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Dr. Strangeglove or: How I Learned to Worry about Closers and Love the Middlemen

Posted By Bryan Sargent On Apr 1 2010 @ 8:45 am In Philadelphia Phillies | No Comments

Only one day after he was sent back in to the bullpen, pitcher Kyle Kendrick may now be in the rotation to start the 2010 season. Starter Joe Blanton “tweaked” an oblique muscle during a bullpen session yesterday. He is scheduled to have an examination today. Depending on the prognosis, Kendrick could find himself back in the starter role, a position he thrived on this spring. However, the bad news is the bullpen will have another temporary setback with Kendrick possibly out. Either way, Kendrick should have no short-term fear of being traded… again [1].

Speaking of the bullpen, closer Brad Lidge received a Cortisone shot for his continuously ailing elbow. The inflammation he has been experiencing is not related to the off-season surgery he had on that same elbow. It’s possible he could miss the entire month of April.

All of the news and concern over Lidge’s nagging health issues and struggles this spring has brought back to the surface one of my biggest baseball pet peeves: the coddling and extra special treatment given to closers.

There is no denying that the Phillies championship run in 2008 could not have happened if it weren’t for the precision-like consistency of Brad Lidge. For that, I am forever grateful. Then 2009 arrived. If you read my posts from last season, you are well aware of the fact that Brad quickly fell out of favor with me. REALLY fell.

What made this more exasperating was Charlie Manuel’s hard-headed insistence on maintaining him as the closer, even though he was blowing saves and losing games at an alarming rate. But no, he was THE closer. That’s his role and apparently no one else could possibly do that job. Bupkis! Brad Lidge’s role in the bullpen is exactly the same as the rest of those pitchers in-between himself and the starter: no matter the situation you enter in on, your one and only concern is to maintain the status quo. If you enter the game with your team up, your job is to finish the inning with your team still up. If you enter the game with your team down, your job is to finish the inning and not let the deficit rise. You enter tied, you finish tied. It’s very simple.

It seems every year, teams get more and more concerned with their closer situation. Who is going to be our the flame-throwing, fist-pumping, sky-pointing, emphatic game-ender? Who is the man we want to see rack up that terribly overrated statistic, the save. What hard-charging song are we going to blast over the PA to drive everyone in to a frenzy? The spectacle of the closer has become nothing short of a Wrestlemania event. And even worse, these men see it in their paychecks.

During the 2008 season, Brad Lidge was signed to a 3-year, $37.5 million dollar extension. Not too bad for 60-70 innings of work a year. This is not an isolated case. The $10 million a year closer has now become standard practice. I clearly chose the wrong profession in life.

This is pure insanity. If my team wants to give that money to a pitcher, I want him to excel in pressure-packed scenarios, not situations that are handed to them on a silver platter. I get more excited when someone like Chad Durbin enters the game in the 6th inning… one out, men on second and third… the opposition’s fans, deafening with their anticipatory pleads for a big rally… all this while trying to maintain the Phillies small lead. If he accomplishes that task, I am much more impressed. It’s those guys that make the jobs of a closer easier, and it’s those situations that unfortunately get glossed over. Those are the guys I want in battle.

Until he proves me otherwise, Brad Lidge can stay out of the bullpen for the rest of the year for all I care. People are concerned that the Phils don’t have a definitive closer now. I say every single pitcher in that bullpen are closers. I would let any of them finish off a game for me. You go with what’s working for you at that moment. It’s like that with position players and it’s like that with starting pitchers. Why can’t the role of a closer be that flexible?

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