The concept you’re talking about is called “bullpen by committee” and it does work. It is, however, rarely used.
Remember this basic truth:
**Baseball managers do not manage to maximize their likelihood of winning. They manage to maximize the likelihood they will keep their jobs. **
The reason all teams now have designated “closers” is simply that it is the conventional, conservative strategy, and thus it saves the manager from criticism. If the “closer” starts to suck, generally the closer takes the blame and the manager is held blameless because, hey, he was using his closer, it’s not his fault Closer McSaveston is having an off year. But if the manager elects to use an unorthodox strategy like using 3-4 men as closers and it fails, the manager will be blamed.
This is then exacerbated by two facts:
- Few teams have a lot of really good relief pitchers, and
- People perceive leads blown in the ninth inning as far more horrible than leads blown in the 7th.
Suppose you have six relief pitchers available to you, and we’ll use six real ones; the six primary relievers for the Detroit Tigers. Here are those six guys with their ERAs and save totals:
Joaquin Benoit: 2.01, 24 saves
Drew Smyly; 2.37, 2 saves
Luke Putkonen: 3.03, 0 saves
Al Albuquerque: 4.59, 0 saves
Darin Downs: 4.84, 0 saves
Phil Coke: 5.40, 1 save
Obviously, Benoit was getting the save opportunities. (Jose Valverde got 9 saves but actually pitched so little I didn’t include him.) Clearly Benoit was also the best pitcher of the group, with Smyly not far behind.
Logically, of course, if the start only goes 6 innings and tonight’s the night you need Albuquerque to pitch an inning (because relievers certainly cannot pitch every night) Jim Leyland will probably summon Albuquerque and Smyly to pitch the 7th and 8th - what order they go in depends on who’s coming up, since Smyly is lefthanded - and will then go to Benoit to pitch the ninth.
If he does that and someone blows the lead, nobody will blame Jim Leyland. If Albuqerque sucks, nobody’s going to rip Leyland for summoning one of his better and more experienced guys aside from Smyly and Benoit. Someone had to pitch the 7th, and if Al gets rocked, well, it’s just too bad the starting pitcher couldn’t go 7.
But suppose Leyland does something unorthodox and goes Benoit, then Albuquerque, and then lets Smyly close. If anything goes wrong, Leyland will be blamed. If Benoit blows it they’ll blame Leyland for using the “closer” in a non closing situation, if Albuquerque blows it they’ll blame him for using Albuquerque in the ninth. Logically it really makes no difference, but the fans and media will perceive it as Very Bad.
Any deviation from baseball orthodoxy has always been ripped by the media and the baseball industry itself. And many fans.