Just one game into the new season, Alex Cora is in hot water.
The Red Sox lost a heartbreaker, losing a very winnable game on the back of Chris Sale, 6-4. Joe Kelly entered the 8th with a 4-0 lead, walked three and gave up a double before giving way to Carson Smith, who walked one and allowed the go-ahead triple to Denard Span.
Cora is under criticism for not deploying Kimbrel in the same manner in which he was used early last season – using Kimbrel as a fireman to record a four-or-five out save – but it’s not that simple. Farrell eventually tapped the brakes the idea and shifted Kimbrel to a more traditional role, hoping to save Kimbrel’s bullets for the postseason. While Kimbrel would have been and, for a time, was an amazingly useful fireman, he couldn’t keep recording four and five out saves for a full season. The project was benched, and things went back to normal.
It was a good idea on paper, but the problem with the experiment was that Kimbrel had too much heaped on his plate for a modern closer.
Managers are only willing to stray so far from normal practice when it comes to their closers. If Kimbrel enters a 4-3 game with two outs in the 8th, who’s going to save the game? It’s gotta be your closer because that’s your closer’s job. No one else could possibly save the game! Put your closer in for too many four-out saves, and he’ll be gassed in the long-term. Then again, using an inferior pitcher in a pivotal moment risks losing the game.
There are two ways to solve this:
1) Acquire a bunch of really good relievers so games are impossible to mismanage (example: the New York Yankees).
2) Change the structure in which Major League bullpens operate. It’d both make for a more entertaining game and make you more likely to win ball games! Alas, it’s hard to see this being implemented anytime soon. Every time a closer-by-committee approach is floated, someone immediately takes the job and runs away with it. Any modernization of the bullpen appears to be headed towards piggy-backing starters relegated to the bullpen due to durability deficiencies or an inability to face a lineup more than twice through the order.
With that being said, the move Cora made is a move every manager (with the possible exception of Gabe Kapler) makes. It is virtually impossible at this point to expect a manager to do otherwise. We can only have this debate so many times before realizing that nothing is going to change and we have to work around it. The only lesson this game should reinforce is that the Sox lost on a chance to go in hard on the reliever market, opting to bet on the false hope of last year’s success. Any replacement you bring in for Cora would’ve made the same move, so have fun making a fool of yourself by his head on a spike after one game.