Let me clarify. McGee is not a closer in the traditional sense. But he is the new closer in the traditional Joe Maddon sense, which is exactly why Maddon had never officially assigned the “c-word” prior to signing Grant Balfour this season.
Maddon explain that after the game last night:
Balfour’s had a lot of success against a lot of these guys. [I] wanted him to get through the first three guys. If he went 1-2-3, it was going to be perfect for Jake [McGee] in the ninth, but it didn’t work out that way. That’s the perfect example of, if Jake’s the closer, then you don’t use him right there and all of a sudden the game gets away. When you have a bullpen by committee, then you can do things like that where it’s not blowing anybody’s head up, otherwise there’s smoke coming out of ears of the guys and guys just don’t get it. So that’s a perfect example of why, unless you have that really lockdown guy working, to be able to utilize everybody in the appropriate setting. Jake was really instrumental of us winning that game.
In other words, McGee is the ninth inning guy unless there is a more urgent situation where he is needed before the ninth inning.
He may not be the closer in the traditional sense, but he is the big outs guy now.
There is a downside to using your best reliever in innings other than the ninth which is why McGee will most likely see the majority of his work in the final inning as long as he continues to pitch well.
The problem is that it takes time to warm up and the manager doesn’t always know which outs are going to be the most important until that batter is standing at the plate.
You can try to anticipate the important outs, which may be easier in a 1-run game or in the 8th inning. But at other times you can see a rally building and the pitcher currently in the game is able to get out of it. Or maybe the rally comes suddenly and unexpectedly.
If a manager tries to anticipate those situations too often, he will end up in a position where his best reliever is warming up 3-4 times a game and that is bad for his arm.
So if you want to know who will get the majority of saves for the Rays the rest of the season, put your money on McGee. But he will also lose out on some as Maddon continues to play the match-up game he enjoys so much.