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Misinterpreting the End of Gagne's Streak
2004-07-08 15:00
by Jon Weisman

Joe Morgan is the latest commentator - by no means the only one - to state the following in some form or another:

Now that Gagne's streak has ended, I think it might actually help L.A. because manager Jim Tracy has the liberty to use his closer in different ways now. The streak forced Tracy to use Gagne only for save situations. Now Tracy can use Gagne more often, such as in tie ballgames, which is a plus for the Dodgers because he's their best pitcher.

Two problems with this statement:

1) Tracy already uses Gagne in tie games.

2) A save streak has no impact on a manager's willingness to use a closer in tie games, because there is no save opportunity in a tie game.

The place where liberation from Gagne's save streak could make a difference would be a situation where Gagne would enter a close game earlier. There are more ways for you to blow a save when you enter with the score 3-2 in the eighth than 3-2 in the ninth.

That being said, it is truly doubtful that Gagne's save streak had very much impact on Tracy's managing at all. Much more influential has been the presence of solid set-up men in Paul Quantrill, Guillermo Mota, and at varying times, Paul Shuey, Tom Martin and Darren Dreifort, which has given Tracy the excuse, legtimate most but not all of the time, to be less aggressive with Gagne.

Tracy believes that his set-up men can get him to the ninth inning, or close to it. When they have wavered, except on a few occasions, he has gone to Gagne in the eighth inning.

For a real change in Gagne's usage to come, at least one of two things would have to happen. Either the performance of the Dodger set-up men would have to change, or Tracy would have to radically change his bullpen philosophy and, instead using Gagne as a closer to wrap up a game, he would use Gagne as a fireman to put out a fire, no matter what the inning, no matter whether the Dodgers were winning, losing or tied.

Although firemen are more vulnerable to blowing a save than closers, if Jim Tracy already believed that Gagne was more likely as a fireman to help the Dodgers win games and reach the playoffs - and in turn save Tracy's job - do you think he would have waited this long to put Gagne in the big red truck with the dalmatian?

As the season progresses, and as times potentially become more desparate, Gagne may be more likely to enter a game at unusual moments to put out a fire. But this would have been the case whether Gagne's save streak was at 10 or 100.

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