For one thing, as we are fond of saying, closers are not things, and there is, technically speaking, no such thing as a closer role.
But assuming you’re going to structure your bullpen in this idiotic way without considering platoons, quality of lineup faced, etc., there is no reason to let Axford figure himself out (if he even can) in high leverage situations. It’s stupid. It literally cost them a playoff spot last year. It needs to stop now.
I remember when Ned Yost used “the Money Order“. We all had a good laugh at the outright idiocy of this little bit of anti-management. I’m still a bit shocked that I have this to use as a real life example. Anyway, the point is that managers can put people in high-leverage positions and in safer positions as long as they are willing to actually manage. When it comes to the bullpen, RRR is as big an anti-manager as there is out there. I know it’s early and small sample size-y* and all that garbage, but actually it’s really not. Axford blew last year. Axford pretty much blew in the WBC. And Axford has blown in all of his appearances this season.
I’ve been optimistic about the Brewers chances this season, but nearly all of that optimism is predicated on the notion that the bullpen will bounce back to at least average, because that is what bullpens typically do. Another part of that optimism was based on the notion that Axford still has pretty good stuff. There’s no big decline in velocity, and he’s even located his curve halfway decently. In some ways he just looks unlucky.
It’s pretty easy to look at him in a different context though. Fastball/curveball guys always have a built-in issue of throwing dissimilar pitches. It’s easy to end up tipping what you’re throwing. Ax has good velocity on his fastball, but it’s never had much movement. Last night he only induced one swinging strike. He didn’t fool anyone (especially Dexter Fowler on this terrible curveball). Most alarmingly though, guys are pounding his mistakes. It’s almost like they know what is coming. There are a lot of flaws in Axford’s game that get glossed over because of one dominant year, but everyone should start taking those flaws more seriously.
Lucky stuff regresses. Broken stuff does not. It’s long past time to start looking at Axford as broken. It’s long past time to stop giving him the 9th inning to mess up. Ron has decided to carry 13 pitchers for the time being. How about actually using them in a non-idiotic way? How about letting a good relief pitcher pitch in high leverage situations? It’s been a year, I’ve basically forgotten what that feels like.
Finally, when the Brewers change closers I often joke on twitter about a ceremony being performed to bestow the magical closer powers on whoever is found to be the chosen one.** Part of that is simply making fun of the concept of the closer in the first place, but part of it is also making fun of how seriously we treat someone being taken out of the closer role. It’s stupid. If some struggling hitter gets dropped from 4th to 6th we’ll make some minor mention of it, but when a closer loses his job we treat the guy like he died. He didn’t die. If he does start to pitch better he can be moved back into the role instantly. There is no difference at all between moving a guy out of the 3-hole, and moving a relief pitcher out of the 9th inning, and failing to see that non-distinction leads many people to keep in their struggling relievers far past the point of sanity.
John Axford is broken. He should not pitch in the 9th inning until he is right, and the only reason this is at all controversial is because we view closing as some bizarre religious blood-right that somehow can never be re-bestowed upon a guy. That’s dumb. Relievers are highly fungible and it’s time to explore your alternatives. This is the reason you have alternatives.
**Note: Ceremony does not work on K-Rod