- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Remember the six-out save? Sure, Mariano Rivera used to get them in the postseason, although he has had only two of those since 2005.
But in the regular season? Six outs for a closer? You may as well ask them to do the team laundry or carry the backup catcher's luggage.
So when Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker brought in Aroldis Chapman -- the best relief pitcher on the planet right now -- with two runners on, no outs and a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning, it was a sight for Goose Gossage's sore eyes: A closer being asked to get six outs.
In fact, over the past two seasons, I found only five saves in which the reliever got six outs and the final score was two runs or less. But all those saves were by set-up relievers who were left in to pitch two innings, probably because the regular closer was unavailable: two by Jeremy Affeldt and one each by Phil Coke, Casey Janssen and Matt Thornton. The only regular closer to get a six-out save over the past two seasons is Baltimore's Jim Johnson, who had a two-inning save last Sept. 14 in a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay (the Orioles scored twice in the eighth to extend a lead). And at the time, Johnson had only recently become the Orioles' closer, as that was his sixth save.
Rivera, for example, hasn't had a six-out save in the regular season since 2006. Jonathan Papelbon has had one six-out save in his career. You get the idea. Baker bringing in Chapman in this situation in 2012 was like asking Babe Ruth to bunt. It just isn't done.
And, of course, Chapman promptly blew up. Brennan Boesch singled to right to load the bases. Chapman hit light-hitting Matt Young's jersey, if not his body. Austin Jackson lined a two-run double over the third-base bag to tie the game. Quintin Berry walked. Chapman wild pitched in the go-ahead run. Chapman settled down to get Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young to keep the score at 7-6, but the damage had been done and the Tigers held on for the victory.
Chapman had allowed just two runs and one earned all season. He was probably due for a bad outing. Here's the catch: Baker absolutely made the right move to bring in Chapman. The unwritten managerial guide to today's game is managers make their middle relievers get out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings instead of their closers, who usually come in with the lead and a clean slate of runners. If any closer should be trusted to get six outs, however, it's Chapman, who did that four times this season before moving into the closer role.
Unfortunately, you can see Baker reading this outing as confirmation bias: Only use Chapman to pitch the ninth inning. That would be the wrong strategy. Chapman is the kind of reliever you should use to get out of jams, with his ability to strike batters. Even if you are worried about using him for six outs, a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning with two runners on is a more critical situation than a 6-3 lead with nobody on in the ninth. That's what most managers don't understand (ask Phillies fans about Charlie Manuel's use of Papelbon this season).
So, good move by Baker. Good rally by the Tigers. Bad outing by Chapman. It happens. But I have a feeling we won't be seeing Chapman being asked to get six outs again any time soon. And that will be to the Reds' detriment.