prospects…

  • Chris Marrero had an RBI single in his lone at-bat, but continues to impress with his improved defense.
  • Destin Hood went hitless in his lone at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the ninth for Broderick.
  • Derek Norris was 0-for-1 with a walk, catching the final two innings.

The Nationals play again this afternoon in Kissimmee against the Houston Astros, with Ross Detwiler expected to start.

Another Strong Starter Outing, But Nats Lose 4-2

Marquis allows one run over five innings

Jason Marquis continues to pitch well in Spring Training, allowing one run over five innings on three hits and two walks this afternoon in a 4-2 Nats loss to the Detroit Tigers.

As we approach the Ides of March, playing time for the prospects has become more sparse as the big boys prep for Opening Day…

  • Chris Marrero got another start at first base and went 0-for-2 with a walk, but participated in three double plays. He’s now batting .389 but one would think his option to Syracuse is coming this week
  • Wilson Ramos was the DH today and but went hitless again, an 0-for-4 afternoon with a strikeout and two runners left on base.  He’s struggled of late but should still be considered the leading candidate to back up Ivan Rodriguez
  • Danny Espinosa had an RBI groundout in the 9th and had an assist while playing the final two innings at shortstop. He’s cooled off some but is still outhitting Desmond .324 to .314 though he has yet to draw a walk and has struck out eight times in eleven games.
  • Derek Norris was the run that Espinosa drove in, reaching base on a walk as a pinch-hitter for Rodriguez. Norris, who won the game on Saturday with a warning-track flyball single, is still most likely to begin the year at Harrisburg, unless Jesus Flores is traded or hurt.


With the loss, the Nats drop to 10-6 and travel to Port St. Lucie tomorrow night to face the Mets, a game that will not be covered by TV or radio.

Z-Dub Sharp As Nats Cruise To 5-1 Win

Jordan Zimmerman’s line… 5IP 3H 0R 1BB 3K

Former prospect Jordan Zimmermann threw five scoreless innings as the Nationals pitchers, save for one, stifled the Marlins for a 5-1 win on Sunday afternoon.

Danny Espinosa was the sole prospect to start, but was once again hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout. He was also hit by a pitch, taking a spun-away shot to the helmet but remained in the game. Wilson Ramos came off the bench but struck out in his only at-bat.

Other notable prospects…

  • Eury Perez was 0-for-1 and got two putouts in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Chris Marrero was caught looking in his lone at-bat and played three error-free innings at first base.
  • Brian Broderick came on in relief of Henry Rodriguez (more later) and pitched 1⅔ innings with no hits, walks or strikeouts.
  • Steve Lombardozzi played the last two innings at 2B and had an assist.
  • Cole Kimball pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two flyouts and a groundout to second base.

As aforementioned, Rodriguez came on in relief of Zimmermann and had trouble finding the plate, walking three in ⅓ of an inning and was charged for the sole Marlin run. He threw 23 pitches during the outing, and 15 were balls. The velocity was there but the command was not, as the pitches off the plate were in the high 90s while the pitches over the plate were in the low 90s.

With the loss, the Nats improve to 10-5 for the Spring. They return to Viera to host the Tigers tomorrow afternoon, a game which will only be “seen” via MLB Gameday.

Norris Pinch Hit In Ninth Sends Nats To 6-5 Win

Norris smacks a walkoff to the warning track

Going into the bottom of the ninth, there was a good chance that a top prospect might end the game with a walkoff. After all, Bryce Harper was the third batter due. An error and a sacrifice, brought up the chosen one with a runner on third and one out. Three pitches later he was walking down the line, courtesy of an 0-2 fastball to the right tricep.

Alberto Gonzalez would be intentionally walked when he wouldn’t bite on the first two offerings. After the two managers changed the matchup, up came Derek Norris, who took a strike then blasted the next pitch to the warning track for a very long game-winning single and a 6-5 Nats win.

The knock made a winner out of Yunesky Maya, who pitched the final four innings, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and three walks. He also struck out three, the last coming on nice, sharp curve.

According to multiple tweets from the beat writers, Washington announced that Harper had been sent to minor-league camp, officially optioned to Hagerstown. That, of course, does not necessarily mean that that’s where he’ll start the regular season. Also sent down were Atahualpa Severino, Tim Wood and Ryan Mattheus.

Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos started the game at their usual positions, but both went hitless in three at-bats. Espinosa helped turn a double play while Ramos did not have any baserunners attempt a steal against him.

Chris Marrero drove the ball to the wall the opposite way (the first I’ve seen in a very long time) in his sole plate appearance for a double, the wind aiding it but not causing it. He was then pinch-run for by Destin Hood, who chased down a long foul fly to left to end the top of the ninth.

With the win, the Nats improve to 9-5 for the spring and return to Jupiter to face the Florida Marlins tomorrow afternoon. The game will be televised via and can be heard on MLB Gameday and XM Radio.

Nats Late Rally Comes Up Short

Nats Flat Again, Fall 7-6 to ‘Stros

A three-run outburst in the ninth made the score look respectable at 7-6, but the Nats were flat again in Viera last night. It’s a bit disturbing for fans of the big boys because last night’s lineup featured what will likely be very close to the Opening Day lineup, as they were missing only Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche from the eight position players.

But this is a site that focuses on the future, so let’s get to how the kids did…

  • Bryce Harper collected his fifth RBI of the spring with a ninth-inning single and was 1-for-2 on the night. He also committed the cardinal sin of getting thrown out at third for the third out on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman.
  • Chris Marrero was 0-for-1 with a run scored, but struck out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
  • Derek Norris was 0-for-2 with a strikeout. No baserunners tried to steal against him.

The loss drops the Nats to 8-5 for the Spring, as they host the Yankees this afternoon, another game which will be televised on MASN live and on tape delay on the MLB Network.

Harper Not Among The Next Set Of Cuts

Nats announce the next set of players headed to minor-league camp

As expected, the Nationals have made the next set of cuts today, the details of which are coming across in fits and starts. Bryce Harper will not be among them, according to Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore.

Most of the names you’ll see below are not unexpected, with the possible of exception of Adam Carr. I write “possible” because of the results — 1-0, 1 SV, 4IP 1H 0R 0BB 2K — fully understanding that decisions are not made solely on stats, but it’s difficult to reconcile the disconnect between the decision and the performance. All the names below are being assigned to Syracuse (Mock & Carr are technically being optioned).

Luis Atilano
Michael Aubrey
Kevin Barker
Adam Carr
Jeff Frazier
Carlos Maldonado
J.D. Martin
Garrett Mock
Jhonatan Solano
Jonathan Van Every
Josh Wilkie

UPDATE: Reliever Cla Meredith has been released outright.