Jose Mesa is the worst closer in baseball. He has the highest earned run average (4.47), the highest batting average against (.288) and has given up the most hits and walks per inning pitched (1.55). He is 2-8, which gives him the most losses of any reliever, too.
Bill James once wrote that “using your relief ace to protect a three-run lead is like a business using a top executive to negotiate fire insurance.” It makes much more sense to bring your best pitchers into crucial situations earlier, when runners are on base, to keep games tight.
That’s essentially what the Pirates have been doing this year, as most of the other pitchers in the bullpen have been a better bet than Mesa. That division of labor has proved a good strategy, however inadvertent it might be. The Pirates are 41-7 when leading after six innings.
Five of those seven leads were blown in the ninth by Mesa.
So using Mesa as the closer is fine as long as the game isn’t close, which might be the most damning statement about a closer anyone could make. Yet, that is the reality.
Mesa has come into five games with the score tied and he lost three of them. He has come into nine games with a one-run lead and lost five of them.
Why not do something innovative?
Continue to bring Mesa into the game with three-run leads and possibly even two-run leads. The average team wins 93-98 percent of those, and Mesa hasn’t blown any of them yet, going 23 for 23. But if the ninth inning arrives and the Pirates are up by a lonely run, let whoever held the lead in the eighth inning keep pitching.
Such talk is blasphemy, I realize. Though it was the accepted strategy for most of the past century, nobody in baseball does it this way now.
Yet this would be a way for a young pitcher like Gonzalez, or an old horse like White or Torres, to get his feet wet without fanfare.
Not naming a single closer also would allow McClendon to change pitchers in the middle of the ninth if the situation warranted. He would never lift Mesa mid-inning.