Sheehan writes that Gardenhire decided to go with a single closer "because a statistic -- the save -- is driving the process."
Which shows that Sheehan doesn't understand Gardenhire, or baseball players, or the game.
Sheehan, who has also written for Baseball Prospectus, knows how to analyze baseball statistics. But the game isn't played by computer printouts, it's played by players.
No matter how strong Rauch has looked so far, Minnesota's depth and breadth of skills cry out for a bullpen built around something more substantial than the save rule.But Gardenhire isn't building his bullpen around the save rule. He's building it around his players.
What Sheehan doesn't understand is that managers manage people. And a manager's No. 1 task is to put his players in the proper situations -- in games and in their frames of mind -- to succeed.
Statistics represent what the players have done; the players do not simply perform to predetermined statistics, like Strat-o-matic cards.
And players are people.
More than 10 years ago, when I was covering the Arizona Diamondbacks, I asked closer Gregg Olson about a theory I had. What if a team designated an "ace reliever" instead of a closer, and used him when the situation was most crucial -- maybe in the ninth, as a closer would, but maybe with men on in the eighth, or with the heart of the order up in the seventh?
Olson told me it wouldn't work because relievers want to know their roles. Because of the way bullpens have evolved, players expect to be a closer, or the eighth-inning pitcher, or the seventh-inning pitcher, or the long man, or the lefty specialist.
Baseball people say that relievers want to know it's their turn even before the phone rings. If they are handed a certain role, they know how and when to prepare to pitch.
(And no matter what the numbers say, there is something different about the last three outs that some guys can handle and some can't.)
Now perhaps relievers' expectations have been created by Tony La Russa and his followers using pitchers in accordance with the save rule. But it's how relievers have been used for decades, and players are used to it.
So by picking a closer, Gardenhire wasn't managing to the save rule. He was managing his players, setting up his reliever usage so the pitchers knew what they would be asked to do and could prepare for it.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the column: It was titled "Inside Baseball."
It was written by someone who doesn't talk to baseball people and is anything but "inside" the game.