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B.J. Fixation
2005-11-28 22:01
by Mike Carminati

The Toronto Blue Jays finished third in the AL East this past season, fifteen games behind both the Yankees and Red Sox. And their big plan to close the gap is to sign B.J. Ryan for five years and $47 M.

Cousin Larry, I am serious.

What has happened to all these sabermetric GMs? They are either committing seppuku on themselves or their teams. J.P. Ricciardi may have made the worst move in saber-GM history this time though.

Ryan had a nice, if not great, season this past year as the O's closer, his first year as a closer in seven major-league seasons. He recorded 36 saves in 70.1 innings and had a good but not great 2.43 ERA. His 25.2 VORP ranked 15th among all relievers (behind Todd Jones), and his 11.8 Win Shares were 16th among all relievers. As for his overall career, he owns a 3.54 ERA in 381.1 innings, again nice but far from stellar for a reliever.

You get the idea. He had a good year, has never closed before, the O's finally gave up on Jorge Julio, and the rest is history.

But maybe I am selling Ryan's 2005 season short. Maybe it's somehow so historic that the Jays (or J.'s) are assured of a premier closer for years to come. I mean, how many closers recorded at least 30 saves and 60 innings as well as at least s strikeout an inning, especially a lefty reliever?

Well, I looked it. There have been 47 pitchers who have done it in baseball history, some multiple times, and six of them, including Ryan and Brian Fuentes this year, have done been lefties. My question is then whether somehow who has achieved that combination of accomplishments is likely to repeat it multiple times with five years. Given that the Jays signed Ryan for such an astronomical sum for five, one would assume that they expect him to perform at this level for a number of the seasons in the contract.

Here are 47 pitchers that have done it along with the number of times they repeated the task in the next five years:

NameYrAgeT IP ERA K-9IP Sv# YrsTot Yrs%
B.J. Ryan200529L 70.3 2.43 12.80 36000%
Billy Wagner199826L 60.0 2.70 14.55 304580%
Brian Fuentes200529L 74.3 2.91 11.02 31000%
Eddie Guardado200231L 67.7 2.93 9.31 45030%
John Rocker199924L 72.3 2.49 12.94 38050%
Randy Myers199027L 86.7 2.08 10.18 311520%
Armando Benitez200027R 76.0 2.61 12.55 412540%
Brad Lidge200528R 70.7 2.67 13.12 42000%
Bruce Sutter197724R 107.3 1.34 10.82 311520%
Bryan Harvey199128R 78.7 1.60 11.56 461520%
Byung-Hyun Kim200223R 84.0 2.04 9.86 36030%
Dennis Eckersley199136R 76.0 2.96 10.30 432540%
Doug Jones199740R 80.3 2.02 9.19 36050%
Duane Ward199329R 71.7 2.13 12.18 45050%
Eric Gagne200226R 82.3 1.97 12.46 522367%
Francisco Cordero200429R 71.7 2.13 9.92 4911100%
Francisco Rodriguez200523R 67.3 2.67 12.16 45000%
Heathcliff Slocumb199630R 83.3 3.02 9.50 31050%
Jason Isringhausen200128R 71.3 2.65 9.34 341425%
Jeff Brantley199632R 71.0 2.41 9.63 44050%
Jeff Reardon198731R 80.3 4.48 9.30 31050%
Jeff Russell198927R 72.7 1.98 9.54 38050%
Joe Nathan200429R 72.3 1.62 11.07 4411100%
John Smoltz200235R 80.3 3.25 9.52 552367%
John Wetteland199225R 83.3 2.92 10.69 373560%
Kazuhiro Sasaki200032R 62.7 3.16 11.20 371520%
Keith Foulke200027R 88.0 2.97 9.31 341520%
Kelvim Escobar200226R 78.0 4.27 9.81 38030%
Kerry Ligtenberg199827R 73.0 2.71 9.74 30050%
Lee Smith198527R 97.7 3.04 10.32 333560%
Mariano Rivera200131R 80.7 2.34 9.26 501425%
Mark Wohlers199626R 77.3 3.03 11.64 391520%
Matt Mantei199925R 65.3 2.76 13.64 32050%
Mel Rojas199629R 81.0 3.22 10.22 36050%
Octavio Dotel200430R 85.3 3.69 12.87 36010%
Rich Gossage198028R 99.0 2.27 9.36 331520%
Ricky Bottalico199626R 67.7 3.19 9.84 341520%
Rob Dibble199127R 82.3 3.17 13.55 31050%
Robb Nen199626R 83.0 1.95 9.98 3555100%
Roberto Hernandez199631R 84.7 1.91 9.04 381520%
Rod Beck199324R 79.3 2.16 9.76 481520%
Todd Jones199729R 70.0 3.09 9.00 311520%
Todd Worrell199636R 65.3 3.03 9.09 44050%
Tom Henke198729R 94.0 2.49 12.26 341520%
Trevor Hoffman199628R 88.0 2.25 11.35 4255100%
Troy Percival199626R 74.0 2.31 12.16 361520%
Ugueth Urbina199824R 69.3 1.30 12.20 343560%

That comes out to 48 repeat seasons in 191 tried or 25%. Only six men have accomplished the feat at least half the time over the next five years, and only two (Nen and Hoffman) were 100%. Frankly, the Jays will be lucky if Ryan repeats the feat more than once in the next five years.

