Maybe the Sox shouldn't be concerned with who gets saves

Maybe the Sox shouldn't be concerned with who gets saves
April 7, 2012, 6:33 pm
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On a team full of question marks, the largest one has, in recent weeks, involved who closes games for the White Sox. In other words: Who's going to rack up saves?

Maybe that's not the question we should be asking.

Jonah Keri wrote an excellent piece for Grantland about abolishing the save statistic, which has shaped bullpen management for over a half-century. The idea of a "closer by committee" has been lambasted, while pitchers who rack up gaudy save totals make tens of millions of dollars.

But a "save" is just a created statistic. Usually, a team's closer is its best reliever. But all the save means is that pitcher was on the mound when his team won -- provided his team had a lead of three or fewer runs.

Not all saves are created equal. Yet a three-run save counts just as much as a one that requires a pitcher to retire the heart of the order with the bases loaded. But thanks to the save statistic, teams won't use their best pitcher if that bases loaded scenario comes up in the eighth inning.

Keri espoused Fangraphs' "shutdowns" and "meltdowns" statistics, which track if a pitcher increased or decreased his team's chances of winning. Essentially, it puts all relievers on equal ground for evaluation.

So here's where the White Sox come into play. Four relievers are apparently vying for saves -- Addison Reed, Hector Santiago, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton -- but nobody has separated himself from the pack. Thornton is the best and most experienced of the bunch, Reed has the most upside, Crain is a solid veteran and Santiago is an up-and-comer.

With no defined closer, the Sox have a chance to look less at saves and more at matchups. If the Sox need big outs in the eighth inning, they can turn to Thornton. The same goes for Reed in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings. If both pitchers have already been used, Santiago or Crain could slide into the ninth.

So looking at the Sox bullpen as having a "closer by committee" wouldn't be the right approach. Not putting someone in a rigid closer role allows the Sox have have the flexibility to pick and choose when to use relievers based on the situation.

It appears Ventura's going that route -- at least publicly -- making it the first real stamp he's put on his new team. And he deserves praise for it.