Even though it's standard for all managers to use their closer in a tie game at home in the ninth or 10th inning, some argue that doesn't apply for Diaz, pointing to his 1.08 ERA in save situations vs. his 6.75 ERA in non-save situations.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Scott Servais gave a wry smile, knowing the question about Edwin Diaz’s strong showing in notching his major-league-leading 38th save had been teed up for him to offer a fun/sarcastic response to questions posed prior to Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Giants.
“Well, of course, it was a save situation, right?” he said with a chuckle.
Yes, yes it was a save situation and Diaz worked a 1-2-3 inning in dominant fashion.
“We had our best reliever in the game, in the ninth inning,” he said pausing and then emphasizing the last part of is comment. “That’s the goal.”
Servais’ bemusement stems from the frustration of some fans, a few radio hosts and others that seem to be of the mindset that Edwin Diaz should not be used in any non-save situation. The issue at point was Servais’ decision to use Diaz in a 3-3 game in the top of the ninth on Tuesday night at Safeco Field.
While most everyone in the pregame media meeting on Wednesday morning understood why Servais went to Diaz in that situation, sometimes a question about a decision — that everyone already knows the answer to — still has to be asked so the manager can at least verify his process to those at odds with the process.
“You are never going to make everyone happy when you have this job,” Servais said. “I get it. There’s always going to be decisions that you have to make that people are going to scratch their head about. That’s the beauty of baseball. It doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t. You have to take it with a grain of salt and move on. But when Eddie Diaz is available and I have a chance to pitch him, then I’m going to pitch him.”
A five-part series
This isn’t about advanced analytics or sabermetrics. This is about availability and logic.
In a tie game after the eighth inning, there is no chance for a save situation for the home team.
Why? Because if the home team breaks the tie, the game is over. No, save situation is possible.
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So if you are waiting for a save situation to use your closer in that scenario, well, then he’s not going to pitch in the game. And that doesn’t work for Servais.
Servais, like every manager in baseball, goes to his closer to still pitch the ninth or 10th inning of a tie game at home. It didn’t work on Tuesday. Diaz wasn’t bad. He gave up a one-out single to Steve Duggar. But with two outs, Pablo Sandoval, who seemed overwhelmed in the at-bat vs. Diaz, hit a slow roller just past the mound. Diaz couldn’t field the mishit. Second baseman Dee Gordon, who was playing deep on the grass, charged on the play, fielded the ball with his bare hand and tried to flip the ball to Ryon Healy. But Healy had already given up on the play and came off the bag, motioning for Gordon to hold it because Duggar, who’d been on second, could possibly score. Gordon tried the throw anyway and it bounced off Healy’s glove and into foul territory. Duggar scored the go-ahead run. Bad luck plus a risky play by Gordon with limited chance of reward led to the anger of Diaz even being on the mound.
“Eddie hasn’t had the greatest of luck, and the numbers maybe don’t look that great when he’s in the ninth inning of a tie game, but you’re trying to extend the game, you’re trying to give your offense one more shot around,” Servais said. “You put your best reliever that you have available out there. I certainly believe it. I think that 100 percent of the managers in this game believe it.”
Indeed, the usage of the closer in a tie game at home in either the ninth or 10th is standard for all managers with their closers. Should it be different for Diaz?
Well, some might point to his 1.08 ERA (5 earned runs, 41 1/3 innings pitched) in save situations vs. his 6.75 ERA in non-save situations (7 earned runs, 9 1/3 innings pitched). Others could point to the long-held narratives of closers not being as effective in non-save situations because of the lack of adrenaline or drama of the save situation.
First of all, it’s instructive to point out that not all non-save situations are the same. It’s one thing for a closer to get in some work in a blowout loss or win because he hasn’t pitched in four or five days. It’s slightly different pitching in the ninth inning of a tie game with 44,000 people in the stadium while your team is locked in a heated postseason race.
“Why would it be any different?” Diaz said. “I treat them all the same. I attack the hitters. I make my pitches.”
Edwin Diaz: Save vs. non-save situations (2018)
Is pitching with a three-run lead in the ninth (a save situation) really a higher-leverage or higher-adrenaline situation than pitching with a tie game in the ninth? You have no margin for error in the latter scenario.
Diaz certainly hasn’t been an established closer long enough to develop the mindset of being too good for non-save situations. And the personal pride of not wanting to give up runs is a factor.
“I go out and throw hard and try to execute my pitches,” he said.
Diaz has pitched in 10 non-save situations this season. Six of those appearances were scoreless innings. He allowed two runs in an already decided outing vs. the Red Sox when he hadn’t pitched in seven days.
But let’s take a closer look at the specific situation in question — a tie game at home. Let’s limit it to this season because, by all accounts, Diaz is a significantly different pitcher than last season.
Two of those six scoreless outings came in tie games at home. On May 20 vs. the Tigers, Diaz pitched a scoreless 10th inning in Seattle’s 3-2 win in 11 innings. Six days later against the Twins, Diaz entered the ninth inning of a 3-3 game, worked a scoreless inning and the Mariners later won the game on Mike Zunino’s walkoff homer in the bottom of the 12th. He did allow one hit in each of those outings.
The May 2 game was pretty unforgettable for other reasons. That was the game where James Paxton struck out 16 batters in seven shutout innings, but didn’t get a win. Juan Nicasio gave up a tying, two-run homer to Jed Lowrie in the eighth inning and Diaz surrendered a leadoff homer to Mark Canha on a badly misplaced 1-0 fastball.
The game vs. the Rangers was one of Diaz’s worst outings of the season. He had no fastball command and was reduced to throwing slider after slider for most of the inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Jurickson Profar. With one out Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a soft ground ball through the vacated hole at second base with Andrew Romine covering second on a stolen base attempt. Diaz then walked all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo to load the bases. Rougned Odor, who was hitting .205 at the time, punched a 2-2 slider into left field for a bases-clearing double.
Of the five outings in a tie game at home, Diaz had two scoreless innings, two where he allowed one run and one where he was charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Five games is a pretty small sample size to say definitely that Diaz shouldn’t be used in tie games this season. With the Mariners margin for success in games so small, and the A’s charging for that second wild card, the concept of not using his best reliever in a tie game because there isn’t and won’t be a save situation is something that Servais can’t fathom. Perhaps if Diaz had been used heavily in the previous games, he might change his thinking.
“There are days if your closer has been used a lot, you may want to stay away from him in a tie game,” he said. “But (Tuesday) night was certainly not one of those.”
With the three games in Anaheim this weekend, the situation is different. But Servais outlined his belief in usage for Diaz in road games.
“When you are on the road it’s a little bit different,” he said. “You might want to pick and choose when you want to use him in a tie game on the road. I’m not opposed to using him in a tie game on the road. Some managers will not use their closer in a tie game on the road. I don’t believe in that. I think you pick your pocket where he might fit best or make the biggest impact.”
Ideally for Servais, the need for Diaz to pitch will come in save situations going forward.
“I hope he pitches a lot,” he said. “That means we’re in a good spot.”