Madson’s Injury, Sean Marshall, and Bullpen Dogma

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 31: Reliever Sean Marshall #45 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after pitching out of a jam against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 31, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-3. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The bad news broke this weekend that the Reds newly acquired closer Ryan Madson will need Tommy John surgery and will be out for the entire season. Obviously, this is bad news for a number of reasons. The loss of Madson diminishes the Reds overall strength and depth in the bullpen. In addition, it is now more likely that Aroldis Chapman will be moved back to the pen, further delaying his transition to starting pitcher. Finally, the Reds are expected to move Sean Marshall to closer, a move that would reduce his overall value.

"Your best bullpen pitcher should be your closer… Your closer should only pitch in the 9th inning or later." These are widely accepted beliefs among MLB managers. Based on Dusty Baker’s track record it is fair to assume he holds these beliefs as well. Over the last 3 seasons, Dusty Baker allowed his closer, Francisco Cordero to pitch a grand total of 4.1 innings prior to the 9th inning. Using the closer in such a way is not abnormal by MLB standards, but it is illogical nonetheless. Why should the most effective pitcher in the bullpen be reserved for save situations only?

When the Reds signed Ryan Madson this off-season it improved the bullpen for reasons beyond adding another good pitcher. With Madson penciled in as the closer, Dusty Baker would be afforded the flexibility to use Sean Marshall in high leverage situations, regardless of inning. As a "set-up" man, Marshall would be used primarily in the 7th and 8th innings, allowing Baker to maximize Marshall’s value. Given this flexibility, Marshall (one of the best relievers in the game) would be used against the opponent’s best hitters more often than he will as the closer.

To demonstrate this point, consider these numbers...

Last season, 22% of the batters faced by Reds closer Francisco Cordero were the 3rd or 4th hitters in the opponents’ lineup. Conversely, Marshall faced the 3rd or 4th hitters in the opponents' lineup 27% of the time. And we can take this a step further. The likely 3-4 hitters for the Cardinals and Brewers in 2012 are Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. In 2011, these hitters were 3 times more likely to come to bat in the 7th or 8th inning than the 9th inning.

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Based on these numbers, along with the reluctance to use closers prior to the 9th inning, moving Marshall to closer will mean the Reds’ best bullpen pitcher will face the opponent’s best hitters less often. A better choice would be to go with the "closer by committee" approach. This would allow Baker to use his best pitcher in the most effective way.

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