By the way, Brian Fuentes is also a lefty whose 29 and accomplished the feat this past season. And he made $320 K last season. Of course, he won't be a free agent for some time, but it illustrates how Ryan's set of accomplishments are not so rare today.

Speaking of which, fellow lefty closer Billy Wagner, a pitcher who has consistently performed well over his career, signed for just $43 M with the Mets, albeit over just four years. hails the signing, "the Mets on Monday appear to be the strongest team in the National League East and a significantly stronger entry in the New York baseball market". Somehow, I was reminded of the Mo Vaughn years. Anyway, the Braves' youth and talent might have be underestimated by that reporter.

Frankly, as a Phils fan, I am fine with my team saving the $10+ M a year as long as they spend it elsewhere (like the rotation, at third, and behind the plate). Besides how many pitchers save thirty games (as a baseline) consistently in their mid-thirties?

Here are the only pitchers to save at least 30 multiple times from age 34 to 37, Wagner's ages for the four-year contract:

Name# yrs
Lee Smith4
Dennis Eckersley4
Tom Henke3
Todd Worrell3
John Smoltz3
Trevor Hoffman2
Roberto Hernandez2
Jeff Reardon2
John Franco2
Jose Mesa2

Yes, Wagner's talented enough to join the list, but is he worth the $40 M price tag?

My response is the same that it was with Thome (a substantially worse bet). The Phils never made the playoffs with these players at the height of their powers. If they must go, if the Phils must tear down what they built when the moved to a new stadium in order to rebuild the team, that's fine as long as it's part of a plan.

I was happy with the Thome deal until the Phils threw $22M into the deal, almost half of Thome's remaining contract. Basically, Thome has to be through for the deal to work to their advantage now (unless their pockets are so deep that a seven-digit buyout does not phase them). Now Wagner does not re-sign even though retaining him was Gillick's stated highest priority. It makes me wonder what exactly the plan is. Hopefully Gillick is smart enough to let it evolve within some basic framework.

At least, he didn't sign a career middle reliever coming off a career year to the most lucrative deal for closer in baseball history. I wonder what Ed Wade would have done.

2005-11-28 22:43:15
1.   thurm12
Actually, David Gassko wrote any article on THT ( that nicely shows that JP Riccardi may not have been so far off on his estimations. Gassko takes into account declining innings and compares averages of all comparable relievers over 5 year periods.

Let us remember that BJ Ryan was a great reliever before he was a dominant closer. Also Gassko notes that one must remember inflation (10% is the general figure). Basically, don't short change Ryan because he wasn't a closer and also look at other middle relievers deals (Howry, Eyre) and as long as the Jays are not finished making moves, this is a good start to trying to win in '06 and beyond.

2005-11-29 05:49:33
2.   Mike Carminati

A) He wasn't a "great reliever" before becoming a closer. He was a very good reliever in 2004. He was a decent reliever in 2003. And he was a mess before that.

B) Let's assume that Ryan will remain a decent closer for five years, which is a big assumption, but OK. Is he worth the money anyway? I guess it depends on how much money a team has, but for a team that a year ago couldn't afford Carlos Delgado, I can't believe they have the deep pockets to nab Ryan and continue to build for next season.

C) Billy Beane must be high. What is he doing trying to remain competitive with a new closer each year. That Huston Street and his $316,000 salary killed the A's this year.

2005-11-29 09:18:17
3.   das411
So Mike, now that the 1B situation has been resolved, who do you think the Phils may go after with that $10+ mil? It doesn't seem likely that they will overspend on one of the two big FA catchers, and there isn't much out there at 3B...

Do you think there's any way we could pry Betemit and Estrada away from Atlanta? Perhaps something along the lines of Padilla, one of the extra CFers, and Tomas for one/both of them? We could theoretically take on some contract now but bringing Hampton into the Bank is probably asking for trouble.

Oh, and there is a fairly cheap option to close who is still on the market. He even holds the Phillies' all time record for saves!

2005-11-29 10:42:44
4.   thurm12
Mike, you're right. BJ may have only been a very good reliever for most of his career. However, the past two years he has been outstanding. '04, ERA+ 210, 1.402 K/IP. '05, ERA+ 170, 1.429 K/IP. Even '03 is impressive, ERA+ 128, 1.26 K/IP. It is a big risk to assume he will be that productive for five years obviously. But the fact is, the Blue Jays cannot just offer the same amount as the Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Angels, etc and expect to get their guys.

Your third point is true and with their #6 pick this year they may should have taken Hansen. But they didn't. And sure, Cordero and Street are dominant but Aardsma, Devine and Hansen have not been.

Again, I don't think the Blue Jays can stop with this move. They still need to go after Burnett and Giles. But this is a good start and maybe JP was hoping to catch everyone's attention, especially other free agents.

2005-11-29 13:44:32
5.   BenYankee
Mike: You left one pitcher off from that list of guys who have saved at least 30 multiple from ages 34 and on. Mariano Rivera has done it the past two years at ages 34 and 35. In fact, Rivera has saved more than 40 the last two years.
2005-11-29 18:42:44
6.   Mike Carminati

I only pitchers who pitched from age 34 to 37. Mo's not there yet.

2005-11-29 18:49:08
7.   Mike Carminati
Oops, insert "included" in there somewhere.

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