With Kyle Farnsworth off to see a doctor about his elbow, this opens the door for somebody else to take over the ninth inning duties. Or does it?

Some are predicting that the Rays will turn to a closer-by-committee. And this may be true to an extent, but eventually, somebody will settle into the role.

Joe Maddon vs The Front Office

The funny thing about the closer’s job, is that it has always appeared to be the one thing that Joe Maddon and the front office have a strong fundamental disagreement, even if publicly, they claim to be on the same page.

The front office clearly doesn’t believe in having a defined “closer,” preferring instead to have the best pitchers work the highest-leveraged situations no matter what inning that occurs. And on paper, this is smart baseball.

Closer-by-Committee is difficult to implement

But JoeMa knows things are occasionally more complicated than bringing in his best pitcher for the most important outs.

Using your best reliever in the most important situations requires that a manager know ahead of time when those will occur. And that is not always easy to predict. Sure, you know when Alex Rodriguez is coming up. But facing A-Rod with two runners on in a 2-run game is much different from facing A-Rod with the bases empty.

So if A-Rod is coming up in the 7th inning, Maddon could warm up his best pitcher. But what happens if he the situation turns out to not be a high-leverage out? Does he bring the pitcher in any way? Or does he sit the reliever and warm him up again later, something that can be taxing on a pitcher’s arm?

Maddon knows numbers and players

Maddon also understands that players are creatures of habit. Whether it is Wade Boggs eating chicken before the game, or James Shields preferring to pitch on four days rest as often as possible, or Mariano Rivera having a set routine that begins in the 6th or 7th inning every game, many players crave consistency and routine.

And we can all argue over the importance of these ceremonies and routines. But if the players believe they are important, then they are important.

Maddon likes having a closer, just not the title

Maddon also appreciates the freedom that comes from not assigning the title “closer” to one player. Not only does this give him flexibility, but it also removes the scrutiny that comes to both the manager and the player on the rare occasion that somebody else subs in.

So who will close?

Early on, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee get a save or two. But the guy we would expect to see Maddon lean on is JP Howell. If Dude is indeed 100% as he appears to be, he is one guy in the bullpen that Maddon has always trusted, occasionally to a fault. He also has experience in the role. And Maddon has shown a preference for experience at the back-end of the bullpen.

But eventually, somebody will be the Rays closer. Maybe not right away. And definitely not in any official capacity. But Maddon has always used closers, even if he has never defined that role. And there is no reason to expect things to change now.

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11 Comments

  1. Alex says:

    Peralta was the one getting saves last year when Farns went down though...

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Yep. and that certainly wouldn't surprise me if that happened again. But Howell wasn't 100% last year and supposedly this is the best he has felt since 2009. We'll see. I just feel like there is something there with Maddon and Howell. A certaint trust-factor. Or maybe Howell has some pictures Maddon doesn't want leaked.

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      • s says:

        "Howell has some pictures Maddon doesn’t want leaked." winner, winner, chicken dinner.

        the thought of howell as our closer makes me want to do bong hits!!!!!!

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  2. Doug G. says:

    Didn't JP lose about 7 to 8 games for us last year? Why would he even be considered? He has the worst follow thru of any professional pitcher I have ever seen...give the closer job to Peralta & match up the rest by situations

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  3. Pinto says:

    What about Wade Davis?

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      Maybe eventually. But right now he is going to be the long reliever. It is a good transition to full-time reliever and at same time keeps his trade value up as there would be less concern from other teams that it might take him a while to convert back to a starter.

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  4. LSX says:

    I don't understand why so many fans freak about about the possibility of Howell pitching in a close game. Did you forget how good he was a few years ago? Yeah I was watching last year, but he hasn't been healthy. Forget about last season. If he can pitch like he did before the injuries, I have 100% confidence in Howell.

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    • MJ says:

      I think some of the trepidation is due to fastball velocity as well. What happens if a pitcher who lives off of location and movement (Howell) just doesn't have it one day? He will pay dearly for his mistakes. Unlike a Edwin Jackson or maybe McGee/Archer who can get by w/ mistakes due to the velocity. Howell just doesn't have your typical closer stuff.

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    • s says:

      IF?!?!?!?

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  5. Dave L says:

    I'm with Madden on the closer being somewhat of a modern contrivance that may work for some teams but is not mandatory to an effective bullpen.

    I liked that Farnsworth was willing to be flexiible unlike his immediate predecessor who got hung up on the 9th inning only role. He was blessed with a 8th inning guy that was pitching just as good as he was so it didnt hurt us.

    A reliever needs to pitch where and when he is most effective and be compliant and trust in a good manager and staff to determine exactly when that is.

    I like Wades attitude also. He didnt want to do it but as soon as it became inevitable he made the good decision to make the best of it. Kick ass in the bullpen and wait till one of the other 5 get tweaked, its inevitable. The Rays opening day rotation pitched more than anybodys last year but the were plenty of starts for others

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