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Jeanmar Gomez and the Naming of a Closer

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Is Pete Mackanin making a mistake by anointing a closer without a single competitive pitch being thrown yet?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, perhaps somewhat suprisingly, manager Pete Mackanin named Jeanmar Gomez as his 2017 Phillies closer. From Ryan Lawrence’s article about the topic, Mackanin is quoted as saying:

“There’s always competition,” Mackanin said. “You have to keep proving yourself to stay at the major league level and nobody is guaranteed a job anywhere, but at this point in time as I said. We’ll see, there are health concerns with everybody, you know how (it goes) we had some issues with some of our pitchers last spring, which is normal. I mean (Aaron) Altherr hurt his wrist and it took him out of the picture most of the year. That being said, I want to show Jeanmar the confidence that he deserves after the year he had, even though he had a hiccup at the end.”

Certainly Mackanin deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his own team, as we on the outside do not have our finger on the pulse of this team, nor can we see what happens behind closed doors when decisions like this are made. From the outside, all we can do is look at the evidence in front of us. That evidence we do have access to points to the need for Gomez to have to prove himself before being handed such a prestigious (and for the contract year pitcher, lucrative) job.

Here is Gomez by the month last season:

Untitled

IP ERA K/BB HR/9 OPS
IP ERA K/BB HR/9 OPS
15 1.80 3.7 0.6 0.594
12 3.00 2.3 0.8 0.655
10.1 4.35 2 0.9 0.783
11.1 2.38 2.3 0.0 0.529
12 3.75 1.4 0.8 0.749
8 19.13 1.8 2.3 1.263

We all know what happened. For whatever reason, Gomez imploded in the final months of the season, which didn’t really matter since the team wasn’t playing for anything anyway. However, these final pieces of action were enough for Mackanin to demote him from the closer’s role, even for a losing team.

Now, if Mackanin is going to assign this role in order to assuage any doubts Gomez himself might have about his hold on the job, fine. Again, we cannot know what is going through Gomez’s mind at this point. But when it comes to looking for reasons to give him the job, where Mackanin starts to make little sense is comparing Gomez to Brad Lidge. From Lawrence’s article:

“I remember back in 2009 my first year as a coach here, I think Lidge blew a bunch of saves and (manager) Charlie (Manuel) stuck with him,” Mackanin continued. “And it proved to be important that he did even though a lot of people were clamoring for a change in that spot. But Charlie showed him confidence and stayed with him and I think that was the right thing to do.”

Yes, the comparisons are apt since both had stellar season by looking only at saves, but that is probably where they stop. For one, Lidge had been an Established Closer for a long time prior to that 2009 season, so he did have the benefit of the doubt when it came to closer duties. Plus, Manuel was insanely loyal to his players, almost to a fault. Should Gomez really earn that same privilege, even when he showed he couldn’t be effective throughout the entire season?

Making Gomez the closer also has the unintended consequence of making the other relievers aware already of their role on the club. Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek, those who are probably also suited to finishing games, are now the designated setup men in the bullpen. Not making Neris the closer is probably a good thing. He is the team’s best reliever and should be used when it is absolutely necessary. Whether that be in the ninth, eighth or sixth, if there is trouble brewing, Neris should be summoned to extinguish it more often than not. The other two not even being considered is a little odd, Benoit especially. While Neshek was acquired in a trade and therefore had no say in whether he wanted to come to Philadelphia, Benoit had a choice. He wanted to come here, perhaps because he saw it as a chance to reclaim a closer’s job that seemingly was open. Putting a stranglehold on that job could have put him in line for a more lucrative payday in the following offseason. Yes, he was horrendous while in Seattle last year, but after his move to Toronto, he became lights out yet again. He should at least be given the chance to compete for the job, but alas, it looks like that will not come to pass.

This is one of those stories that is probably over-analyzed since it was done on the first day pitchers and catchers were to report to camp, and we are starved for baseball news of any kind. However, this just seems like a strange time to close the door on a kind of competition that would keep some fans more interested in the long slog of spring training games. Let’s just hope it’s the right decision.