As the trading deadline looms, some bullpen-challenged squads may be best-served by looking inward to address what ails them.
Around this time each season, close followers of baseball begin to pick up on a rapidly-swelling chorus of plaintive cries from teams in desperate need of relief—relief from ineffective relievers, that is. While out On the Beat this week, John Perrotto surveyed the majors and rooted out a number of teams’ ongoing efforts to sure up their weaknesses in the bullpen department. These clubs are choosing to dangle their trade bait in a fairly confined body of water; the pool of dependable bullpen arms isn’t deep to begin with, and the subset of those arms available at midseason is shallow enough to merit “No Diving” signs posted around its perimeter to discourage overexuberant GMs from taking a fatal plunge.
Trading for relief help is a risky proposition. A team that deals for a short reliever at the end of July can expect no more than 30 innings of work in return, and that’s assuming both that those innings go smoothly (and unmarred by the wild fluctuations in luck that can derail a reliever’s short season), and that the stretch run results in a playoff appearance. Granted, a key effective inning of work can make all the difference to a team’s playoff odds, as well as its fortunes in October, but the chances are good that most clubs that send away for a reliever won’t be unwrapping impact players upon receipt.
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Why opt for drama when dramatic fixes might produce a right-now contender?
After losing a taut pitcher's duel to the Yankees on Friday night, the Mets salvaged some dignity by taking two out of three to claim the upper hand in the CitiField segment of this season's Subway Series. The wins push them a step or two beyond last week's multiple crises, buying embattled manager Jerry Manuel a bit more time to turn his ballclub around, though he's hardly out of the woods. With the ravenous New York media momentarily quieted, it's a fine time to inventory what's gone right and wrong for the club thus far, and what solutions are available.
Chris Coghlan came oh so close to joining an elite secret society last season.
Chris Coghlan of the Florida Marlins burst onto the scene last year and put together a fantastic rookie season with the bat, compiling a .321/.390/.460 slash line in 504 PA en route to the NL Rookie of the Year award. Take a closer look at that slash-line, as Coghlan came within one-thousandth of a batting average point of finishing the year with a perfectly rounded slash line. There are no awards to commemorate such an achievement, but, c'mon, you know it would have been fun if he ended the season hitting .320/.390/.460. His numbers got me thinking -- how often does a rounded slash line occur? And, of the players in this hypothetical sample, have any achieved their "feat" in a significant number of trips to the dish?
Querying from 1974-2009, I found 1,227 batter-seasons with a rounded slash line, a sample accounting for approximately four percent of all seasons in the span. Not all 1,227 lines were created equally, however, as a pretty penny of the seasons belonged to players who hit, say, 1.000/1.000/2.000 in one plate appearance. Paring the list down to those who actually, you know, played the game, only 21 players rounded their lines while amassing 100 or more plate appearances. Of this group:
A trio of BP columnists join ESPN's Buster Olney to resolve whose surprising performances so far are real, and which aren't.
Matt Meyers, ESPN Insider: Welcome to the latest ESPN Insider Roundtable, and thanks in advance for participating. This week's topic: "Is he for real?" Or, as I like to call it, "how I learned to stop worrying and love Fernando Nieve."
Reversing the usual direction of performance translations send the slugger's stat line through the roof.
You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of thr imagination. Next stop, the Manny Zone!
The players most likely in 2009 to suck away some little bit of hope for their respective teams.
Recently, I examined last season's Replacement-Level Killers, affixing the title that Jay Jaffecoined to a group of bungling batsmen, floundering fielders, and helpless hurlers whose poor play torpedoed their teams' chances of reaching the playoffs in 2008. Last year's lowlights deserved a look, but with three weeks of baseball under our belts in 2009, we've already begun to turn our attentions to what certain players haven't done for us lately (sometimes a touch too eagerly). As promised, I've come up with a list of candidates for the 2009 Replacement-Level Killers squad, predicated not on what we've seen so far in limited action, but on what we're likely to see in the months ahead.
Over the course of a lengthy season, avoiding replacement-level production often hinges more heavily on timely, effective responses to poor performance and injury than on selecting the best candidates from an available pool of Opening Day starters. In many instances, an appearance on the list represents not so much a criticism of the player in question, as an indictment of the managers (both general and otherwise) who put him in a position to fail despite his known limitations (although in certain cases, such as those of J.R. Towles or John McDonald last season, the extent of the collapse likely could not have been foreseen). However, in general, teams act rationally by awarding the bulk of the opportunities to the most capable players on hand, which not only makes their occasional failures to do so more frustrating, but renders forecasting the identity of the Killers difficult.
Scaring up tomorrow's relief heroes on today's pile of the overlooked or undervalued.
Game Five of the 2008 World Series will long be remembered for its umpires' Beatles-inspired belief that, as John Lennon sang, "When it starts to rain, everything's the same," a philosophy which prevented sundry sodden millionaires (and Carlos Ruiz) from seeking shelter until the middle of the sixth. Despite the headlines garnered by this debacle, however, an equally intriguing story lay behind the first two relievers that Joe Maddon sent to the mound when play resumed two days later. Why does this tale of two stoppers matter? Because not long before they found themselves charged with holding the Phillies at bay in the highest of high-leverage situations, Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell were readily available. While the Rays made a point of adding this particular pair, the auction for relief help really never ends; by examining two who got away, future bidders may improve their chances of spotting tomorrow's bargains.
That Balfour and Howell were on the spot at that juncture wasn't a surprise given the duo's regular-season performance. They had been charged with similarly demanding duties (and fulfilling them capably) for some time, placing fourteenth and seventh, respectively, among major league relievers in WXRL. The farther back we go, however, the more unlikely it appears that anyone could have predicted the tandem's development into the two-headed anchor of a pennant-winning bullpen. Exactly a year before their pressure-packed outings in the World Series, the pair were coming off of disappointing 2007 campaigns followed by almost four weeks' worth of offseason. Both had posted impressive lines in Triple-A (Howell, a starter prior to this season, led the International League in strikeouts), but ERAs near eight in the majors led to the ominous appearance of labels like "journeyman" and "Quadruple-A pitcher" in their BP2K8 player comments. PECOTA wasn't especially optimistic, either; each hurler handily exceeded his 90th-percentile forecast, though it's important to note that both Howell's and Balfour's projections featured big Improve/Breakout Rates.