The Tampa Bay Rays‘ closer committee (bullpen-by-committee) is once again proving to be top notch. It is one of the things keeping this team in the race for a playoff spot. Also, the closer-by-committee they are using is once again proving naysayers wrong, as it shows they have mastered this strategy to their advantage.
What is a Closer Committee?
The Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen believes in the closer-by-committee, a situation in which a team does not use the typical “designated closer” to finish out a victory in the ninth inning, especially in a save situation. The manager looks into a variety of short relievers depending on the circumstances of the game and puts them in.
That is, instead of relying on one pitcher with one set of skills, they rely on a group of pitchers with varying skills, choosing the pitcher and the skills most suited to the game’s current situation.
Closer Committee Becoming a Recent Trend
We know the closer role has changed over the years. Teams have one dominant closer that they utilize over and over to get the save. Only recently has the bullpen-by-committee become a common thing. Back in 2003, the Boston Red Sox tried this, but it didn’t last long. They tried it again in 2019, mostly due to the decision not to re-sign closer Craig Kimbrel. Once again, they did not keep it for very long.
As we know, baseball is more of a mental game. Solo relief pitchers need to focus and concentrate in order to secure the win. Bullpen-by-committee is not a direct approach. It spreads the burden of shutting down a game, but still needs professional knowledge from the manager and pitching coach in order to perform it properly. They need to know their pitchers’ abilities, both mental and physical, so they can choose the best pitcher for the job at hand.
If it is done well, it can be very successful—as we have seen. What used to be novel is now innovative. Many teams have started utilizing this strategy to start the season; some even use it during a playoff run.
Rays Closer Committee Success
However, bullpen-by-committee is not an easy strategy. If your team wants to employ this approach, you need knowledge of the game and the ability to read and work analytics along with choosing the right personnel. While teams have had some success, others have failed at it and dumped the approach.
Manager Kevin Cash has mastered it by using the analytics of baseball. He has shown the effectiveness and the versatility of the closer-by-committee. A reliever called upon to get the job done in the sixth inning today could be asked to be the closer the next day.
We know most teams have their traditional seventh inning pitcher and their set up pitcher, but Cash however, decides which pitcher best fits each given situation. His bullpen arms have quickly learned they’d better be ready to take the baseball and get the save whenever their name is called.
Worked Very Well in 2021
The Rays established an MLB mark last season when 14 pitchers recorded at least one save. Their bullpen ERA was the lowest in the AL. and they were also fourth in saves and led baseball in bullpen strikeouts. They used a total of 26 different pitchers out of the bullpen. It seems whoever they plugged in – they get the job done in an imposing manner.
2022 Bullpen Stats
Through the first 41 games of 2022, the Rays’ have a bullpen ERA of 3.61, seventh best in baseball. Its 1.11 WHIP was tied for second in the league and four different pitchers have at least one save so far. Their closer by committee ERA is even lower, with it being just below 2.50.
The bullpen arms not only complement one another, but the players trust one another. Closer-by-committee eases the burden of closing down games from one or two closers to a bullpen ready for the call.
The Rays’ bullpen pitchers talk to one another when one of them has a bad outing. Spreading that burden keeps the mental aspect from getting too difficult for one player.
New Pitchers Jump in
The Rays are continuing where they left off last year. Brooks Raley who they signed this year and was considered a journeyman has fit in well. He has adjusted to any role and has improved his quality of pitches. After spending time in the Korean league, he came back to MLB in 2020, and seems to have found a home. He has 14 strikeouts in 12 innings and has picked up three saves with a 2.25 ERA.
The Rays have a history of turning unheralded pitchers into successful bullpen contributors and Jason Adam appears to be another find. After being signed in March, he made the team with an excellent spring training and got his first career save on May 15th. He has worked primarily in middle relief, and has two holds in 18 appearances with a 1.02 ERA over that stretch. He has found success with his changeup and slider.
Andrew Kittredge who has five saves has adjusted well to being the top closer. He has rediscovered his slider and that has led to many more swing and misses. Currently on the 15-day IL, Cash will have to once again study his analytics for his next bullpen arm to cover while Kittredge is out.
The Tampa Bay Rays closer committee is proving that Kevin Cash is the master of this technique. Since 2016 the Rays have avoided major injuries and, simply, Cash does not overcomplicate it. If it does not work one night, he finds another approach the next night. He has been able to get the most out of the bullpen arms at his disposal.
So far, this strategy has worked well for the Rays this season. They are in second place in the AL East and the bullpen and the closer-by committee has been a big part of that success.
Embed from Getty Images