July 31, 2017
This Year's Hot Relievers, Next Year
Without the browbeating effect of staring my own written words in the face—whoa, whoa, do you want to say this?—I occasionally release into the world a statement that is, let’s say, not wholly considered. So it was that I boldly questioned a friend—a Yankees fan—about his favorable evaluation of the recent trade for Tommy Kahnle.
The breakout White Sox reliever’s remaining team control may or may not have made him the most expensive part of the deal in which the Yankees also acquired David Robertson and Todd Frazier, while jettisoning human heart palpitation Tyler Clippard.
“What are the odds,” I asked, haughtily, “that Kahnle is even pitching as well as Clippard a year from now?”
That’s a hole I dug for myself. This, then, is a more considered way of wondering what the wacky history of hot commodity relievers says about the 2018 versions of Kahnle or Brad Hand.
We’re going to let the numbers select a hot reliever for each of the past 10 seasons. We’ll be examining the pitcher (minimum 40 relief innings) with the lowest DRA who had never previously posted a DRA below 3.00. That qualifying threshold, over our timeframe, has typically covered about 40 relievers per year—a group that you could safely call the “good” bullpen options. Thus, in our small, unscientific way, we’re looking at the volatility of relievers who skipped right past good and went straight to great.
This method will render the selections fair and objective, but blind to whatever narratives may have swirled at the time. It will also widen the field beyond relievers who were traded, so we can mull over the larger question: Are breakout relievers’ follow-up acts worth paying extra for?