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Closer Madness

Too little, too much.  That's what happens when a manager narrowly and artificially constrains his decision options.  A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the slavish adherence to "closer" roles led to a silly underutilization of players like Mariano Rivera.  Last night, the Texas-Houston game illustrates the other side of this silliness -- the overuse of a player because "he's the closer."

Texas led 4-1 going into the top of the 9th inning.  Ron Washington (the Texas manager) selected Neftali Feliz to pitch the 9th, in spite of the fact that Feliz had pitched a season-high 35 pitches the night before.  Feliz yielded 4 hits including a home run along with 4 runs.  Washington's response after the game,

"He's the closer. He was in the game. Just didn't get it done."

"He's the closer," that's the extent of managerial decision making at the MLB level?  It's as if Tony LaRussa practice of using Dennis Eckersley as "the" 9th-inning guy now defines managerial practice for everyone in every game 25 years later.  Even with 2 relievers needing rest, there is no one else in the bullpen that can be entrusted with a 3-run lead because the pressure of the 9th inning is just too much?

In economics, we sometimes simply assume that managers push the right buttons.  They maximize wins, revenues, or something of value to the team.  Sure uncertainty exists, creating errors, but, on average, the decisions are correct.  Zooming in on managerial decisions, however, quickly suggests that just like everything else, there is a distribution of managerial skill.  They are not a monolithic group.  Moreover, these skill differences also emerge with innovative practices and the imitation of the practices of others.  The best managers are "getting it right" much of the time, integrating new ideas, imitating useful ideas from others, but not merely aping ideas that don't fit.