- At the start of the 9th inning when the Twins have a lead of 3 runs or less.
- At the start of the 9th inning when the Twins have a lead of greater than 3 runs, but Joe Nathan hasn't pitched in a long time and Gardy (nickname for Gardenhire) doesn't want Nathan to get rusty.
This isn't anything strange since most managers use their closer in the same way, but my question on that is why. Why limit your best pitcher to such a predefinied situation? Why do managers think the 9th inning is more important than the 6th, 7th or 8th inning? I have seen just as many teams lose the game in 7th inning as in the 9th inning. Managers need to stop thinking of the 9th inning as being this super special inning with mystical powers that need a designated closer.
Let's look specifically at my favorite team the Twins. How do the Twins use Nathan and why I am I so perplexed? I would like to at first highlight the fact that Nathan is one of the Twins best pitchers by looking at Nathan's stats. Below are Nathan's team rank by stat by year with the team rank being in parenthesis. For example ERA - 2009 (1st) means that Joe Nathan is leading the Twins with the lowest ERA among all pitchers.
- ERA - Nathan - 2009 (1st) , 2008 (2nd), 2007 (1st), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (2nd), 2004 (1st)
- WHIP - Nathan - 2009 (2nd), 2008 (2nd), 2007 (2nd), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (tied for 1st), 2004 (2nd).
- K/9 innings -2009 (1st), 2008 (2nd), 2007 (1st), 2006 (2nd), 2005 (2nd), 2004 (2nd).
As you can see from the above stats he is pretty good and also extremely consistent. In ERA, WHIP and K/9 innings he finished first or second in team rank every year since he joined the Twins in 2004. Now let's look at how many innings he pitched compared to other Twins pitchers with the team rank listed last:
- 2009 - 23.1 innings pitched - 9th
- 2008 - 67.2 innings pitched - 10th
- 2007 - 71.2 innings pitched - 8th
- 2006 - 68.1 innings pitched - 10th
- 2005 - 70 innings pitched - 9th
- 2004 - 72.1 innings pitched - 8th.
How is that one of the Twins best two pitchers year in and year out hasn't finished in the top seven of innings pitched? How does that make sense? Wouldn't it make more sense to pitch your best pitchers more? The batting equivalent would be if Gardy decided to give Joe Mauer 200 at bats and Delmon Young *600 at bats.
*Strange thing I found was that last year Carlos Gomez came up to the plate 577 times, Delmon Young came up 575 times and Joe Mauer came up to the plate 536 times. That doesn't make much sense, but for this argument I am going to focus on the pitchers.
A perfect real world example would be yesterday's game between the Twins and the As. The Twins and the As were tied 3-3 in the 9th inning and Gardy sent out Sean Henn to face the As. He walked the only batter he faced before Gardy decided to bring in Matt Guerrier. Three batters latter the As are celebrating a win. Why in that example wouldn't Gardy use Nathan? The game was close, so go out and try to win the game. Better yet try to give your team the best chance of not losing the game by throwing out second rate pitchers like Henn and Guerrier. The goal at the bottom of the 9th inning in a tie game on the road is to extend the game and Nathan gives the Twins the best chance of extending the game. In a tie game on the road in the 9th inning the only way to win again is to be able to get your hitters to the plate at least one more time. If you don't get to bat anymore then you are guaranteed a loss. Also, in this situation it would have been even better for the Twins to extend the game one more inning because the top of the lineup was scheduled to hit if there was a 10th inning.
It seems to make sense to me not to limit your best pitcher to such a detailed time. If the game was close in the later innings I would bring Nathan in to pitch as many pitches as was smart for both his health and effectiveness. There is always the chance that Nathan is able to have an easy 9th inning and could come back and even pitch the 10th inning. Just pitch him up into a certain pitch count point. By doing this you would have your best pitcher pitching in close games and giving yourself the best chance of winning. Yesterday ended with Henn getting the loss, Geurrier walking off the mound after giving up the winning hit, and Nathan sitting unused in the bullpen. That makes no sense to me.