Thursday's TCB Daily Boil: Should relievers have defined roles?

Bob Levey

Astros manager Bo Porter has not named a closer, or named any relief role for that matter, heading into the 2014 season. Is that the right move?

"You know what your role is? When your phone rings and your name's called, go get people out. That's your role. That's why you're in the bullpen."

Sounds easy enough! Thanks for the advice, Bo Porter.

That quote comes courtesy of the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich who is having himself a very nice spring as the new Astros beat writer. Porter's blunt comment from Wednesday gives Astros fans a pretty good idea of how the bullpen will be managed, at least early on.

It sure seems like the Astros will be going "closer by committee" to begin the season, even though Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow prefers to explain it as Porter being able to pick his pitchers based on match ups.

Match ups and whoever was throwing well at the time was how Porter handled 2013's disaster of a bullpen following closer Jose Veras' departure. It's been well-documented that Porter didn't have much to choose from last season.

As a result, Luhnow and Co. brought in Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain among others to stabilize the historically bad pen from a year ago. Qualls, Albers and Josh Fields, who took control of the Astros' closer job late in 2013, all could make their case for the job. Fields has had the best spring, Qualls has the most closing experience and Albers has been the most consistent over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, Crain won't be ready to go for Opening Day.

Back to the philosophy of running a bullpen. Porter's quote from the top of this post seems easy enough, but not establishing roles in a bullpen has become more and more uncommon among MLB teams.

Is it better for relief pitchers to know what their job will be heading into games? Or should they be used freely - whenever and wherever - the manager feels appropriate?

I don't mind starting the season like this, especially when there is no clear cut candidate. But as soon as one of the candidates proves himself worthy of the closer job, the roles should then be established from there. Mental preparation is a very big part of this game.

With how bad the bullpen was last year, if things go wrong early, critics will be quick to question the handling of the relievers considering it looks improved on paper.

Your thoughts?

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