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Joe Maddon redefines ‘closer by committee’

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The truly great managers set trends.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The traditional definition of “closer by committee,” at least the way I’ve always understood it, is this: A team doesn’t have a traditional ninth-inning guy, or doesn’t have a single pitcher the manager trusts with closing every ninth-inning lead.

So in such cases — like now, when the Cubs have lost two closers, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop — the manager would pick and choose from a series of relievers, picking one to throw the entire ninth inning in different situations, choosing a different one from day to day.

The way Maddon handled the ninth inning Saturday with a one-run lead over the Reds might redefine the term, and it just might work.

When Jesse Chavez entered to throw the ninth — complete with intro video — I figured, “Okay, Joe’s picking him to be the closer for today, and finish the game.”

But that’s not what happened. Chavez recorded an out and allowed a single. Up came lefthanded-hitting Joey Votto, so in came lefthanded Randy Rosario. Rosario gave up a long, loud fly ball out to center field, and next was Eugenio Suarez.

Well, no way is Joe going to allow Rosario to throw to Suarez. In trotted Steve Cishek. I told Mike Bojanowski, “I like this matchup.”

Cishek needed only one pitch to retire Suarez on a ground ball to end the game.

So in this case, the “committee” consisted of three men closing a game, all throwing part of one inning. It worked. This is matchups taken to the extreme, not one pitcher closing a game by himself replacing an injured closer, but pitchers chosen batter-by-batter. This is the kind of thing that’s often done in earlier innings, when we sometimes see lefty/righty matchups more prominent. You rarely see it in the ninth inning.

The best thing about the way this particular ninth inning worked was that none of the three pitchers got himself overworked. Chavez threw four pitches. Rosario got his out on three pitches, and Cishek threw just one. This means that all of them should be available Sunday.

This might not work all the time. Or maybe it will. I would expect to see lots more of this — the reliever who enters to “close” a game to start the ninth inning might not be the guy who gets the save. And it doesn’t matter, really, as long as the team wins the game.

This is why Joe Maddon is successful, why he’s the best manager in the game today (in my view), why he’s likely going to be the best manager in Cubs franchise history by the time he retires. For those of you complaining about Joe’s lineups or unorthodox moves, I urge you to look at the big picture. We’re lucky to have him.