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Sometimes, There Just Isn't a Door to Close
2003-07-05 07:01
by Jon Weisman

J.A. Adande of the Times this morning became the latest person to ask why Dodger closer Eric Gagne is being brought in when the Dodgers are tied or trailing.

The answer is simple. If the ninth inning arrives at a Dodger home game without a save situation, then there will never be a save situation. There can never be a lead to protect in extra innings when you're the home team.

So, if you're not willing to pitch Gagne in a tie game, you've banned your best relief pitcher from appearing the rest of the night. That's not a good long-term strategy.

As a secondary point in discussing Friday night's Dodger loss to the Diamondbacks, Adande raises a more legitimate question - should Gagne have been saved for the 10th to face the heart of the Arizona order, rather than being used against the bottom third of the order in the ninth. Maybe so. But if you're going to use that logic to start timing Gagne's appearances, then you should be willing to use Gagne even more flexibly throughout the game.

Basically, until this week, the Dodgers set-up relief has been the best in baseball. Were that not the case, however, then the best time to use Gagne would not necessarily be in a ninth-inning save situation, but the most pressure-packed situation, whatever the inning.

Nevertheless, many people have apparently decided that because Gagne has pitched poorly in a few non-save situations, that he should never be used at such times. Hmm. Since the Dodgers' last save situation for Gagne came June 21, I guess they should have sent him to Maui for a couple of weeks.

Let's look at Gagne's pitching in the 11 games in which he hasn't gotten a save:

4/2at Arizona100002
4/6at San Diego210013
4/7vs. Arizona100002
4/13at San Francisco210012
4/20vs. San Francisco110003
5/12vs. Atlanta1/334410
5/29at Colorado122201
6/1vs. Milwaukee100002
6/3vs. Kansas City100002
6/23at San Francisco1/311111
7/2vs. San Diego1 2/322112
Total11 games12 1/31198520

Gagne's ERA in those games is 5.84 - not good. On the other hand, that one-third of an inning against Atlanta accounts for half the earned runs he has allowed. Remove that game, and Gagne's non-save ERA is 3.00. Gagne has pitched shutout ball in seven out of 11 non-save situations - hardly constituting a misuse of his abilities. The idea, as Adande writes, that Gagne "just seems out of his element in a non-save situation" is one I can understand Adande arriving at emotionally, but the numbers just don't support it. And even if Gagne were out of his element, he's still the best the Dodgers have.

As Vin Scully often points out, when Gagne allows runs to score, it's simply shocking because of how rare it is. But at some point, you need to snap out of it. One of the things that Dodger manager Jim Tracy has consistently done right this year has been his use of Gagne. I'm sure that Tracy would be all too glad to only use Gagne with a ninth-inning lead, but you can't wait forever for one to come.

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