Closers are an aberration in baseball’s history, a massive misallocation of resources, and eventually will go the way of the dinosaurs Carl Everett doesn’t believe in. A pure closer is a reliever who only comes in to protect a one- to three-run lead, only in the ninth. The worst pitcher in baseball stands a great chance of pitching the ninth inning without giving up three runs. With no outs, a team with an average offense against an average pitcher can expect to score half a run. The best offense in baseball last year, the Red Sox, averaged about .65 runs/half inning over the course of the season. The worst reliever in the major leagues last year was Jaret Wright, who gave up 46 runs in just over 56 innings of work–.82 runs an inning. Given a three-run lead in the ninth, pitching against the Red Sox, Wright could reasonably be expected to give up an average of a run each appearance, and if he did it all season, he’d rack up 20 saves, be anointed a proven closer, and sign with the Mets for $4 million a year.
The D’backs made an early splash in the Hot Stove league by dealing Curt Schilling to the Red Sox and getting Richie Sexson from the Brewers. The Royals, whether we believe it or not, are now employing one of the more savvy GMs in baseball. And the Phillies spent the off-season making themselves the favorite in the National League East. All this and much more news from Arizona, Kansas City, and Philadelphia in your Thursday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
Season one in the Great American Ballpark wasn’t what the Reds had hoped for. While the team flailed on the field, the front office suffered through its own turmoil, and too many fans came to the park dressed as empty seats. Yet looking at the lineup above, we see many of the same names we saw last year. The Reds may have the least turnover of any team in the NL.
Last season, I thought the Reds would have a shot at the NL Central crown. Oops. Instead, injuries once again tore down the team’s chances as more than half the starters were on the DL at one point near the end of the season. Instead of what could have been an historically good outfield, two-thirds of that trifecta spent the better part of the season on the DL, and the other turned into a modern Dave Kingman. Was that a fluke, or is that what the Reds can expect this season? For the medical staff of the Reds, this could be considered a make-or-break season.
Reports from Braves camp indicate that John Smoltz is in mid-season form. He was at full velocity during a bullpen session and reported no more than normal soreness following the workout. There are two things we can draw from this. First, Smoltz’s elbow is doing well after the late-season problems. Second, the Braves and Smoltz are more concerned about that elbow than they’ve been letting on. The only reason for testing the elbow so early is to gauge whether or not John Schuerholz needed to go work the phones for bullpen depth. Expect Smoltz to be used differently this season–the Braves want to use him in pure save situations only, while Smoltz is asking to go longer. The first Phillies camp for Billy Wagner started off poorly, but the soft-tissue injury in his middle fingers doesn’t look to be a long-term concern. There’s no real consensus on a cause, which is mildly concerning, but the Phillies have depth to deal with any minor injuries to their flamethrower.