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Monday, March 26, 2012
Brad Lidge might open as Nationals' closer

By David Schoenfield

With Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen battling elbow inflammation and possibly not ready by Opening Day, Davey Johnson said Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez would serve as closer -- and not setup man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard.

"It’s hard to replace what he does," Johnson said. "What he did last year is at least as important, if not more important, than your closer. You want to avoid weakening two positions."

Let's pause and give Johnson a quick round of applause for subtly acknowledging this. In absence of a team's regular closer, most managers simply move their main setup guy to the ninth.

Storen and Clippard were both excellent a year ago. Here's a breakdown of their overall percentages of batters faced in various situations described as high, medium and low leverage (via Baseball-Reference.com).

Storen
High leverage: 163 PAs (53.4 percent)
Medium leverage: 73 (24.1 percent)
Low leverage: 67 (22.1 percent)
Games entered with runners on base: 6
Games entered with score tied or +1: 36

Clippard
High leverage: 145 PAs (44.1 percent)
Medium leverage: 113 PAs (34.3 percent)
Low leverage: 71 PAs (21.6 percent)
Games entered with runners on base: 26
Games entered with score tied or +1: 35

So while they were used similarly as far as the score of the game, there was a big difference: Clippard entered more often with runners on base. Storen entered 29 times with a two- or three-run lead, with most of those coming with the bases empty. Johnson would prefer to keep Clippard entering in those tight situations with runners on base and leaving those bases-empty, three-run leads to a lesser pitcher like Lidge or Rodriguez. Granted, those two are good options since Lidge has closing experience and Rodriguez throws 98 mph, making Johnson's decision a little easier.

Still, he made the right one. Other managers would be wise to heed Johnson's thought process.