A seismic change in occurring in baseball, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto believes, that has nothing to do with a World Series that opens Tuesday with the Chicago Cubs seeking their first title in 108 years.
Dipoto points instead to the increased willingness by clubs to use their closers in high-leverage situations prior to their ninth inning.
"I think we’re seeing the final step in the evolution of teams using their best (relief) pitcher at the most important part of the game," he said. "I do think this is a shift that goes back to the sabermetric principles. "I would not be surprised if this has a larger-term effect going into 2017 and beyond. I don’t think it’s going to be across the board, but I think we will see a change with some teams."
Cleveland closer Andrew Miller is the best example for the new approach.
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Indians manager Terry Francona summoned Miller in six of the the Indians’ eight postseason games in winning the American League pennant— each time prior to the ninth inning.
Miller responded by pitching 11 2/3 scoreless innings. Only once did he pitch the ninth, but he was picked as the most valuable player in the American League Championship Series when the Indians beat Toronto in five games.
"Now, that’s easier to do when you have Cody Allen and Brian Shaw available for the later innings," said Dipoto, who spent eight big-league seasons as a reliever for three clubs before embarking on a front-office career in 2001.
"Not every team has that kind of depth in their bullpen. And it’s easier to do in October than it is in May. But I think you’ll see that more teams will be willing to use their best guy in those high-leverage situations."
It isn’t just Miller and the Indians. The Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto also summoned their closers on multiple occasions this postseason prior to the ninth inning — generally with positive results.
Further, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter drew heavy criticism for not using his closer, Zach Britton, in an extra-inning loss to Toronto in the American League Wild Card game.
Dipoto’s comments suggest the Mariners are likely to consider using closer Edwin Diaz next season when high-leverage situations arise prior to the ninth inning.
At least on occasion.
Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, like most in the game, still believe that closing out a game is, by definition, a high-leverage situation. More often than not, Diaz is still likely to be held back for the ninth inning.
But the Mariners, in addition to Diaz, have a proven closer in Steve Cishek, who had 25 saves this season over the first four months before an injury sent him to the disabled list and created an opening for Diaz.
The Mariners also see right-hander Dan Altavilla as a closer candidate. He filled that role at Double-A Jackson before compiling an 0.73 ERA in 15 big-league games following his Aug. 27 promotion.
Further, Dipoto’s off-season wish list includes a left-handed power reliever — "a legit late-inning presence" — as a top priority. Such as acquisition would likely serve as another ninth-inning possibility.
"In a way," Dipoto said, "this is a return to the way that it used to be. It wasn’t until the eighties that teams began to save their best reliever for the end of the game."
NEW VICE PRESIDENT
Lisa Winsby is the Mariners’ new vice president of human resources. She replaces Marianne Short, who is retiring Dec. 23 from her duties as a senior vice president.
Winsby comes to the club from the Bartell Drug Company, where she currently serves as the senior vice president for human resources. She will begin her new duties Nov. 28 in overseeing all aspects of the Mariners’ personnel management.
Short joined the Mariners in 1998 and became to the first woman in the the franchise’s history to attain the position of vice president.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners