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.
Got boo-boos? These guys do, or have.
Days spent on disabled list, 2004-2010
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.
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.