Kasper: Cubs just fine without designated closer

Posted6/3/2012 9:28 PM
  • Cubs relief pitcher James Russell is more valuable to the bullpen in a variety of roles.

    Cubs relief pitcher James Russell is more valuable to the bullpen in a variety of roles. Associated Press

Q. The Cubs don't have a designated closer right now. Yet, you seem to think there's a silver lining here. Explain.

A. Aside from Mariano Rivera (when healthy), there just aren't many slump-proof closers, which creates a real headache for a manager who is nearly locked into using the same guy in the ninth inning every day.

I believe the ideal way to go is to not have a designated closer, but rather several good options each day who can be used in the best spot for that specific game.

While the Cubs don't have much experience in their current pen, it has freed up Dale Sveum to make some intriguing and unpredictable moves.

If he likes Shawn Camp's slider against a particular hitter in a high-leverage spot in the seventh, he can use him there.

If he wants James Russell against the other team's best left-handed hitter with the game on the line in the eighth, he can match up there. If he needs a groundball double play, he can summon Randy Wells or Casey Coleman.

Many, many times, the game's decision point comes in the seventh or eighth, not the ninth, yet we have many managers using their third- or fourth-best reliever in that situation, thus "saving" their bullpen ace for the ninth against either the bottom of the order or with a multiple-run lead.

National baseball writer Joe Sheehan has written a lot about the absurdity of paying your closer tons of money to not get the biggest outs.

This idea of "closing" a game in the seventh is nothing new. Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter did it 30 years ago. The difference is, they then pitched the final two innings as well.

But in this age of specialization, managers have many more decisions to make and pitchers to use. And the lack of a current Cubs closer has opened some intriguing doors into the future of how a bullpen might be constructed by a team willing to change the paradigm.

Q. You have featured a different statistic on your Sunday broadcasts this season in an effort to make some of the newer ones more understandable. Are you getting good feedback from fans?

A. The feedback has been largely positive. We have had fun with some new stats such as Fielding Independent Pitching and Batting Average On Balls In Play while also showing fans how many runs teams are expected to score based on outs and runners on base (via the Run Expectancy Matrix).

There are fans who don't want the numbers, but they still watch anyway.

I look at it like a blackjack table: You have some players who bet and play by "the book," which maximizes their odds and some who eschew the data and go by their gut.

Over the long haul, the book tends to win out, and that's why statistics are a valuable tool when it comes to baseball.

Yes, there always will be detractors, but it seems to be generally accepted that stats have an important role in a baseball broadcast.

Q. The current road trip started in San Francisco and ends in Minneapolis. Any insight into how MLB currently makes up each team's schedule?

A. Yes, I think they make sure every team has one long trip that makes no sense!

Seriously, because of interleague play and unbalanced division alignments, there is just no way to create a balanced, convenient schedule.

When I was a kid, the Cubs always would go to the West Coast twice a year and play the Giants, Dodgers and Padres on both trips.

It just doesn't happen that way anymore. That's why you see funky trips like the one the Cubs are currently navigating.

•Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @lenandbobwww.wgntv.com/lenandbob;http://www.wgntv.com/blogs/lenandbob/[URL]. Subscriber Total Access members can email him [/URL]questions;mailto:cubsquestions%40dailyherald.com?subject=Reader%20question[URL] each week via our online link.[/URL]

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