When a team, even one managed by the optimistic Joe Maddon, is in last place in the American League and has the worst record in baseball, something needs to change. The whole team stinks but changes have to be made to quiet the cries of the fans and media. The first Ras to take the blame was Josh Lueke, who was recently designated for assignment. However, even the most casual fan knows that a long man in the bullpen isn’t really to blame for the team’s lousy record. So, the Rays turn to the closer Grant Balfour and relieve him of his job.
Balfour has not exactly been Mariano Rivera this year, but it isn’t entirely his fault. Relief pitchers are creatures of habit. Closers enter the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team in the lead and hold the lead. They expect to do that in the majority of the teams wins in order to stay sharp. In 65 games, the Rays have only had 24 wins so Balfour has not exactly been given the work he needs to stay sharp. He has had only 12 save opportunities and has gotten the save in 10 of those games. Yes, his two blown saves have not been pretty, but he has saved the game in 83% of his limited opportunities.
It also has long been my theory that closers hate three things. They include being put into a game in the eighth inning, the middle of an inning or in a non-save opportunity. None of those situations usually work out. Partly because of the Rays lousy record, Balfour has been used in a lot of non-save situations. He has had 12 save opportunities but has appeared in 25 games. Compare that with baseballs save leader Sergio Romo who has 22 save opportunities in 27 games.
Balfour has also had more than a little bit of bad luck. In the five run blow up against Seattle, he got two quick outs, gave up a single and walk, and the next hitter got a single just past the glove of Escobar. A few more inches in his favor and he’s out of the inning. He would go on to give up four more runs. It was not a save situation and the final four didn’t make any difference as the Rays were shut out. This is not to say Balfour has not been at fault. He has given up 20 walks in 26.0 innings. His fastball velocity is down and he’s only throwing it 50% of the time. He’s going to have to do better. But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Joe Maddon’s answer to all of this is closer by committee. I hate the idea. As mentioned earlier, relievers are creatures of habit and going to the bullpen not knowing your role can be unsettling. The Rays signed Balfour in the first place so that they didn’t have to use a closer by committee. Maddon also says he wants to put Balfour in less stressful situations. Balfour is a high intensity guy and that is not what he needs.So, if Maddon feels he needs to make a change for change sake, make Jake McGee the closer and put Balfour in a setup role and be done with it. Or better yet, start taking a few leads into the ninth inning so we really do need a closer.