Casting call (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday January 30, 2007 11:58AM; Updated: Tuesday January 30, 2007 12:45PM
The more spring training games I see, the less confidence I invest in their results, so I dislike the idea of the kind of "pitch-off" the Red Sox will hold. What does getting the last three outs against Class A players at 3 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon in Bradenton tell you about somebody's ability to get major league hitters out under pressure?
I expect manager Terry Francona will make the decision on Boston's closer largely on the quality of the pitchers' stuff, as he did with Papelbon last year, and less on hard results. What Boston won't do is repeat the mistake it made to open the 2003 season, when it thought a bullpen could be run with interchangeable parts. That plan came to be known as "bullpen by committee," though it was a bit of a misnomer.
Epstein admits that the idea of a flexible bullpen -- using the best possible reliever for a particular spot rather than depending on pre-assigned roles -- works better in theory rather than in practice.
"In reality, most relief pitchers need the confidence and routine of clearly defined roles to operate at peak level,'' he says, adding that he found out in 2003 that the flexible bullpen "can create some instability that can be exacerbated in a high-pressure market by media with constant questions to players with respect to the lack of roles." Epstein also admits, "I definitely didn't do a good job of choosing relievers overall" for that plan.
Don't confuse what Boston is doing now to what it tried in early 2003. Says Epstein, "This is a little different from '03 as far as not defining specific roles. This year we make no bones about it. The job is open. We don't have a designated closer. But we will by opening day. Whoever steps up and throws the best will be the one to take the job."
The Red Sox better hope a few guys come through as reliable setup guys, too. Last season only the Royals, Orioles and Devil Rays gave up more runs out of the bullpen than did Boston. Take out Papelbon's amazingly efficient work and the relievers had a 5.07 ERA.
In the meantime, too much will be made in the coming weeks about how the Red Sox don't have a "proven closer." They have one of the best offensive teams in the league and one of the deepest rotations with the best pure stuff, so they can withstand some uncertainty about the closer role.
Closers can fall out of trees: Jenks, Wainwright, Derek Turnbow, Ryan Dempster, Takashi Saito and Solomon Torres are just the latest examples of teams hitting on fliers. The Red Sox will figure it out for themselves. They don't need a Peyton Manning. Somewhere in Fort Myers this spring they'll find a Rex Grossman.