Monday, November 17, 2008

In Search of: A Good Reliever

I loved that series, "In Search of ...", that Leonard Nimoy hosted in the 70's and 80's before the Star Trek franchise revived and made him enough money to avoid jobs like that again. I wonder why that hasn't been updated for the new millenium, would have thought that would be a natural now that psychics have their own TV shows now.

Today, I'm addressing the reliever acquisition that Sabean said they would like to address this off-season. A popular blogger, Aaron Gleeman, loves the Twins and parlayed that into a writing job, on and off, in the media, and he wrote on the relievers available. Apparently, the Twins are also in the same situation as the Giants, looking to boost their bullpen, actually worse, because we at least have Hinshaw and Romo, two good possibilities for 2009 whereas they look like they are screwed because Neshek is now undergoing TJS (not sure why he held off doing that), and both are not looking to spend big. His post (here) has a lot of nice analysis on the various relievers available. His Best of List, which I think is in order of preference:
  • Jeremy Affeldt: one of two lefties (Fuentes the other) who are good enough to be reliable setup man rather than LOOGY and he's only 29, so the contract should just be covering his best years. He thinks 3 years, $9M would do it, but I recall Justin Speier getting $12M over 3 years from the Angels a couple of years ago and salaries have continued to rise since then and was 33 for his first season with Angels. Then again, he had put together two great seasons leading up to free agency, so that probably helped him a lot, though according to FIP, he had good, not great, seasons, a worse two seasons than Affeldt did, based on FIP. But his K/BB were great (3.73 and 2.62) both seasons, whereas Affeldt was only good in 2008 (1.39 and 3.20) and he wasn't that good before. However, one could credit that to him still thinking he's a starter and just getting used to relieving, Tim Worrell said when he was a Giant that it took him a while to give up the dream to be a starter, and he only did well once he embraced it. Perhaps Affeldt finally embraced it in 2008 and finally let it go, which would explain his boost in K/9 to the excellent rate of 9.2. Sabean should definitely kick his tires.
  • Brandon Lyon: Also 29, he has had closer experience, doing well in stretches but not over a full season. He has had solid, relatively consistent FIPs the past three seasons. However, as I've been talking about for a while now, you want a pitcher who can strikeout guys in the bullpen to maximize your team's chances in the playoffs, and he is OK, nothing like Affeldt's 9.2, and only OK in 2008, at 6.7, but under 6 for the most part before. Really nice K/BB in 2008 of 3.38 but that is mainly due to his very low BB/9 in 2008. Signing him is betting that his K/9 stays high and his BB/9 stays low. Gleeman says offer 2 years for $5M. I'm thinking pass for the Giants.
  • Eric Gagne: Besides the fact that he appears to be a steroids user and hasn't been very effective since that come out, he is a former hated D-ger. Then again, I lived to see Orel Hershiser not only join the Giants but pitch effectively and was mentioned as a possible candidate for the manager's job before Dusty got the job (another hated D-ger), so perhaps the world won't end should we sign him. Perhaps. According to Gleeman, he pitched very nicely for a brief patch after July 1st in 2008, but not so well after his trade to Boston. Still, only a 3.52 ERA, 23 IP, 17 hits, 17 K vs. 6 BB (6.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9; career 10.0 and 3.2). And it is possible that this was just a fluke, reliever data is always skewed by small sample problems that exist at the seasonal level. Gleeman says one year for $3M plus incentives. I say the Giants should pass, too much risk involved, I would much rather see Affeldt, who is younger and is on an upswing. In addition, Sabean has been looking long term and Gagne is not a long-term solution.
  • Will Ohman: 31 year old lefty, who has been a LOOGY his whole career, but, according to Gleeman, capable of doing more because right-handed hitters haven't hit him well either. Strikes out a lot during this career but slipping the past couple of years, as well as his velocity. Still, very good 8.1 K/9 even with slippage, and that could be because he was working on reducing his walks, as he got it under 4.0 in 2007 for the first time, then all the way down to 3.4 in 2008 (still, 3.0 is the level you want it under to be considered good). His K/BB jumped to 2.41 in 2008, after being basically 2.0 during his career. He also reduced his HR/9 and has kept his HR/FB% way under the 10% mean pitchers are suppose to regress to, the past three seasons (could be reliever small sampling on a yearly basis, but three years in a row? Not sure what that means conclusively but looks very nice if he can actually not regress). In addition, his FIP was a stellar 3.17 in 2008 vs. his still good 3.68 ERA. Gleeman says offer two years for $3M. I think that he would be an OK risk to go to $3M per year if necessary, he strikes out a lot of batters and actually was hurt by the Braves homepark in 2008, plus his ERA was hurt by a bad second half where he actually probably pitched better, 19 K in 19.2 IP, only 5 BB, 22 hits, which is OK with a reduced walk rate vs. 34 K in 39 IP, 17 BB, 29 hits, better WHIP but only due to flukey BABIP.
  • Others: he listed other names, like Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, Al Reyes, Chad Cordero, Tom Gordon, and Akinori Otsuka, all former closers coming off injuries but could be good at the right low price. Plus Doug Brocail, David Weathers, and Rudy Seanez, all around 40 and solid the past 2-3 years. He also thinks Russ Springer, Bob Howry, and Juan Cruz move to the top of his list if they are not offered arbitration and thus not cost a draft pick since they are Type A free agents. He also said Brandon Donnelly, Kyle Farnsworth and Guillermo Mota could be OK if cheap enough, as they come off poor seasons, Donnelly due to TJS. I think age and injury are enough red flags to not pursue any of them. Perhaps Cordero because he's still very young, but the Giants should probably avoid this group and probably will.
Giants Thoughts

