Alfredo “A Save Is” Aceves should be the Red Sox closer; Mark M..."/> Alfredo “A Save Is” Aceves should be the Red Sox closer; Mark M..."/>

Why Aceves should pitch the 9th, Melancon the 8th…only call on “Bailey The Fireman” when there IS a fire


Alfredo “A Save Is” Aceves should be the Red Sox closer; Mark Melancon should be his set-up guy and, the current closer, “Bailey The Fireman,” should come to the rescue to pitch an inning, or two, only when a fire breaks out. Hear me out.

Suppose you are a Red Sox fan and your house is on fire and you call 9-11 and the fireman arrive promptly. The fire is limited to just the garage, so you are confident that your house will not be lost. But, the Fire Chief is a retired MLB manager, say John McNamara, and he still “goes by the book” and says he will wait until the house is about 8/9 engulfed in flames, before applying water.

“WTF?!” you yell at McNamara. And, you add: “By the way, why the hell did you leave Buckner, on his wobbly knees, at 1b in the 9th inning of the 6th game of the ’86 World Series, when you had a ready, willing and able defensive 1b, Dave Stapleton, on the bench?”

As he patiently watches your lawn mower explode in the garage, spreading the fire to your house, McNamara answers: “I wanted Buckner to experience winning  Boston’s first World Series since 1918…to feel that moment of sheer joy… from First base, not the dugout…”

Experiencing the destruction of your house from your sidewalk, you become irate, you scream: “What?! Are you out of your friggin’ mind, John?! You left Billy Bucks in to…Oh, never mind! Why the hell are your men watching my house burn and not putting out the fire before it gets worse?!”

Chief Mac calmly replies: “It’s traditional to wait until the fire has consumed 8/9 of the house, before we send in the firemen…It’s like baseball, you always send in your closer at the END of the game and NEVER before the 8th inning—that’s reserved for the “set-up” guy…That’s the way we always did it…”

Frustrated about the Buckner explanation and convinced that the Chief will let most of your house burn down, you run to the side of the garage, turn on your garden hose and, within a few minutes, with Chief Mac shaking his head in approbation, you put out the fire yourself.

OK, get it now? That’s why Alfredo “A Save Is” Aceves should pitch the 9th inning; Mark Melancon should pitch the 8th and the former Oakland closer should play the hero role as “Bailey The Fireman.” Yes, Bailey, your most effective of the three pitchers, should only be used when there IS a fire; when there ARE runners on base, when the outcome of the game is most likely to be decided.

While it provides a dramatic conclusion to the game to have a “closer,” your best relief pitcher on the staff, enter the game in the 9th inning and, with a flourish, drown three batters in the Powder River, the 9th inning is not automatically the most critical, deciding inning of any game.

Consider: In baseball, going by the revered, dog-eared, growing a beard book entitled “We Always Did It That Way,” the Set-Up Guy and the Closer come in for the 8th and 9th innings respectively, nearly always with no runners on base. From the first pitch through the 7th inning, if the opposition erupts into a rally and puts runners on bases, a relief pitcher, usually your 4th best (or worse) gets called in to the major jam to “put out the fire.”

In the unlikely event that the starter gets KO’d during the first 4-5 innings, most managers will bring in an emergency starter, but managers have good reason to anticipate that a starter will give them 5-6 innings, before fatigue sets in and his mechanics begin to break down. They typically leave the starter in the game, even when the opposition generates a rally and even scores a few runs; a starter who leaves the game having surrendered 3-4 runs (or fewer runs than his ERA) is given a hero’s send-off to the dugout and may even get credit for a “quality start.”

Before we game out a hypothetical contest with the Yanks, let’s look at the stats and rank our three relief pitchers:

"ERA  W-K      WHIP     H/9   HR/9   W/9   K/9    K-W ratio #1 BAILEY             2.07   49-174   0.954     6.1       0.6       2.5      9.0     3.55 #2 ACEVES             2.93  42-80    1.105      6.6       0.6       3.3      6.3     2.32 #3 MELANCON     3.21  44-98    1.259      7.8       0.6       3.5      7.9     2.23[*Melancon has a better K/9 stat than Aceves, but, Aceves has just 1 WP, Melancon has 6.]"

Let’s try my iconoclastic relief pitching theory in a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway. Bard starts and is shutting out the Yankees for 4 innings, he has 10 Ks and 2 Ws, but has a high pitch count (71), as he begins the 5th. The New York starter has yielded a single run and is now on cruise control. Fatigue is setting in on Bard and his heater is off by just a quarter of an inch. After going to a 3-2 count, he walks A-Rod. The next batter hits a line-drive single to left; Crawford takes it on one hop and tosses it into third; it’s first and second with no outs.

The Boston pitching coach visits Bard and asks him how he feels; Bard says he feels fine; the coach relays the “fine” message to the manager, who leaves his starter in the game. Down 1-0, with no outs, the visiting Yankee manager calls for a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position. The sacrifice works and there are now runners in scoring position, on second and third, with one out.

"We have now reached a “Decision Diamond” fork in the road: the Boston manager can either leave Bard in, or replace him with a reliever. The manager is thinking: “If Bard gives up a single, before getting two outs, we go behind 2-1. If I pull Bard, who do I bring in from the pen?” (He will not even consider bringing in the Closer [Bailey], or the Set-Up Guy [Melancon].) He thinks: “I can bring in…” [his third best reliever]  But, if he yanks his starter for his third best reliever, the manager is stacking the statistical odds against his team.OR, alternately, with the game at a critical turning point, the Boston manager brings in his BEST relief pitcher, “Fireman Bailey,” the one most likely to “put out, or contain, the fire” and keep the Sox ahead. And, he LEAVES Bailey IN THE GAME, until the 8th inning, when he goes to #3 reliever, Melancon and then follows with #2 reliever Aceves in the 9th inning. (BTW, for a twist, I would put Bard in the outfield for the 8th and 9th innings, so he could bail out Aceves, if Alfredo is needed to bail out Melancon.  Kent Tekulve did it for the Pirates.)"

FACT: Bailey enters the game with runners on base in a turning point moment.
FACT: Melancon and Aceves enter at the beginning of an inning with no base runners.

"Q: Given this example, wouldn’t you bring in your #1 relief pitcher in the critical 6th inning, when the game is most likely in the balance?Q: Given this example, wouldn’t you bring in your #3 reliever in for the 8th inning and the #2 reliever in for the 9th inning?OK, suppose your #3 reliever [Melancon] does get into trouble in the 8th inning; then, you have your #2 reliever enter the game and complete the 8th and pitch the 9th inning.Q: Don’t you bring your best “fireman” in when there IS a fire? [that is, with men on base]Q: Don’t you bring in your #3 and #2 relievers in when there is NO fire? [that is, with the bases empty]"

Using this logic, the Red Sox, bring their current “closer” [#1 reliever, Bailey] into the game, during a “FIRE! Inning” [men on base] and let their Set-Up Guy [#3 reliever, Melancon] enter the 8th inning with no base runners and bring in their #2 reliever [Aceves] to start the 9th with no FIRE [runners on base].

Granted, there are innumerable hypothetical game situations, where a case could be made against this approach, but, simply applying common logic and the stats [above], this heretical method would be most likely result in more wins.

In “closing,” I quote, Dennis Miller: “But, I could be wrong…”
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