September 19, 2013
Looking Back, Looking Forward
This is the final installment of my Bullpen Report series for 2013 and, in fact, my final column during the regular season in 2013. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. In fact, I’ll be using the next week to get ready for my series on how players did in 2013 versus what our expectations were for them entering the 2013 season.
With this in mind, instead of my usual ranking of relievers by tier, below is a brief flavor of what you’ll be seeing from me this offseason. We all know what the best relievers are doing this year, but do we remember how the expected closers did in 2013?
Table 1: N.L. Closers Entering 2013 With Results
The second column lists what these pitchers have earned to date using my 2012 valuation formulas for National League pitchers. This is something that will change this winter; the earnings formulas are typically tweaked from season to season, and while the changes typically aren’t radical, they can influence earnings by one or two dollars here or there.
The “AVG” column are what these pitchers earned on average in the three “expert” leagues I track: CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars. The plus/minus and saves columns are self-explanatory (all statistics and earnings in this article are through Monday, September 16).
The earnings versus salary are fairly typical for the NL-only league data I have tracked over the years. On the whole, closers tend to take a slight loss across the board. The paradox of this is that while closers lose money, it’s anything but linear. Five pitchers in this table lose nine dollars or more for their owners. Craig Kimbrel is the gold standard of relievers and should probably get paid more, but even though Kimbrel is money in the bank, history prevents owners from pushing relievers too far. This is how profits are generated for pitchers like Romo, Street, and Cishek.
Another reason closers don’t get paid a lot is that 30-plus save pitchers sometimes emerge from nowhere. Edward Mujica, Jim Henderson, and Kevin Gregg were not purchased in any of the expert leagues. Rex Brothers was only purchased in LABR… at $1. While this isn’t always typical, you can luck into a cheap closer whether your avenue of acquisition is the auction or the free agent pool down the road.
Table 2: A.L. Closers Entering 2013 With Results
The American League is far less typical. 2012 was historically disastrous for closers, which is part of the reason the prices are so low here. Even expert owners are reactionary; while it was reasonable to expect some slippage from Rodney’s 2012, it is strange that not a single closer in the American League cracked an $18 salary. Instead of paying for skills, everyone is assuming that the AL closers will fall on their faces, but this turns out not to be the case.
Since so many closers succeeded, the pickings are much slimmer on the free agent side. However, the similarity with the NL comes in how surprising the replacements are. Danny Farquhar wasn’t purchased by any of the experts. You would think that Koji Uehara would have drawn some serious money but he did not; only CBS and Tout spent a dollar on him. Josh Fields was only taken in CBS but you would have been better off simply not chasing saves in Houston after Veras left.
We like to think that we are smarter than simply chasing last year’s results, but the charts above remind us that even the experts fall prey to this phenomenon. When it comes to relievers, it is better to examine each pitcher’s individual skills in terms of how he might do as a closer rather than look at last year and assume success or failure.