Pretty slim pickings, though relievers in their late 30's can still be very effective. I'm thinking the Giants are looking more younger than older. Jeremy Affeldt looks like the prize among relievers this off-season and I would be OK with Will Ohman as well. Both are lefties, so that would overload our bullpen as Hinshaw and Taschner are also lefties.

However, Taschner's name was prominently featured in trade talks last season, so perhaps there is a lot of team interest in him, which would explain why he was not let go in the purge where the Giants released Tyler Walker, Brad Hennessey, and Kevin Correia, among others, all relievers and for a relatively cheap price too, all roughly $1-2M.

I still think they are going to regret the Correia decision, I think he can be effective going forward, as his PQS was pretty good, suggesting that he can do well as either a starter, reliever, or swinging between both. I'm still not sure why they didn't keep him around to relieve, unless they think that he would be too much of a pain in the clubhouse if he ended up relieving.

I also like Cordero, though obviously his injury is a huge risk. Perhaps with an incentive laden contract it would work, as his ERA has always been great. The only and huge problem is that he has been a very good closer before, thus he is probably looking for a situation where he could become the closer again and get very good money likewise. I think we can over pay a little but no more than 2 years plus option, even though he's only 27 for 2009.

Still, a torn labrum is what did in Robb Nen's career, so I would not pursue him that hard nor for so much nor for that many years. Incentives are the best way to get him and given he's probably looking to close, probably don't even bother negotiating much with his agent until the end of the year, when, if he's still on the market, he'll be desperate enough to set up relieve for us.

Otherwise, the pickings look slim in the free agent market, the Giants would probably have to knock on the door of a team who is clearing out expensive relievers and willing to take salary relief and a minor prospect to give up the guy, if the Giants expect to fill this bullpen need this off-season. Also, perhaps someone will be let go in the arbitration purge that happens in December when teams fish or cut bait with their arbitration-eligible players (Giants purged early which is a big favor to the players, hope they appreciate that freedom; probably not, but just saying in the long run it was better for them to be free now than when everyone else is released in December).


  1. How about Joe Beimel? He is a good lefty and you forgot to mention him.

  2. I agree, like Johnathan Frakes has something better to do then host a show tracking down big foot and renewing hopes that Obama will release all the alien bodies held in secret southwester desert bases. Besides that, Affeldt's on board now, awesome. Great start to free agency. Maybe that does it for big signings in the bullpen. What your call for Merkin in 2009? Is he just a Liriano type who will always be hurt, or can he pitch a whole season? If he's healty, I'm pretty fired up for him, Affeldt, Hinshaw, Sadler, and Romo as a base bullpen.

  3. First, I was just reporting on what Gleeman said was good then giving my comments. It was good analysis, I just tweaked based on the Giants situation and what I want to see.

    Second, don't really care for Beimel. He's going to be 32 next season, and while his ERA has been nice, his K/9 and BB/9 has been horrible, leading to a horrible K/BB.

    In addition, his numbers have been boosted by his home park, 3.78 ERA at home and 4.85 on the road:

    2008: 2.81 road; 1.16 home
    2007: 4.02 road; 3.75 home
    2006: 3.15 road; 2.73 home

    Looking at his road numbers with LA, they look pretty good, but he also had help from pitching in SD and SF as well as LA. But a pitcher that can't strike out batters plus also walk too many and don't keep BABIP low, is doing things with mirrors, though I suppose his high GB% is a big help. Still, career 5.1 K/9 is not that dominating. Plus, his success the past two seasons were due to his abnormally low HR/FB, normally 10% for pitchers, and 10% for him previously, but the last two years for LA, 1.4% and 0.0%, so if he returns to former form, his numbers would suck a lot more.

    Perhaps, if future studies show that a high GB% rate is also contributory to playoff success, then I might go for him, but I expect some team to overpay for him based on his superior numbers based on his pitching in LA, and I would rather the Giants look elsewhere.

    Personally, I would rather just go with who we have and see what happens. But the Giants want to be better in 2009 than 2008, which I understand from a marketing viewpoint, and getting a strong reliever or two would help ensure Lincecum and Cain get the wins that they deserve instead of losing wins needlessly. And who can't be for that?

    I just don't think Beimel is that reliever. I think Affeldt looks good, and Ohman is not bad either. Ideally we get someone who can throw strikes regularly and get strikeouts regularly.



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