I just got an interesting email/press release from the Durham Bulls. (By the way, the Durham Bulls have a great press office. They found me, and keep me informed. That is thorough.) The first sentence reads “Tampa Bay Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth is scheduled to start tonight’s game for the Durham Bulls, beginning a MLB rehab assignment as the team kicks off a four game series against Syracuse.” (emphasis mine).
That raises an interesting question: is Kyle Farnsworth still the Rays’ closer?
There are a few competing principles at play here. First, the age-old baseball rule — the Wally Pipp corollary — that a starter cannot lose his job because of injury. Second, Fernando Rodney has been near perfect. Third, as Jerry Crasnick wrote yesterday, the Rays believe that Rodney has been perfect in large part, because he has confidence that the job is his.
The Rays seem to be stuck between options. They can’t just thumb their nose at the Pipp rule and let Rodney keep the job in light of Joe’s recent defense of baseball’s hallowed unwritten rules. (After all, what would Davey Johnson think then?) They can’t just give the job back to Farny because they can’t be sure what Farny will give them and they’ll likely rattle Rodney’s confidence making him a non-entity. They probably can’t even split the job, because, according to Crasnick, Joe likes to have a guy designated for the last three outs.
What does that leave? Maybe just one compromise.
The best argument I read from SABRists about the “save” is the evidence that shows that the most important three outs in a game aren’t always in the 9th inning. Games are often decided much, much earlier. And, the data seems to suggest that you can know when the game will be decide while it is happening. That naturally leads to the strategy that a “closer” should be used in the highest leverage spot, not just the 9th.
Well, if the Rays have two “closers” they can have their SABR cake and eat it too. Farny can work the mid-game high-leverage tipping point. And Rodney can work the 9th where Joe insists the final outs are hardest. That gives the Rays a chance to see what Farny has and doesn’t rattle Rodney’s confidence. And, if you hide it under a pile of SABR-y stuff, you can argue that the Rays never violated the Pipp rule.
Anyone got any better ideas?