Baseball Magazine

In Defense of the Middle Inning Closer

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

Take a look at the following box score I created:


Notice anything unusual?  What stands out to some would be the second pitcher (Jones) who threw for only two outs in the third inning.  This is referred to as the “middle-inning closer.”  Using your closer earlier in the game instead of at the end of the game is a little unorthodox but I think it has some merit.  Here are a few reasons why it may have some value:

Big innings.  Most teams win games by having big innings (3+ runs).  A combination of walks, hits, and errors usually account for most big innings.  As a result, many games are decided long before the last inning rolls along.  Stopping the offensive team from having a big inning early in the game may prevent them from having any big innings at all which will increase the likelihood you will win.  Bringing in your closer at any time can shut down that potential big inning.  Save your closer for only the last innings and you may not get to use him at all.  The game may be pretty much over by then.

Rubber arm.  One of the reasons closers are closers is because they have the ability to warm up quickly.  Coaches normally do not call down to the bullpen in the third inning to tell pitchers to start getting ready just in case.  Calls to the pen in the third inning usually means the game has quickly taken a turn for the worse.  In those situations, a fast warm-up is needed.  Sometimes the guy who gets ready fastest is the closer.  Use him and stop the bleeding NOW before it’s too late.  Using him also allows the more long relief guy(s) more time to effectively warm-up for the following innings.

Mental toughness.  Closers are usually the most comfortable coming in the game during pressure situations with runners on base.  That’s why they are the closer.  Having this guy to finish the inning allows the other pitcher(s) that are warming up to enter the game at the start of the next inning when no runners are on base.  Something they are more likely to be comfortable with.

Bringing in a closer earlier in the game might raise some eyebrows among traditionalists but it is worth considering for the above reasons.  It is not something I would regularly do but I wouldn’t hesitate to bring him in during certain games with certain pitchers.  

Of course, if it backfires, you’ll probably catch some heat.  However, former MLB manager Cito Gaston once said something to the effect of, “a coach can do whatever he wants as long as he has a reason.  Others may not agree but you’ll be able to sleep at night if you have a reason.”

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