Most forward thinking baseball fans agree that paying top dollar for a closer is a silly idea. Check that: paying top dollar for a pitcher who racks up a lot of saves is silly. The two things are not always related. A closer gets saves but they are not a very good assessment of a pitcher’s quality or abilities. Saves are about opportunities and, sadly, the whims of the manager.
But the idea of NEVER giving money to ANY reliever is just as silly. While saves aren’t a good measure of a reliever’s talent, there are plenty of other ways to identify truly great relievers. Saves are a statistical oddity, but good relievers help you win games.
It is a cruel twist of irony that it was the Red Sox bullpen that failed to hold a lead against the Tigers, considering the relative strengths of the two relief corps. The Red Sox bullpen was considered one of the best aspects of this 2013 Red Sox squad, but a few injuries quickly undid that assumption.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are one of the teams frequently lumped in with trade deadline “buyers” in an attempt to shore up their shaky bullpen. Hard to believe playoff relief hero Phil Coke wasn’t able to reclaim the magic of October, isn’t it?
For Boston, losing Joel Hanrahan for the year and watching Andrew Bailey go down with an injury then struggle upon his return as thrown the Sox ‘pen into disarray. Bailey has blown three of his last five save opportunities, succumbing to the long ball with regularity. Boston manager John Farrell said the team will explore their closer options as they work to get Andrew Bailey’s fastball back where it needs to be – out of the bat path of hitters like Jhonny Peralta.
The Sox must choose from Junichi Tazawa and…I think that’s it for their closer options. The Sox are wise for building a bullpen with such depth at the back end, but injury and ineffectivness will put it to the test.
Over the last week or so, much ink was spilled in praise of Jonathan Papelbon (who responded by blowing his first save of the year, of course). The Red Sox choice to let their former closer walk at the end of the 2011 season is understandable but, then again, Papelbon is a rare marvel – the top shelf reliever who is both consistently great and consistently healthy.
What would the Sox bullpen look like with Papelbon still holding down the ninth inning? Overpaid as a reliever might be for the 60-or so innings they pitch a year, keeping an elite reliever in the mix beats the alternative of cheating around and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle from year-to-year.
This is the ultimate conundrum when it comes to relievers: they are just so volatile. Dealing in such thin slices makes separating the wheat from the chaff extra tough. A good GM can build a decent bullpen on the cheap just like a bad GM can build a good bullpen almost by accident.
For playoff aspirant teams like Red Sox and Tigers, adding some pieces to their bullpen for a stretch drive could be the difference between October success and playoff disappointment. Few other acquisition in baseball are made with such a limited focus: get me these few outs and we’re good. It’s a tough racket but the perks are undeniable.
And the rest
In Andrew Bailey’s defense, the homer at the top of this post looks a little cheap. If you’re going to give up walkoff homers, make’em memorable like Mike Gonzalez.
On the Pirates hypothetical pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton. Do flags not fly forever in Pennsylvania? [WHYGAVS?]
On the Jays digging out from a very deep hole [DJF]
A hustle double comparison. [Fangraphs]