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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why is my team spending $5,000,000 on a middle reliever? (Part 2)

Last offseason the Baltimore Orioles committed $41.5 Million toward improving their bullpen in front of young closer, Chris Ray, over the next three seasons. That money bought them Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, and Chad Bradford.

How has it worked out so far?

All three are in the top 20 in the AL in Holds; that is, preserving their teams lead in the middle innings. Especially impressive considering how dreadful the Orioles have been and how rarely they've had leads to preserve. They've each thrown upward of fifty innings, a pretty solid workload for a reliever at this point. They've also vultured 8 saves (in 19 opportunities). Walker's ERA is excellent (2.91). Bradford's is respectable (3.63). Only Baez, ironically the most expensive of the three, has been a real disappointment (0-6, 6.29).

All in all, a moderately good return on Baltimore's investments, here in the early stages of their contracts. However, one does wonder, why the Orioles would spend so much on veteran relievers the year after they gave a record-breaking contract to a legendary pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, who made his reputation largely based on his ability to turn anonymous B-level prospects and washed-up former starters into valuable bullpen arms.

Among Mazzone's success stories:

Chris Reitsma

In two years under Mazzone's tutelage Reitsma posted a 9-10 record, 4.00 ERA, 3.00 K/BB, 1.32 WHIP, 0.71 HR/9, 44 Holds, and 12 Saves. In other words, besides the Holds, he was pretty much a league-average middle reliever. What's so spectacular about that? In the three seasons prior to arriving in Atlanta and the two since Mazzone's departure, Reitsma's numbers don't even look anywhere near mediocr: 23-36, 4.93 ERA, 1.98 K/BB, 1.67 WHIP, 1.28 HR/9, 13 HLD, and 20 SV.

Kevin Gryboski

The Braves selected Gryboski by the Mariners in the 16th round of the '95 draft. The Braves acquired him in 2002, at which point his ERA in AAA was well above 4.00, not likely to translate well to the major leagues. Nonetheless, he arrived as a longshot deep bullpen guy that season and over the next three years Gryboski pitched in 221 games, logging an 11-7 record with 41 Holds and an impressive 3.32 ERA. Before he could reach free agency, the Braves passed him on to the Rangers. Since the trade he's (almost two full seasons), he's thrown only fifteen major league innings, with a 12.07 ERA. In the minors? That's right, he's made 75 appearances in AAA, with an ERA just above 4.00.

Kyle Farnsworth

Farnsworth was a tall, broad 100-mph flamethrower out of the Cubs system who never seemed to be able to harness his fire power. He had a couple solid seasons with the Cubs, including 82 IP with a 2.74 ERA in 2001. Before arriving in Atlanta as a midseason acquisition in 2005, Farnsworth had 10 career saves with a 4.57 ERA. In his two months with Mazzone, Farnsworth posted 10 saves with a 1.98 ERA. Based on that performance alone, the Yankees inked him to a 3-year, $17 Million contract. With two seasons of that deal nearly done, Farnsworth has posted 6 saves with a 4.31 ERA. In other words, almost exactly what he was before Mazzone.

Chris Hammond

Hammond had a long career, pitching for eight teams between 1990 and 2006. He had a few decent seasons: 9-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 161 IP for the Marlins in '95, a 2.86 ERA with 17 Holds for the Yankees in '03, and a 2.68 ERA over 54 innings with Oakland in '04. But one season particularly stands out. In 2002, his only season with the Braves, Hammond pitched a heavy relief workload, 72 innings, recorded 7 Wins and 17 Holds, allowed only one home run, and, most amazingly, finished the year with a 0.95 ERA. This from a guy who was 36, had not pitched in the major leagues for more than three seasons due to injury, and in his three most recent healthy seasons, prior to meeting Leo Mazzone, had posted ERAs of 6.56, 5.92, and 6.59.

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