Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mike MacDougal and the Multi-Inning Save

One of the things I hope the next manager keeps doing just like Jim Riggleman is his willingness to use his ace reliever in multi-inning situations.

Last night against the Dodgers, for the seventh time this year, MacDougal was called upon to protect a lead or tie for more than one inning. He blew it, as he did in his one other blown save chance back on July 26, but Riggleman has the right idea using his designated ace reliever to do more than just get three outs in the ninth inning.

One could gripe that MacDougal, he of the 13.6% strikeout rate (NL average is 18.2%), 15.1% walk rate (NL average is 9.1%), and 4.76 xFIP, doesn't merit such usage. But given the alternatives available, that wouldn't be totally fair. Lucky or not, MacDougal's been the closest thing the Nationals have had to a guy who can come in and get outs in key situations with some regularity, and Riggleman's been getting as much as possible from him.

Manny Acta, on the other hand, used his closers for more than three outs just five times in two-plus years. Chad Cordero never did it, and Jon Rauch just once.

Manny's more the rule than the exception. Across the league, managers continue to hew to a pattern of closer usage driven more by convention and the flawed "save" stat than what will actually help them win more games. Since the year 2000, there have been just 1,501 saves of more than one inning in all of MLB (that's excluding the 3+ inning save variety, which are almost exclusively blow-out mop-up innings).

Meanwhile there have been 9,594 saves of one inning or less. Just 13.5% of the time are managers asking their very best, most well-paid relievers to get more than three outs to win a game.

I'm certainly a proponent of monitoring innings and pitch counts, because there's a lot of at least circumstantial evidence that certain usage patterns significantly increase the risk of injury, especially for young pitchers. But I haven't seen anyone present evidence that closers need to be kept to three outs or less 87% of the time to be kept healthy.

So a hat-tip to Jim Riggleman. In this case, he's getting it right.

No comments: