I think there’s another scenario that could win the Yankees more games, or, at least, save them from blowouts. I call it the roving fireman. The concept is simple. You have a closer ready to pitch in any inning, as soon as you need a fireman to put out the fire. It’s kind of a throwback to the old days when closers weren’t designated to the ninth inning. They came in when the game was in jeopardy. Some days the game is jeopardy much earlier than the ninth. Some days a starter just doesn’t have it. They’ll go 3 or 4 innings, give up 5 or more runs, and it turns into an extended spring training game for some kid to get a shot in a game that’s already lost. However, what if those games become winnable?
Imagine the scenario where it’s the top of the 3rd, you're holding a one-run lead. Your starter loads the bases by allowing the first three batters to reach. He has already thrown nearly 60 pitches and he hasn’t retired a batter this inning. He’s already given up a home run earlier in the game. This isn’t his day. Do you pull him? That was the scenario on June 23. Michael Pineda was on the mound against the Phillies. Joe Girardi left him in and he went on to give up 7 runs on 6 hits over the next 2/3 of an inning. By the time Girardi finally pulled him, the Yankees were down 8-2 and would end up losing 11-8.
Now imagine you had a closer who could enter the game in the 3rd inning of a distressed game, in a scenario like the one I just described, knowing you had another closer for the ninth. Could Andrew Miller have shut it down, maybe allowing one run max on a slow grounder or a sacrifice fly? It would be a 2-2 tie in the 4th, the Yankees bring in a long reliever for 3 innings like the one that followed Pineda, have Betances and Chapman close it out. They likely win the game. Interesting, right?
Those of you who are old enough to remember the Yankees in the 1970s know that I’m ripping a page out of the playbook of one of my favorite managers of all time, Billy Martin. In 1977, the Yankees faced the Kansas City Royals in the best of 5 ALCS. Down 2 games to 1, the Yankees are facing elimination. They staked Ed Figueroa to a 4-0 lead in the 3rd inning.
Then he bled 2 runs in the bottom of the third. The Yankees tacked on 1 in the top of the fourth. With a 5-2 lead, Ed Figueroa was back in trouble. After a four-pitch walk and a double brought the Royals back within 2, Billy Martin had seen enough. He went to the bullpen and Dick Tidrow was in the game. Tidrow gave up a double and a walk, putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Royals Stadium was rocking. Martin went to the bullpen again.
This time, it was Sparky Lyle. The closer. In the fourth inning. People were in shock. As Martin said after the game, he needed his best pitcher. His best pitcher went on to pitch the most famous 5+ inning save in the history of baseball.
Now, back to the present. I began to wonder how often this scenario happens. In 2015, a starter gave up 4 or more runs and failed to complete 6 innings 28 times. Of those 28 times, the starter gave up more runs than the difference in the game 9 times. Two of those nine games were against Toronto. When you think about the fact that the Yankees finished 6 games behind Toronto, How would this option have helped us last year? I don’t know how far the Yankees go, but I’m pretty sure Dallas Keuchel throws a 3-hit shutout against the Blue Jays instead of the Yankees. Or something like that.
There was a day when no one had a concept of a setup man before the closer. Until Joe Torre tried it and won big. Having 3 closer-caliber relief pitchers gives Joe Girardi a lot of options. This is one of the most interesting ones. I don’t know if he’s thought of it, but used properly, this could be the next innovative idea for managing the bullpen.