One of the bigger questions of Mariners Spring Training featured the bullpen. The question of who will be the closer of this young team? We may have an answer.
The Mariners didn’t spend much money on improving a bad 2019 bullpen, leaving the traditional roles in the bullpen up in the air. Obviously, the role most fans know and care the most about is the “closer”. But Seattle has decided that they won’t operate with a single closer in 2020. Instead, they’ll use the committee approach.
In what is become more frequent, teams have eschewed the traditional closer for a more optimal bullpen strategy. No longer is the 9th inning a sacred entity that only the seasoned, grizzled veterans could dare tackle. Instead, the 9th inning is being treated more and more like the 6th or 7th inning.
Teams are becoming smarter and realizing that saving your best reliever for a situation that may never come isn’t the smartest thing in the world. Of course, some managers still manage for the save, keeping back their best reliever to protect a 3-run lead with nobody on base in the 9th as opposed to using him with the bases loaded in the 8th with 1-out protecting a 2-run lead, but progress is being made.
Soon, most teams will use the Mariners approach. Of course, Seattle is using it out of necessity. But what does a committee look like for Seattle? After all, the overall win-loss record isn’t critical in 2020, but with a young team, every win is precious, and blowing it on the cusp of victory can be devastating.
But the Mariners committee approach will likely resemble the “hot hand theory” where Servais will look to give the ball to the pitcher throwing the best at the time while keeping in mind the matchups in the upcoming innings.
Our best guess for who gets the first save opportunity is still likely Yoshihisa Hirano, the elder statesman of the pen. But Carl Edwards Jr., Matt Magill, and Brandon Brennan will get chances as well.
Overall, the strategy may be one of necessity but could point towards an actual plan for a competitive team down the line. We can’t say for sure who will lead the Mariners in saves in 2020. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. But the strategy should work on paper. Now, let’s see how Scott Servais makes it work in practice.