Joe Maddon expects to go "committee-wise" with his closer(s), and that pleases FanGraphs' Eno Sarris. It pleases me, because it'll be more interesting that way. And it should please Rays fans if Maddon's able to make all those moving parts fit together nicely. But the ninth inning is just one inning. Often an important inning, yes. But the seventh and eighth innings are often important, too.
After the jump, Maddon on the Rays' rebuilt bullpen ...
Last season, the Rays led the league in relief ERA. This season, almost all of those guys -- Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Danny Wheeler, Lance Cormier -- are gone. But it's not like anybody expected that group to pitch so brilliantly, a year ago. Maddon:
If there is really one place that you have somewhat of a concern, that's to reestablish, rebuild the best bullpen in the league. Last year at this time when that bullpen broke, there was no way you could have told us that that was going to be the best bullpen in the American League last year.
Rafael (Soriano) pitched six innings here. Benny (Joaquin Benoit) went back to Triple-A. Balfour was throwing 89 miles an hour. Randy Choate was a situational left-hander. Danny Wheeler was a nice functional right-hander. (Lance) Cormier and then Sonny (Andy Sonnanstine). I mean, it's not like you thought leaving spring training you thought this group was going to lead the American League in ERA. I believe we have some really good arms. Andrew has compiled some really good arms ... I see our biggest obstacle to overcome in regards to repeating is getting this bullpen back in order quickly."
It's highly unlikely that the Rays will lead the league in relief ERA again, but that would have been highly unlikely even had everyone stayed. Last season both Soriano and Benoit posted sub-2.00 ERAs, and that's just not something you can do every year.
Bill James once wrote -- in reference to Whitey Herzog, I think -- that the manager has more impact on the bullpen than almost anything else. He not only helps choose who his relievers will be, but has absolute control over when they are used.
There are two really good reasons to think Maddon will make the most of the relievers he's got. One, he's done it before. And two, he's done basically the same thing with his hitters over the years, mixing and matching and usually winding up with enough runs to win.
I don't think the Rays' bullpen will be a particular strength this season. But I don't think it will be a particular weakness, either.