Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Grant Balfour to be their closer for 2014 (and presumably 2015), committing to pay him $12 million over the next two seasons. It’s not an expensive closer contract, as these things go. But for the cost-conscious Rays, it seemed a little strange. The team also re-signed Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) and traded for Heath Bell over the winter. Another sabermetric darling team, the Oakland A’s, signed Eric O’Flaherty last week and, earlier in the winter, traded for Josh Lindblom and Jim Johnson.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
A tip of the cap toward the effective set-up men who get little publicity unless they implode.
The role of set-up man is a tough gig. Serving as the bridge to the more famous, better-compensated closer, the set-up man carries all of the risks of a late-inning reliever with virtually none of the accolades. A closer who gets his requisite three outs (or more, as often happens in the postseason) might be credited for “shutting the door” on the opposition, but the eighth-inning guy is rarely mentioned in the aftermath of a victory. The only time the name of a set-up man appears in bold ink is when he gives up runs and incurs the dreaded blown save.
The A’s don’t pay for relievers. Their top seven this year are making about $8 million and cost almost nothing in talent to acquire. The A’s also have the second-best bullpen FRA of the post-expansion era, behind only this year’s Braves. They make it look so easy! But this incredible success is also the answer to Ben’s question. Teams still pay for relievers because the A’s way of doing things takes so much friggin' effort.
Or, should the Astros invest in some veteran relievers?
Autumn came a little early to Houston this year. You might not have noticed, but the Astros recently became the first American League team to be formally eliminated from the playoffs. It’s not that anyone really expected the Astros to contend this year, but then again, I picked the Angels to win the World Series at the beginning of the year. Shows what we know.
Do teams tend to overpay for bullpen help at the deadline?
Baseball lore preaches that a team “can never have enough pitching,” but we rarely hear the same thing said about hitting, perhaps because of a sister proverb, “Baseball is 75 percent pitching.” Pitcher fragility plays a big part, of course. But sometimes one poor start or relief outing will cause a team to press for more pitchers: a marginal arm blows up, and suddenly the team needs assistance. When a hitter goes 0-for-4 or 1-for-5, on the other hand, the line is common enough that we don’t bat an eye.
Mark Melancon and Rex Brothers take over for Jason Grilli and Rafael Betancourt, respectively. More on that, plus the updated rankings and earnings lie within.
Welcome to another installment of The Bullpen Report. As a reminder, closers are rated in five tiers from best to worst. The tiers are a combination of my opinion of a pitcher’s ability, the likelihood that he will pick up saves, and his security in the job. For example, a pitcher in the third tier might have better skills than a pitcher in the second tier, but if the third tier pitcher is new to the job or has blown a couple of saves in the last week this factors into the ranking as well.
How the Pirates have become a contender with the help of other teams' cast-off parts.
The Pirates blueprint to building the bullpen that has become one of baseball’s best is no longer a guarded secret on the North Shore. While Neil Huntington was away at the All-Star break, an anonymous source who’s not generally much of a talker handed over the plan of how the Pirates did it in five easy steps that will leave the rest of baseball shaking their heads.
1. Trade your best reliever
2. Let a 36-year-old journeyman close
3. Get a bunch of starters who can't go six innings
5. Sports Illustrated cover
The Yankees haven't produced many successful homegrown starters, but they have been churning out a wave of cheap relief arms.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Josh Norris has covered the Trenton Thunder and the Yankees farm system for The Trentonian for the last six seasons and spends his free time filming prospects in plush locales like Scranton, Allentown, Wilmington, Lakewood and Staten Island. Previously, he covered the Eugene Emeralds for Scout.com and Oregon club baseball (before NCAA baseball returned) for the Oregon Daily Emerald.
Ben and Sam discuss whether a pitcher's body language can cost him strikes, whether it's worth trading for relievers early in the season, a study about perceptions of steroid use, and whether a low BABIP is always unlucky.
Have hitters become too passive, or is there something else going on?
Last week, in an article in Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci put forth an argument that the modern game of baseball has a problem. Hitters, he claimed, have become too passive in their approach at the plate as they attempt to drive up the pitch counts of the opposing pitcher. He mixes together a couple of case examples (Joey Votto, Jayson Werth) with some data that appear to show that hitters have become more passive in their approach over time, and are paying for it in declining run production. Maybe Joey and Jayson, and by proxy the rest of the baseball players out there, should swing the bat a little more.