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The Closer Role and How the Houston Astros Should Handle It

The Houston Astros have a lot of good weapons in the bullpen, so how should A.J. Hinch use them?

Last week, the Yankees and Dellin Betances arbitration case came to a verdict. The Yankees won. The difference between the two sides was two million dollars, as Betances requested five million while the Yankees offered three million. Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, then went off during a news conference. "What his agents did was make him a victim of an attempt to change a market place in baseball that has been well established for 30, 40 years, I feel bad for Dellin that he was used in that way by his agent," said Levine (

The marketplace that Levine is referring to is the role of the set-up man and how much he makes in comparison to a closer. The utter ridiculousness of this statement is insane. Betances is currently one of the best relievers in baseball. The fact that his salary is based on a flawed system is asinine. The role of the closer should be dead. 

The idea that the 9th inning is the most important inning for a pitcher is false. Sure, sometimes it can be, but are we just going to continue to sit here and believe that a three run lead with no men on and no outs is as crucial as the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning when there is a man on second and third, no outs, and a reliever is asked to come into the game and get the out of it?

The answer is obviously no. There are situations that can change the rest of the game, and why save your best reliever for the ninth when he can go in and shut down the other team's offense when they are in a dangerous position? Any team should deal with the now in a baseball game, rather than the later. You're "closer" can't come in to get a save if the game has already been blown in a high-leverage situation earlier in the game in which the manager elected to use a less effective reliever. 

So what should the Astros do with the closer role? Exactly what I said earlier. Kill it. What the Astros should do is try to establish their best reliever, and then use him in crucial situations. I would love to see and write about the idea of the team "bullpenning", rather than have the traditional starting rotation and bullpen, but at this point, there is no chance of the team, or the rest of the league for that matter, doing it this year, so we can just stick to this for the time being.

It can be any inning during a game; whenever a team is about to blow the game open, bring your best guy in. Give your team the chance to stay in the game. If you have a tight lead and the opposing team has a chance to tie it or take the lead, bring him in. 

There are a multitude of situations where the best reliever can come in the game and give your team the best chance to win the game. Another scenario that could work was the way the Indians used Andrew Miller, albeit to a lesser extent. The idea is to not have the best reliever available every night to go one inning, but rather have the best reliever go two to three innings in an appearance and make him unavailable for two to three days.

The idea is he can have a bigger influence on game by going for a longer period of time, but the downside is he will unable to pitch in subsequent two or three games. The bullpen would have to be very deep to compensate for those games. There is a slight chance the Astros could pull this off if they tried.

Having Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, and Ken Giles helps, but the rest off the bullpen would have to step up. Chris Devenski would have to continue his performance last year, while Michael Feliz would have to step up. Whoever fills up the rest of the bullpen is yet to be determined, whoever ends up there will need to have a decent year in order for this to work if it is used.

As it stands though, I doubt the Astros would do this. Given the state of Major League Baseball, I doubt, but really hope, a team is willing to do this over the course of the year. Despite this, I think the Astros should try this if there is a pivotal game where a win is necessary.

Next week, I will continue this series by evaluating each of the Astros' top bullpen arms, Giles, Gregerson, and Harris, to examine how the Astros should maximize the arsenals of these pitchers and optimize their performance by choosing roles best suited for them. See you next week. 

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