Apr 082013

by John Viril—Something very interesting happened in the 9th inning of yesterday’s 3-1 comeback victory over the Twins in Monday’s home opener. Royals manager Ned Yost sent Aaron Crow to get the save. By eschewing nominal closer Greg Holland and heir-apparent Kelvin Herrera, has Yost instead decided to go “closer-by-committee”?

Of course, the official answer is no. Yost told reporters Monday morning that Greg Holland was still the closer. Further, Yost said that both Holland and Herrera were “unavailable” for Monday’s game due to heavy use in Philadelphia. Using Crow to finish the game certainly makes sense under these circumstances. Even the hyper-critical blogger Rany Jazayerli tweeted that he agreed with every move Yost has made in handling the pen this first week of play.

Even so, Crow’s successful trial run on Monday (1.0 IP 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K) has entered his name into the closer derby.

Holland is certain to get a chance to hold onto his job—maybe as soon as tomorrow. However, what happens if Holland struggles once more? Sooner or later, depending on Yost’s patience, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins will get save opportunities. Perhaps, as fangraphs.com’s Matt Klaasen suggests, Yost will match pitchers to situations.

In that case, we will have a time of the dreaded “closer-by-committee” approach. Teams usually make such an announcement when they have a rag-tag collection of relievers and they HOPE to ride the hot hand well enough to effectively finish games. That’s not the Royals situation. Instead, they have four power arms with closer talent. Just look at the career numbers:

     Pitcher:                    K/9                 BB/9               ERA             WHIP

Collins           10.2         5.3         3.39        1.351
Crow              9.2          3.7         3.05        1.265
Herrera           8.4          2.2         2.51        1.160
Holland           11.6         4.0         3.17        1.266

Perhaps Yost’s approach on Monday is best: the closer is the guy with the proper amount of rest.

Baseball conventional wisdom, however, will fight against such a chaotic measure. Yost is likely to find a favorite and stick with that guy unless he has been overworked. If Holland comes back strong in his next opportunity and continues to be effective, all of this doubt will mean nothing.

However, if Holland opens the door, I think Herrera will eventually become the new favorite for one simple reason: his low walk rate will help Yost sleep at night. Nothing makes both fans and managers happier than a closer with clean finishes. No one really remembers how many strikeouts, flyballs, or grounders the other team got. All they remember is how stressed they feel before winning the game (or the blown save for that matter). If Herrera continues to perform up to his career numbers, he will win that contest.

On the other hand, a winning season filled with close games could lead to a “committee” approach simply due to the need to keep guys rested. If the Royals become such a team, Yost would be foolish to ignore the plentiful number of good arms parked in his pen. Monday night suggests Yost wouldn’t hesitate to implement such a practical solution.

If the Royals continue to play tight games at their current pace, closer-by-committee is here to stay.

 Posted by at 11:17 pm

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