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.

36 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    None of the other guys can close. They don’t have the closer’s mentality. They may have the guts to come in during the 7th inning with the bases loaded and 1 out. But the clean inning in the ninth scares the crap out of them.

    • Joe McManus

      I can’t tell if you were being sarcastic or not.

      • Kurt Frost

        Which is more scary than coming into a game in the 9th to face the 7-8-9 hitters with a three run lead!

  2. Aaron Bradley

    Didn’t Pineilla and Sparky manage with bullpen by committee? I think there is a good reason why they were the most successful managers in team history. I am pretty sure I read somewhere that Sparky felt his best talent was his ability to manage the bullpen.

      • preacherj

        Exactly. So when people talk about “old school management of closers”, I’m wondering why it’s used in a derogatory manner. I believe it wasn’t until Lee Smith (I could be wrong on that one) that the one inning wonder was the norm. In fact, one of the biggest champions of the one inning use of closers is Billy Freakin’ Beane. Sometimes I just shake my head……..

      • preacherj

        I didn’t mean Beane. That’s what I get for commenting after staying up for a west coast trip and working a double the next day. But the earlier point still applies.

      • John Hay

        But I think Billy Beane actually tries to have a lesser pitcher (not a bad pitcher, but not the best in the bullpen) close, so that they will build up their save numbers and increase their trade value. That way he is keeping his best reliever available for high-leverage situations and getting more value out of a lesser arm. Admittedly, I haven’t really followed the A’s all that closely, so things may have changed, but I do believe that used to be his philosophy.

      • preacherj

        Yeah, and sometimes having to pay a ‘set-up’ guy is a lot cheaper than playing a closer when it’s contract time.

      • 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?

      • Chris Miller

        Do you mean versus the option of Chapman not coming into the 9th inning, because Ondrusek blew a 1 run lead in the 7th inning? You tell me, which scenario gives the team a better option? Ondrusek in the 7th with a 1 run lead, or Ondrusek in the 9th with a 3 run lead, and someone warming up in the bullpen in case he struggles in the 9th.

  3. sultanofswaff

    Great article. I’ll say it again, trade the guy. Heck, I’d let him go tomorrow if we could get a decent reliever and a quality utility guy. Let’s see what the D-backs want for Ziegler and Prado. You better believe some other team would try him as a starter!

    • 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. Kurt Frost

    I wonder if they will end up giving him Papelbon money to pitch 70 low leverage innings a year.

  5. Davis Stuns Goliath

    Well said, and 100% on the money. Sadly, groupthink probably means this will stay the way it is until some outlier with nothing to lose — who will surely be ridiculed by those who claim the way it is is the way it always should be, because that’s how it’s done, etc. — shakes up the system. It’s like the football coach who embraced the fact that you have four downs to get 10 yards, so why not actively use them instead of yielding one? (I realize that analogy is a better fit for bunting and not giving up outs, but still…)

    Then again, defensive shifts are now en vogue, so perhaps someone will see the light sooner than later. Here’s hoping it’ll be Price.

    • Steve Mancuso

      The defensive shifts analogy is an interesting one. I hadn’t connected those two things, but you’re right. It’s a matter of overcoming time-worn practices. Although in the case of the closer, it’s only been the past couple decades. I guess there were shifts way back when (vs. Ted Williams etc.) but nothing like now.

      It gets back to money. Shock. Elite relief pitchers want to earn as much as they can, and the Save stat – converting saves – has become an easy proxy for it. The first manager who announces that from now on, he’s only using his best pitcher (formerly his closer) in games with a one-run deficit, tie-game or one-run lead, and for any of the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, depending on the other team’s lineup – that manager won’t be able to sign a free agent closer because the stats won’t be portable.

      On the other hand, who needs free agents for closers? No one.

      • SrRedFan

        How does Joe Maddon of the Rays use his closer and relief pitchers? I thought he was an unorthodox, “mad scientist” type of manager. Let’s send him a petition (or this article)!

      • 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

    • greenmtred

      Shifts are in vogue, but there is some thought (ESPN magazine, and yes, they did use statistical analysis) that the hype is unjustified. The Reds do well with the shift, evidently, but the Reds do well defensively anyway, so what that means is unclear.

  6. Eric the Red

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written. But:

    1) I think it’s expecting too much of a rookie manager, who watched his team blow a lot of close games early in the year, to be the guy who throws out the book and starts using the “average” pitcher to pick up the easy 2 and 3 run saves. (I know you don’t literally mean the “average” pitcher.). If we’d blown a couple of those with LeCure or Ondrusek every commentator and fan in the country would be calling for Price’s head.

    2) I believe Price would be using Chapman a little more–especially for two inning appearances–if it weren’t for Chapman’s late start to the season, and the fact we’ve got one other reliable pitcher in the bullpen. Those factors combined have got to make Price very gun shy about pitching Chapman a lot and then having him unavailable for a couple of one run games in a row. And I can’t really blame him. So let’s see how this plays out.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I agree with the first point, and said as much in the post. Can’t single out Price for the stupid way teams use the closer now. But wow, is it stupid.

      On the second point, you’re likely right about that, too. I’d add a third factor – that the bullpen was so incredibly shaky for a while that he may have decided that more clearly defined roles were necessary to calm things down. He started the year following through with his preference to minimize match-ups. Remember all those times that he brought Parra in for entire innings? Not so much any more. For the reasons you mention.

  7. cincytww

    Small correction. Vhapman has pitched in 68 games each of the last two seasons, not 68 innings.

  8. WVRedlegs

    You nailed this one to the wall.
    Brian Price’s comments after the game last night regarding whether he was going to leave Leake in for the 9th inning or bring Chapman in was a bit perplexing. He said that if he had left Leake in and he let a runner on base, to then bring in Chapman, that it wouldn’t be fair to Chapman to bring him in in that situation. I said to myself then, that isn’t what Price said this winter. Fair????!!! Thats his #%&*@#$ job. It shouldn’t matter when he brings him in, in the middle of the 8th, top of the 9th or in the middle of the 9th, his J-O-B is to close the game out, close the door shut. Slam the door shut. I think Brian Price has coddled the bullpen guys too, too much this year after their rough start. He needs to go back to his winter mindset.

    • preacherj

      Tell me he didn’t really say that. It’s not fair to use a reliever to relieve? But it’s fair to use Ondrusek? Fair to who, the fans? Don’t think so.

      • 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.

    • the next janish

      Pitching in the bullpen or in the game is still pitching. Why wear him down for tomorrow if you don’t even use him today?

      I never pitched so I’m open to correction on this but I would assume pitches thrown is a much better indicator of usage then innings pitched. Which I would assume Price and the Pitching coach are keeping an eye on; and something we have no idea of unless we’re watching the bullpen the whole game (unfortunately gamecast doesn’t keep track of that)

  9. ChrisInVenice

    The only thing I can think of is that MLB has some unspoken rule with the Player’s Association to have reliever roles so that salaries are segmented in a way that awards service and performance in their eyes. The committee makes it more complicated?

  10. Drew

    WEll Reds reporting they have inked the young cuban RHP to a 7 year deal through 2020, wonder what his skill level is?

    • Steve Mancuso

      See the new post on Iglesias.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.