Much has been said over the years about the expediency of a 4-out save. It is usually not until the playoffs, when a closer is brought in to get a big out in the eighth, then asked to pitch the ninth as well, that this managerial decision is highlighted.
In 3 of Jose Valverde’s last 4 appearances, he has been called upon to get out(s) in the eighth inning, and then pitch the ninth. In the 46 games he appeared in before that, he recorded 4 or more outs just twice.
But in the wake of the disaster in Boston, Jim Leyland has doubled down this week in New York.
With 2-outs, a runner on a second, and a 6-1 lead nearly three weeks ago in Boston, Jim Leyland relieved Phil Coke, who had recorded two strike outs in the inning, with Jose Valverde. Valverde would walk the first batter, throw a wild pitch to the next, before striking him out to end the inning.
Most troubling was that in a game where the Tigers had been cruising all night, Jim Leyland asked his closer to get 4-outs. It resulted in a 60-pitch, stress-riddled performance, which saw the Tigers’ 5-run lead cut to 1 in the ninth, with the winning run on first base.
Valverde was able to get Mike Cameron on strikes to secure the win, but the decision would leave the Tigers without Valverde with two games remaining at Fenway Park. The decision was questionable at best, and would ultimately lead to the Tigers losing the next two games, both of which they lead, on walkoffs.
Instead of learning from that series, and reevaluating the logic behind bringing Valverde in to pitch in the eighth inning, Jim Leyland, like a stubborn gambler stuck for money, pressed even harder, almost reinventing the situation Monday in New York.
Valverde threw nearly 40 pitches with four walks and had another ninth inning jam on his hands. He ended it in dramatic fashion by inducing a game-ending double play, but, once again, with three games left in New York, you are likely left without your best reliever to pitch the ninth inning for the rest of the series.
We can debate into the night whether or not a 4-out save is your best option in a tight spot, but consider this:
The top 20 closers in baseball in 2010, ranked in order of most saves, that successfully got 4 or more outs in a save situation had a combined ERA of 3.87. Those same 20 closers, when asked to get 3 outs or less in a save situation had a combined ERA of 2.83. That is a whopping 1R/9IP difference. That’s a big gap.
To be fair, this stat certainly does not tell the entire story. Calculating a stat that would compare the probabilities of victory when leaving a reliever in to pitch the entire eighth inning versus bringing in your closer for 4 outs is way beyond my pay grade. That said, this stat doesn’t even take into account games in which a closer that pitched part of the eighth inning only got 3 outs or less because of a walkoff or being removed from a game, which would only inflate that “4-out” ERA.
The bottom line, to me, is that these situations with Jose Valverde seem to follow the old adage, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Pitching multiple innings does not work, and even being a Leyland supporter, it’s a pretty good indication of his stubbornness and aversion to change.