Padres Editorial: The Use of Closers in Non-Save Situations

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Mandatory Credit: Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

On Tuesday afternoon in a game that was tied 5-5 going into the 9th inning, new San Diego Padres skipper Pat Murphy brought in the Padres closer Craig Kimbrel to keep the Athletics off the board and give the Padres bats a chance to win the game. Across baseball many coaches would agree that using your closer in a non-save situation to give your chance a team to win is the best strategy given that situation. Well as many Padre fans know this philosophy did not work out for the Padres on Tuesday afternoon and has actually shown to be a consistently bad decision throughout this season.

There are a few important factors that go into using the “closer in a non-save situation” strategy. These include the game situation, the strengths/weaknesses of the closer specifically, and also the mentality of the closer.

The most typical use of a closer in a non-save situation is the situation that the Padres faced on Tuesday. With the game tied going into the 9th inning (or even a later inning such as the tenth, eleventh, etc.), the home team will sometimes bring in their closer to ensure no runs are scored and the home team has the chance to plate a run and end the game. Another scenario is the closer coming in earlier in the game such as the seventh or eight inning for example, in what is usually a tie game, to ensure no runs score in what is usually a dicey spot for the pitching team. In both of these situations the closer’s role is changed from holding a lead to holding a tie.

To better understand the use of closers in non-save situations, it also helps to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a specific closer and even the mentality of a closer. Each closer has certain strengths and weaknesses and some closers simply do better in save situations. Whether this is because of some sort of mentality or increased focus it has been seen in various situations. On the other hand, using a closer in a tie game who has a high strikeout rate may make sense if the bases are loaded and no one out is out for example. In general, closers can be used to their strengths in these certain situations.

With all that being said, based on the small sample size that is 2015, it seems like Craig Kimbrel is not the kind of guy who should be used in these non-save situations. Up to this point in the season Craig Kimbrel has made a total of 28 appearances and 11 of those have come in non-save situations. So far this season Kimbrel has 16 saves in 17 opportunities. What this shows is that Kimbrel has been relatively effective in his save chances and has appeared quite frequently in non-save situations.

Mandatory Credit: Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

In those 17 games he has come in for save situations, Kimbrel has given up a grand total of six runs with two of those coming against Arizona in his only blown save of the season. In his 11 appearances in non-save situations he has given up the exact same six runs. In six fewer appearances Kimbrel has given up the same number of runs in non-save situations as he has in save situations. So what gives here?

To delve further into why Kimbrel should not pitch in non-save situations, it is important to look at some other important statistics including walks and strikeouts. In his 17 save situations Kimbrel has walked only two hitters with one of those coming in that blown save against Arizona. In comparison he has struck out twenty-five batters in those same games, which is good for a strikeout to walk ratio of over 12:1. On the other hand, in those eleven appearances in non-save situations Kimbrel has walked ten batters and has struck out only thirteen batters which is good for a strikeout-walk ratio of not even 1.5:1.

It is easy to see that Kimbrel has not nearly been as effective in non-save situations as compared to save situations. In fact Kimbrel has been relatively dominant and accurate in save situations while he has lacked command and been beatable in non-save situations as evidenced by Tuesday afternoon. Whether it is about his mentality or how he pitches what is clear is that Kimbrel should not be used in non-save situations, or if so, very sparingly.

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