In a sport where the slog of a 162 game season invites endless scrutiny, narratives are like Starbucks stores—they’re on every corner of the blogosphere.  The current raging narrative within Redleg Nation is that the Reds bullpen needs an overhaul.  So, bear with me as I, a simple member of the huddled masses, one of the 99%, pitch my tent and offer another viewpoint.

Let’s begin with the easy stuff.

The Reds shouldn’t waste money on a closer.  Closers are overrated.  Closers are overpaid.  Closers are the guys who finish the ninth most of the time.  That’s it.  Period.  The majority of the time, they’re not putting out four alarm fires.  We pay them as if they do, but the reality is that more often than not, they’re simply standing on the mound at the end of the game.  There are lots of guys out there who can do that who aren’t named Mariano Rivera.  The Reds have guys who can do that.  Oh, yes they do.  And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have the mental makeup of the bomb technician from The Hurt Locker to keep the ninth from blowing up.  Scott Boras would like you to think that, but it’s not true and the Reds’ brass needs to embrace their inner Billy Beane and start thinking outside the proverbial box.

 A study over at Retrosheet years ago discovered that the winning percentage for teams who enter the ninth inning with a lead hasn’t changed much throughout the entire history of the game going back to the beginning of the last century.  Whether we’re talking about 1923 when closers never existed, or 1955 when being a “closer” meant you were one helluva aluminum siding salesman, or even in today’s world of the overhyped SV stat, teams won when entering the ninth with the lead 95% of the time. 

 Then and now.

 Not only that, you’d think there would be a noticeable drop off in save percentage when the lead was a scant run in the ninth instead of say, a 3-run cushion.  And yet, historically, that is not the case.  Even one-run leads in the 9th are protected 85% of the time and have been, well, like forever.  So, where exactly is the ROI here?  Having a stare-down guy like Papelbon or Brian Wilson come in to finish games most nights is like taking the Lamborghini out on the Norwood Lateral during rush hour.  It’s sexy, but it’s overkill—and damn expensive even if your name is Bob Castellini.

So, say it with me:  the current fascination the front office has with Francisco Cordero, Madson—whomever—is pointless and a waste of money, even if Coco wasn’t approaching the end of his career; even if it’s only for one year at $7M.

 The Reds should close by committee.  I feel the tsunami coming, but stay with me, Nation.  The Reds have a bullpen waiting to blossom.  They really do.  At the All Star break in July when the Reds were still in the race, the prevailing opinion was that the one advantage the Reds had over the Brewers and the Cardinals was their bullpen.  I remember this being said on more than one occasion as the team prepared for the second half and people around the Reds tried to put a good face on that ugly series with the Brewers when Dusty ran Coco out there on what only seemed like an hourly basis:  the clock would strike 9th, the doors would open and out would come Cuckoo Cordero.  We know all too well how the second half went.  In July and August, under the strain of supporting a starting rotation that couldn’t get through the 7th inning with regularity, it collapsed under the weight of expectations and roles which kept changing under the whim of Dusty Baker.  

I believe somebody is going to make the jump to lightspeed this year.  Jose Arredondo could be finally ready to make the leap back to the form he exhibited with the Angels.  I also believe in two other guys who often get beat up around these parts.  Bashing Ondrusek and Nick Masset has become sport in blogland lately—Masset, in particular.  Near the end of last season, I was listening to local Mets announcer Keith Hernandez discuss the Reds’ bullpen because living in NYC, my normal access to Fox Sports Ohio was blacked out.  Now, I’ve spoken about Hernandez before in this space. Keith is not the most fair and balanced announcer in MLB.  He’s unabashedly pro-Mets and not above taking cheap shots at the visiting team in an effort to play to the home crowd.  But, Hernandez is an astute baseball guy, and when he’s so inclined, he can be incisive.  So, it was interesting to hear him talk about the Reds’ bullpen, in particular Masset, who appeared in that night’s game.

Keith Hernandez:  Masset has one of the better curveballs in the game today. 

Let’s let that sink in.  Nick Masset has a scary-good curve.  So says a former big league star and current baseball analyst, whom Bob Raissman, a baseball writer for the NY Daily News, once said this about:

It’s one thing for a Valley of the Stupid gasbag to blow hard about [the] Mets … quite another when Keith Hernandez casts his vote.  Often it’s not what is said, but who says it. Mex has more credibility than those who address the first-time-long-time crowd (duh).

So, if we can agree that Keith has some cred in the basball world today as an analyst, what follows should bring a smile to any Reds fan’s face.  As Masset pitched, he dissected his delivery and on this night, Masset was… well, Nick was being Nick.  He was having some difficulty with his command, but clearly the Mets’ hitters were overmatched.  His curve was rolling off the table as it approached the dish and he made somewhat short work of the Mets in the inning.  Hernandez couldn’t stop raving about Masset’s curve and his overall assessment was that Nick was in so in love with the strikeout, so enamored with overpowering hitters, that he made questionable decisions and often lost his way while on the mound.  Hernandez had similar things to say about Arredondo, who also pitched that evening, suggesting that Jose was smitten with a particular pitch to his detriment, but that he loved Arredondo’s stuff coming off TJ surgery.  The big takeaway here is that we have two guys who are a missing key away from unlocking a successful career.

And that’s the thing:  there’s talent in this bullpen waiting to mature.  Not guys who are at the end of their careers getting by on guile and baling wire, but fairly young arms with serious stuff that haven’t harnessed their skills to the point where they can be counted on for an entire season.  Some of that can be attributed to the volatility of the starting rotation.  Some of it is a product of guys who haven’t quite figured out who they are yet.  And some of it is guys who just haven’t been used properly.  But almost all of them have pitched spectacularly for stretches in the majors.  We are not merely talking “potential” here.

It’s time to get creative.  Jettison this stat-created role of the 9th inning matador.  Let Bray, LeCure and Masset play the role of 3-headed closer.  Let’s turn these guys loose, build some confidence and find out who they really are.  Let’s have Marshall pitch out of the high leverage situations that occur in the 7th and 8th, where he is most valuable and where games are usually won or lost.  Have Ondrusek ready and waiting in middle relief on the days Chapman pitches 5 innings, which will be often this year.  Establish some roles.

And spend that closer money on LF.