Major League baseball managers generally follow the Closer Usage Protocol (CUP). The CUP goes like this: A team should designate a single pitcher as their closer. The closer enters the game in only three circumstances, whenever: (1) There is a save situation in the ninth inning, (2) It’s the top of the ninth inning in a home game and the score is tied, and (3) In a lopsided game if the closer hasn’t pitched in several days. Period. That’s CUP.

Dusty Baker followed CUP like night follows day. And Aroldis Chapman threw exactly 68 innings (correction: pitched in exactly 68 games) for Baker in 2012 and 2013 as his closer. Before the season started, Bryan Price offered a bit of hope that he might deviate from such an inflexible pattern. Price said on December 9:

“I do think there’s a way to increase his ability to influence our club by maybe pitching at times in the eighth inning.” 

Since returning from his head injury on May 10, Aroldis Chapman has pitched twentyt-two innings for the Reds this year. Here’s a break down:

Lopsided Games

These are mop-up situations where the Reds are either way behind or way ahead. Chapman gets used in these games because he needs the work from not having pitched in a few days.The WPA (win probability for the team when Chapman enters) is either 99.5 percent (way ahead) or 00.5 percent (way behind). This has happened twice.

Chapman Innings1 copy

3-run-lead Saves

These are the layups for closers, with WPA ranging from 96-97.3 percent depending on whether the team is home or away. Those are the percentages for the average pitcher. Five of Chapman’s twenty-two innings this year have been spent doing this.

Chapman Innings2 copy

2-run-lead Saves

These games have a WPA ranging from 92 to 94 percent when the ninth inning pitcher enters, depending on home or away. They’re a little more difficult than the 3-run-lead saves, but you’d still expect the average pitcher to convert them more than 9-of-10 times.

Chapman Innings3 copy

1-run-lead Saves

These games have a WPA ranging from 81 to 85 percent when the ninth inning pitcher enters. They are the toughest save, but still, the average pitcher can pitch a shutout ninth inning about 80 percent of the time.

Chapman Innings4 copy

Tied Games

These are the highest leverage ninth-inning situations, where the odds fluctuate around 40-50 percent for the team.

Chapman Innings5 copy 2

When a home team enters the ninth inning and the game is tied, it’s no longer possible for any of their pitchers to earn the individual statistic of a Save. When managers no longer have to worry about certain players earning a statistic, they can focus exclusively on what’s best for their team. Almost invariably, that means using their strongest pitcher in the immediate high-leverage situation of a tie game.

Back to Chapman’s twenty-two innings. Two of the tie-game situations fit standard Closer Usage Protocol neatly. Price used Chapman in a tied games in the ninth inning at home.

As it turns out, in both of these games, Chapman has given up a run and the Reds have lost. On May 13, he surrendered a garden variety home run to Chase Headley. In The Horror, he gave up two runs himself and left two others on base for Edwin Encarnacion to drive in with a home run off Sam LeCure who had relieved Chapman. [Before you jump to the conclusion that Chapman doesn’t pitch well in tied games, know that in the previous two years, he pitched in them 23 times and only gave up two runs.]

Bryan Price has violated the CUP only once, on June 19, in Pittsburgh. The Reds were tied 3-3 against the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Jonathan Broxton had allowed two base runners and 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen was due up. The game was really in the balance – the Reds had a 40 percent chance of winning, 60 percent chance of losing.

Bryan Price pulled Broxton and brought in Chapman, who proceeded to strike out McCutchen. Chapman went on to pitch the tenth inning and the Reds eventually lost in the twelfth (see ya, Tony Cingrani).


I’m going to leave most of the conclusions to you, but I have three things to say.

1. Bryan Price has deviated from the way Dusty Baker would have handled Aroldis Chapman by exactly one game. In fact, Dusty Baker brought Chapman into the eighth inning three times in 2013, something Bryan Price has yet to do. In every instance in 2014, Chapman has entered the game in the ninth inning. It’s his R-O-L-E.

2. Instead of assigning roles based on innings, how about roles based on the closeness of the game? Have the best pitchers, instead of Logan Ondrusek, pitch against the other team’s best hitters in the seventh inning in a tied game. To address the phony-baloney “can’t have them pitch every game” argument, simply assign other pitchers to all the 3-run-lead saves (just like they do now with 4-run leads) and maybe most of the 2-run-lead saves. You can’t single out Bryan Price for criticism here, because he’s doing exactly the same thing as every other major league manager. They manage to the statistic not what’s best for their team.

