No. At least I don’t think so. But if you take a look at how he has used the top weapon in his bullpen compared to other teams, it looks like he might just be the smartest man alive. Let me explain.
So most managers seem to place their best reliever in a “closer” role, where the pitcher is used in the ninth inning to help finish the game with a “W”. The problem with this, is that a save is nothing more than a “hold”, a stat given to players who perform the same function in a middle relief capacity. There is more glamour in the save, but those innings pitched are not necessarily more hazardous or more important than pitching the 7th or 8th. In fact, its often where you’d see the top set up man come in to face the best two or three hitters in the 8th only leave the bottom of an order to the closer. There is no bonus or extra weight given to pitching the 9th inning; they are all equal in the books.
Now let’s look at how closers are traditionally deployed; in the 9th inning where there is an opportunity for a save. Dusty Baker, chewing on his toothpick, still uses Francisco Cordero for those roles. If you asked Baker, he’d tell you that Coco was his top guy in the bullpen and that’s why he closes. But if he’s the best guy in the bullpen, why isn’t he used in the highest leveraged situations in a game?
Don’t ask Ron Washington. Twice this year, Washington has seen tied games lost because his best pitcher, Feliz, was on the bench. Why would that be? Because he was a closer and it wasn’t a save situation. This is absurd. Why go to war with shotguns and bayonets if you have machine guns at your disposal? Other managers are guilty too, although none probably as highly visible as Ron Washington, given the Rangers run in the postseason last year.
Back to the Redlegs and Dusty Baker. I feel, and many Reds fans agree, that Aroldis Chapman is the best bullpen weapon at Dusty’s disposal. As such, many people want him to be in the closers role (well, they want him to start, like me, but if he’s to be in the bullpen, at least close). What many of these people don’t realize is that if Dusty Baker woke up tomorrow and declared the Cuban Missile to be his closer, we’d never again see him come into a one out, tied game with a runner on third.
This situation happened in the weekend series against the Cardinals and to the best of my recollection, he struck out one and induced weak contact leading to an out. Whatever the exact details, it’s important to realize that if he were the closer, even as the best option available, he’d have remained on the bench. Just like Neftali Feliz was left on the bench while his Rangers teammates twice blew games.
What makes this intriguing is that Dusty Baker is steadfast in his belief that the closer is the 9th inning option, but it’s exactly this backward thinking that has benefited and will continue to benefit the Reds, because we’ll see our best pitcher used in the most crucial situations. Chapman will continue to be the high leverage guy out of the pen and hopefully the Reds will only see Cordero in mop up, “get some work in” duty or when the Reds have a 3 run cushion.
Dusty’s a great player’s manager and this year I haven’t had as much to complain about. In fact, praise for Dusty would shock friends of mine as I often speak ill of him as a tactical manager. However, given his use of Cordero and Chapman, I wonder if he’s simply pulled the wool over all of our eyes. Has he seen that Chapman is better in the high leverage situations and thus wants to keep him in that role? Is he such a good “player’s manager” that he, knowing Chapman is more useful in a setup capacity, has played this all off to keep Cordero’s ego from crashing? I don’t typically give him much credit, but maybe Dusty Baker is the Sneaky Genius.