2011 free agent closers

The first Monday of the 2010-11 free agency came with a look at possible closers on the market from MLB Trade Rumors:

Looking at our free agent list, J.J. Putz, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes, Octavio Dotel, Kevin Gregg, Chad Qualls, Kerry Wood, Jon Rauch, Joaquin Benoit, and Koji Uehara could also be among those battling for closer jobs.

Discounting trade and non-tender candidates, along with wannabe closers like Jesse Crain, Trevor Hoffman (yes, I said wannabe) and Benoit, there are about nine “experienced closers” available on the current market. Mariano Rivera will likely re-sign with the Yankees, but we will save Benoit, Crain and the other dark horses of the market for another day.

Saves and dollars

Spending big bucks on free agent closers—or any relief pitcher—is often a fool’s errand. Pitchers in their 30s, being paid for their past and future ability to pile-up saves, are not appealing to many in baseball. That said, saves (and those who earn them) are still over-valued—rhetorically and financially.

The eight pitchers in question have varying levels of experience as closers and in recent pay rates. Uehara is the greenest state-side but he saved 32 games for Yomiuri in 2007 and one in 2008. He’s also spent a large portion of his two-year major league career on the disabled list, accumulating all of his saves after returning from injury in 2010. Uehara, like Wood, spent most of his career as a starter.


Gregg looks like a decent deal for the 2010 Blue Jays, based on saves and dollars alone. Wood’s DL time and conversion to set-up man for Rivera skews his 2010 saves-to-dollars badly while the ascension of Neftali Feliz blunted the use of Francisco.

Injury history

Got boo-boos? These guys do, or have.

Days spent on disabled list, 2004-2010

Pitcher 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Wood 53 110 229 125 22 0 57
Gregg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Qualls 0 0 0 0 0 36 0
Fuentes 70 0 0 42 0 0 15
Dotel 0 136 134 96 0 0 0
Putz 0 0 0 0 59 123 15
Rauch 32 104 0 0 0 0 0
Uehara 0 0 0 >0 0 122 79
Francisco 0 183 78 0 0 54 36

Francisco finished the season on the DL and never made into the playoffs.

Not a pretty picture, with a few exceptions. Gregg is clear, and the rest vary from not bad (Qualls) to ugly (Wood).

2011 seasonal age

As mentioned above, all nine of the “experienced closers” are in their 30s. There is a fair range, in baseball years, among the group.

Dotel      37
Uehara     36
Fuentes    35
Putz       34
Wood       34
Gregg      33
Qualls     32
Rauch      32
Francisco  31

In terms of major league experience, Uehara is an up-and-coming closer in his late 30s with a significant injury history. In terms of overall experience, he’s an old pitcher who can start or close—or rehab a body part.


Here’s a sample of the latest Oliver projections, based on data including 2010. These will be available soon at http://hardballtimes.com/forecasts


Despite age and injury, Oliver likes Koji. Uehara’s ERA is projected lowest, with the margin widening through 2013. Based on these projections, Uehara is the only legitimate high-leverage reliever in the bunch, with Francisco fading and merging with Putz down the road. Wood and Qualls are somewhat frightening, in Oliver’s eyes.

Questions, questions

Who would you target this offseason, if any? Wood, at a discount, but to set-up? Uehara to close? Is Rauch a possible cheap option? Will Fuentes be affordable? Welcome to hot stove season.

References & Resources
Salary data from Cot’s Contracts
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision
Pitch classifications by the author
Batted ball data from MLBAM
Save data from Baseball Reference
Japanese baseball data from The Baseball Cube
Injury data 2004-2009 from Rotobase, 2010 compiled by the author via MLB.com. Uehera’s pre-MLB data is best-guess.

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  1. Brad Johnson said...

    Frank Francisco is a guy who I always thought was better than his numbers. After becoming the guy who was replaced by Neftali, he might end up underpaid relative to his skill set. That’s why I’d definitely kick the tires on him.

  2. Jacob Rothberg said...

    Gregg. The K-rate makes him a good fit in a pitcher friendly park. He is the kind of guy who will always look worse when judged by his peripherals.

  3. MikeS said...

    How does Fuentes have a curve like that?  WHat projection system would say he is going to get worse in 2012 but then better in 2013?

    The market may be even more glutted if Bobby Jenks (or others) are non tendered in a few weeks.

  4. MGL said...

    Brian, you simply can’t have funky aging curve projections (like Putz, Fuentes and Uehara) like you do.  If you do, your methodology is dead wrong.  Depending on age, just about all pitchers should have the same aging curve, which according to may research is always sloped downward.

    The only possible reason for a funky looking curve, like having a better projection in 2012 than in 2011 (or 2013 than 2010 or 2011) would be for a pitcher coming back from a serious injury, like Tommy John surgery, and even then, that would involve a lot of speculation.

    Please don’t get caught up in the trap of doing something that seems novel and different but is just plain wrong, like BP and their “error bars.”  Your work is too good for that and I know that you know better.

    Even if you are using projections in year X as a proxy for actual performance which goes into your projections for year X+1 and year X+2 (and there is nothing wrong with that), you still cannot have curves like you have above (where performance decreases one year and increases the next, or you have sudden decreases in one year but not another)…

  5. Brian Cartwright said...

    MikeS, on Fuentes projection

    I coded a new method for extended forecasts which mirrors the process for doing the next season’s – taking a weighted mean of the past three seasons, but because of being two or more years in the future, a projection will be a proxy for an actual season played.

    Fuentes had MLE projected ERAs of 2.27, 4.37 & 2.99 from 2008-2010. The 2009 season sticks out from the rest. Add those three together, add aging and regression, and Fuentes 2011 Forecast ERA is 3.94. For 2012, use 4.37 and 2.99 from 2009-2010, and 3.94 from the 2011 Forecast to get 4.28 for 2012. To get 2013, 2.99 from 2010, 3.94 and 4.28 from the Forecasts (the bad 4.37 from 2009 is now off the table) to 4.11.

    The idea is to blend personal trending as well as standard aging, so that each player at the same age won’t be shown with the exact same changes going to the following season. Admittedly, this kind of bump is not intuitive, and I will be giving this more thought before the 2011 Forecasts are officially released.

    On the other hand, only looking backward, Andrew McCutchen is a player who had a poor 2007 MLE, with very solid seasons in 2009 & 2010. I knew that at the end of 2010 the 2007 season would be dropping off, which would give McCutchen’s 2011 preseason Forecast a big bump up over his 2010 preseason. In that case, I will be looking to see if the last two seasons (one of them in progress) at a higher (or lower) level should have even more weight over the oldest season being included. In other words, a one season outlier is not yet established as a trend, but two years is – in that case do we need the third season dragging the two more recent down?

  6. Jim C said...

    Harry, are you sure about Capps? He was non-tendered last year by the Pirates, and the Nats offered him a two-year deal, but he preferred a one-year, taking his chances on having a good season and cashing in. At least that’s what I read in the spring.

  7. Harry Pavlidis said...

    Yep, the Pirates non-tender doesn’t release him from the service time reqs established in the CBA. He’ll be eligible in 2012. I checked Cot’s and MLBTR just to make sure, they both have him listed with the Twins, and B-Ref supplied the 2012 date.

    I think his plan was to cash in via arbitration after closing for a season or to get his last year of arb and first year (or two) of free agency covered.

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