The St. Louis Cardinals have a strong bullpen this year, and the best way to utilize it would be to avoid having a single closing pitcher.
The save statistic and the closing pitcher have been around for a while, and while many teams have a dedicated ninth-inning man, the St. Louis Cardinals would do best to avoid this formula.
The team’s original closer for 2019, Jordan Hicks, blew out his elbow and is gone for the season and possibly all of 2020 as well. Carlos Martinez picked up the closer’s role and has fared decently. But because of the bullpen’s strength, the fact that the team is primarily relying on one closer could be preventing the bullpen from soaring to even greater heights.
The best reliever for the Cardinals — and there has been no shortage of good ones — is Giovanny Gallegos. Countless praises have been sung of his exploits this year, and there have been calls for him to close games in lieu of Martinez. But what many people may not realize is that by keeping Gallegos from closing games and using him in more high-leverage spots, the Cardinals are likely using him more effectively.
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The idea of a closing pitcher being the best reliever on the team is good in theory, but when the pressure is on and the game hangs in the balance, a team should ideally use its best reliever in that situation. And that’s not always in the ninth inning.
The way Gallegos is being used is probably optimal for the team right now, but if the ninth inning is when the game is close and uncertain, I would have no issue letting him come into the game. But teams need to focus on the inning at hand and not save their best pitchers for a later inning if the game is in jeopardy at an earlier point.
Unlike teams that might only have one dominant reliever or a shaky bullpen in general, the Cardinals have a number of options to go to for the ninth inning. Gallegos, John Gant, Andrew Miller, John Brebbia, Ryan Helsley and incumbent closer Martinez are all options.
Because the bullpen is so good, the team doesn’t have to worry about using someone like Gallegos in a pressure spot and not having him for the ninth because other players can come in and do their jobs well.
The save statistic is tantalizing, but baseball has changed a lot over the past few years, and the idea of the closer needs to change with it, at least for some teams. The Cardinals would do well to make the most of their bullpen by using the committee approach.