5. The Britton effect
I’ve been told for years, and have been given data that supports it, that the ninth inning is like any other inning. And that any effective reliever can serve in the closer’s role. I’m sure there is some truth to that, though I think the pressure that comes with the ninth – facing a team in a close game with the opposing players fighting for their last chance at victory – is more pronounced than in any other frame. I’m also a believer that human beings thrive when they know how they’ll be used and what is expected of them, assuming they have the tools to complete the job. To me it’s more about knowing your role than when that role actually occurs. So, when an effective closer leaves his role, it creates a domino effect, and each reliever below him must step into another spot. Some will struggle with that change mentally, and others may not have the physical tools to succeed in the new position. That’s what I think happened with the Orioles’ bullpen when closer Zach Britton missed a large chunk of time with a forearm injury. Brad Brach did a fine job filling in, but everyone had to move up a slot, and that affected the overall performance of the usually stout bullpen. Britton’s back now, and assuming he is healthy, things should return to normal. In fact, the bullpen could be better now that guys such as Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro have had success in “elevated” situations.