3. Since Chapman’s return on May 10, the Reds have played 54 innings against the Brewers and the Cardinals. Aroldis Chapman has pitched in two of them.

7 Responses

  1. SrRedFan

    I reject the whole notion of “fair” here. This is where the whole concept of TEAM, one for all and all for one, and for the “greater good” lives in the hearts of at least us fans.

  2. Vicferrari

    I remember the talk that Hoover or Lecure could easily close last year, it is a little easier if you consider Broxton as the closer with the year he is having, but you need a solid guy who does not walk anyone. An aging John Smoltz was one of the most dominant closers of his era coming off an injury; I do not know what the perfect situation is, but I am sure it is closer to Chapman starting mid-season so he can be used in the playoffs than being randomly used in the 6th or 7th inning when a team might be putting a rally together. Do you really want Ondrusek coming on in the 9th with a 3 run lead after you already burned through Chapman earlier?

  3. Vicferrari

    If you can get Price or Stanton I will agree with you, but trading a misused A list for a potential B list is misguided

  4. Vicferrari

    People seem to fall in love with the Rays, but take away the 2008 world series fluke and they have won exactly 2 more playoff games than the Reds since their LAST WORLD SERIES RUN, and less division titles and 0 playoff series just like our beloved team. I sure hope Price gets the leash Maddon got in Tampa… to me the A’s are constantly rebuilding and are the true model of what you can do despite a front office that won’t keep its players, a luxury we have had so far in cincy

  5. nyredfanatic

    In his last three outings he has recorded what you would consider “Low Leverage” saves. 3 run lead vs Cubs… 2 run lead vs Giants… 4 Run lead (with 2 men on) vs Giants. In those games he replaced Broxton who replaced the starter in Latos… He replaced the starter Leake, and he replaced the starter Cueto. Had we not used him in those 3 “low leverage” situations he wouldn’t have been used at all and then we would be complaining that we don’t use him enough.

    Lets just look at his games pitched. He has appeared in 22 games. Only 5 pitchers on the team have appeared in more games and that is due to that fact that he was on the DL to start the year. He is being used and he is on our team and we should be thankful for that. There really only has been a few games where when it was all said and done we were saying “yea… he should have been used earlier”

    We can hate the idea of a “closer” all we want but when the game comes towards an end and your chances of getting back up to bat to score runs if needed are coming to a close I want the guy who can get the outs and lock the thing down, regardless of how many runs we are up.

    • nyredfanatic

      Further looking into it, on the 3 run saves you listed… Out of the 5 he replaced the starter 3 times in the 9th… The other 2 he replaced a reliever who only pitched 1/3 and 2/3 of an inning when replacing a starter. Not a lot of other opportunities to get him in those games.

      Out of the 2 run saves, replaced the starter once in the 9th, and the other two the reds had a reliever pitch the 7th, and a reliever pitch the 8th without allowing a run either. They did their jobs then, so might as well allow them to do it and save the big arm for last.

  6. Dale Pearl

    1. Chapman is our designated closer whether we like it or not. Is that Price’s call to determine a players position on the team? My guess is probably not.
    2. Price is a rookie manager. He doesnt even know his own managerial style yet as he is still developing. Are we expecting him to deviate from what 99% of managers would do with their closer?
    3. You have some solid information here Steve and as always you have valid points. At the same time would Price risk his new found career as a manager by radically deviating from what the previous Red’s manager did and with pretty good success?
    4. Here is my opinion. I have said before and I will say it again. Price was hired as a manager so that we wouldnt lose his success as a pitching coach to other teams. I don’t think that necessarily means that he will be a bad manager. I think what that means is that Price will look at his predecesser and emulate what he did well. I wasn’t a huge fan of Dusty Baker, but he did lead our team to three season of 90 or more wins in a very short amount of time. Obviously it goes without much fanfare that Baker mentored Price. I assume the GM expected exactly what he is getting from Price: a manager influenced by the winning seasons of Dusty Baker, a manager that is great with pitchers, a manager that is more aggressive offensively, and a manager that can learn fast on his feet.
    5. Safe to say Price is meeting expectations but not exceeding them either. You get what you pay for and Price is delivering as anticipated.