Phillies Shouldn’t Be Forced to Stick With One Closer All Year

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Apr 20, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) celebrates the final out of the ninth inning against the New York Mets with Philadelphia Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp (34) at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2017; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) celebrates the final out of the ninth inning against the New York Mets with Philadelphia Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp (34) at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Phillies have a revolving door of closers just three weeks into the season, but they shouldn’t feel the need to stick with one all year.

In the Phillies first six wins of the 2017 season, three of them required a save opportunity. Each of those three saves went to a different player: Jeanmar Gomez, Joaquin Benoit, and Hector Neris.

Gomez started the year as the team’s designated closer, but after allowing a two-run home run in his first save and blowing his next opportunity, manager Pete Mackanin opted to look somewhere else.

The next option for the closer was Benoit, the 39-year old vet who had closing experience earlier in his career. Benoit started off strong before becoming the closer, then blew his first save opportunity courtesy of a walk-off home run and future Phillie Bryce Harper.

Benoit pitched again Thursday night against the Mets, but it wasn’t him taking the mound in the ninth. Instead, Neris came on to close out the game and did so without much trouble with three straight outs.

After the game, Mackanin was hesitant to name either Neris or Benoit as the closer: [quote via Matt Gelb of Philly.com]

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"“I don’t want to name it anything,” Mackanin said, when asked if he had adopted a closer-by-committee approach. “You hear it a lot these days, about how pitchers are being used differently with different teams. I just look at it like this: It’s nice to have two guys I trust in the eighth and the ninth. I trust both of those guys. I just seized the opportunity to try it tonight.”"

Mackanin is still hesitant to follow the rising trend in baseball in more fluid roles in the bullpen.

For years in baseball, pitchers in the bullpen resided in their niche and didn’t go far beyond. Set-up men pitched the seventh and eighth while closers pitched the ninth, and that’s just how baseball was. Cleveland manager Terry Francona showed with Andrew Miller how being more flexible with your relievers can reap plenty of rewards for your team.

While there may not be one pitcher as dominant as Miller in Philadelphia’s bullpen, Mackanin should still be able to employ a similar strategy. He may not even have to use one guy.

Neris has shown he can be an effective reliever in the past year, so he is the obvious candidate for this kind of role. Benoit is another candidate because he has both electric stuff and the experience to use it well.

Mackanin could even go outside the box even further and ride the hot hand of whoever is in the bullpen, whether it be Neris, Benoit, or someone you wouldn’t expect like Edubray Ramos or Pat Neshek.

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Instead, Mackanin still veers towards the older mindset of having guys pitch in their established roles. The argument for that side is that players will perform better when they are settled into their roles instead of constantly having to shuffle around.

The counter for that is abandoning the idea of using a closer altogether, instead returning fully to the fireman style of a reliever. I would much rather have Neris or Benoit face the heart of an order – like Washington’s Harper, Murphy, and Jayson Werth – in the seventh even though Mackanin likes for him to pitch in the eighth or ninth.

Those two are far less likely to give up a damaging run than someone like Luis Garcia or Joely Rodriguez.

Even if Neris or whoever the fireman is at the time doesn’t get the save in the scorebook, it still helps the team far more than retiring the bottom of the order in the ninth. That job could fall to one of the lesser relievers.

Next: Phillies Opposition Roadblock: Atlanta Braves

So what if the Phillies don’t have one reliever who racks up nearly 40 saves and instead have a few pitchers that get around 10? Mackanin should be less concerned about who gets the “S” next to their name when the game is over and more concerned with getting the opposing team’s best hitters out whenever they come up. Who pitches when should be based on the leverage of the situation and not on who has that particular role.

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