SweetSpot: Brian Fuentes
Since converting to relief full-time in 2007, Madson has been one of the game's most underrated relievers, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, relying on a 93-95 mph fastball and terrific changeup. In his first full season as Phillies closer he was 32-for-34 in save opportunities and allowed just two home runs in 60.2 innings. While Madson has missed time each of the past two seasons, neither injury was to his arm -- a hand injury in 2011 when hit by a groundball and a self-inflicted toe injury in 2010.
He's just 31, so maybe it seems like a relatively safe bet by the Phillies. Except it isn't.
I took a look at the 10 largest multi-year contracts given to relievers (according to Cot's Baseball Contracts) and compared the numbers for the 10 relievers before the contract and after the contract, using the same number of seasons as the length of the contract (so if a guy signed a three-year deal, I used his three previous seasons). Here's what we get:
- In the 32 combined seasons before signing their deals, the 10 relievers accumulated 71.4 WAR (wins above replacement, from Baseball-Reference.com) and pitched 2,152.1 innings.
- In the 32 combined seasons after signing their deals, the relievers accumulated 42.7 WAR and pitched 1,676 innings.
- That's an overall decrease in value of 40 percent and a decrease in innings of 22 percent.
- Only two of the 10 had an increase in value (Mariano Rivera and Jose Valverde) and only two threw more innings (Kerry Wood and Valverde, both on two-year deals).
Here's a closer look at each of those 10 relievers.
1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees, 2008-10, $15 million
2005-07: 9.6 WAR, 2.08 ERA, 107 saves, 224.2 IP
2008-10: 10.1 WAR, 1.64 ERA, 116 saves, 197 IP
Despite pitching 27 fewer innings, Rivera maintained his value with three more excellent seasons. His 2011 season, the first of another two-year deal that also pays him $15 million per season, was another good one. But Mariano is obviously one of a kind.
2. Brad Lidge, Phillies, 2009-11, $12.5 million
2006-08: 2.3 WAR, 3.58 ERA, 92 saves, 211.1 IP
2009-11: -1.3 WAR, 4.73 ERA, 59 saves, 123.2 IP
The Phillies re-signed Lidge after his remarkable 2008 when he didn't blow a save all season, including a 7-for-7 mark in the postseason as the Phillies won the World Series. Even then, however, Lidge should have come with a big warning sign tattooed to his forehead: His 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2008 indicated a pitcher who always lived on the edge. He fell off it in 2009 with one of the worst relief seasons of all time (0-8, 7.21 ERA) and battled injuries the past two seasons.
3. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets, 2009-11, $12.33 million
2006-08: 9.9 WAR, 2.24 ERA, 149 saves, 208.2 IP
2009-11: 4.7 WAR, 2.88 ERA, 83 saves, 197 IP
Like the Phillies, the Mets bought high on K-Rod, signing him after his record-breaking 62-save season with the Angels in 2008. Despite those 62 saves, K-Rod's strikeout rate had declined from previous years and his control had always been spotty. He posted a 2.88 ERA in the three seasons of the deal, but was hardly the dominant closer expected for a $12.3 million salary.
4. Joe Nathan, Twins, 2008-11, $11.75 million
2004-07: 13.0 WAR, 1.94 ERA, 160 saves, 282.1 IP
2008-11: 6.8 WAR, 2.49 ERA, 100 saves, 181 IP
Only Trevor Hoffman recorded more saves than Nathan from 2004 through 2007. Over those four years Nathan allowed a lower OPS than Rivera. Entering his age-33 season, the Twins gave him a big four-year deal. He was terrific for two seasons before tearing a ligament in spring training in 2010 and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
5. Francisco Cordero, Reds, 2008-11, $11.5 million
2004-07: 10.1 WAR, 3.06 ERA, 152 saves, 279.1 IP
2008-11: 6.2 WAR, 2.96 ERA, 150 saves, 279.1 IP
Cordero was exactly as advertised: A durable closer who makes you gnaw your fingernails on a nightly basis. He blew 24 saves over his four-year deal with the Reds, giving him a save percentage of 86 percent. In other words, the Reds paid top dollar for a guy who was essentially a league-average closer.
6. Billy Wagner, Mets, 2006-09, $10.75 million
2002-05: 10.8 WAR, 2.01 ERA, 138 saves, 287 IP
2006-09: 5.2 WAR, 2.35 ERA, 101 saves, 203.1 IP
It's hard to say this signing turned out well for the Mets, although Wagner posted good numbers when healthy. In 2006, he blew a 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLCS. By Game 7, Willie Randolph had lost confidence in Wagner and left in Aaron Heilman in the ninth inning of a tie game; Yadier Molina homered. In 2007, Wagner blew fives saves, but two of those came in late August and the final one came in late September, in the middle of the Mets' horrific collapse (he allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to the Marlins, who would win in 10 innings). In 2008, he missed the final two months as the Mets blew another division lead in September. That led to the club signing Rodriguez for 2009, which meant the Mets paid over $20 million for two relievers. They lost 92 games.
7. Kerry Wood, Indians, 2009-10, $10.25 million
2007-08: 2.1 WAR, 3.28 ERA, 34 saves, 90.2 IP
2009-10: 1.2 WAR, 3.74 ERA, 28 saves, 101 IP
After a solid 34-save season with the Cubs in 2008, the Indians took a chance on the injury-prone right-hander. He had a 4.80 ERA in 81 games with Cleveland, before getting traded to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2010.
8. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays, 2006-10, $9.4 million
2001-05: 7.5 WAR, 3.25 ERA, 42 saves, 318.1 IP
2006-10: 4.5 WAR, 2.95 ERA, 75 saves, 155.1 IP
Ryan had emerged as a dominant reliever with the Orioles in 2004 and 2005 (he averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings those two seasons), leading then-Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi to sign Ryan to mega-deal worth $47 million. The Jays got a great 2006 out of him (38 saves, 1.37 ERA), but then Ryan hurt his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.
9. Brian Fuentes, Angels, 2009-10, $8.75 million
2007-08: 2.8 WAR, 2.90 ERA, 50 saves, 124 IP
2009-10: 1.5 WAR, 3.41 ERA, 72 saves, 103 IP
Fuentes posted solid numbers with the Rockies, relying on his deceptive left-handed delivery to fool hitters. While he saved 48 games for the Angels in 2009, his big platoon split made his overall numbers mediocre and Mike Scioscia limited him to just 55 innings. The next year, he was traded to the Twins in August.
10. Jose Valverde, Tigers, 2010-11, $7 million
2008-09: 3.3 WAR, 2.93 ERA, 69 saves, 126 IP
2010-11: 3.8 WAR, 2.59 ERA, 75 saves, 135.1 IP
After going 52-for-52 in save opportunities in 2011 (he did lose five games, however, including one in the postseason), the Tigers exercised a $9 million club option for 2012. Needless to say, Papa Grande will be hard-pressed to match his 2011 numbers.
Madson is a good pitcher, but predicting good health for a reliever -- especially a 30-something one -- is clearly a dicey proposition. The Phillies are now of baseball's big-market monsters, so they can afford a $40 million gamble more than most teams, but that's what signing Madson would be -- a very big gamble.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
1. Yes, we discussed the messed up Mets on Monday's show, but now Keith gets his shot. Should the players be firing back? Listen and find out.
2. I feel like every day, between players and management, we can say "nice going" to someone for saying something silly. Oakland Athletics closer Brian Fuentes wins the award for late Monday night. See why.
3. Fans of National League teams rarely seem to want to hear it, but there are reasons why the American League is just flat-out better, and Mr. Law explains why.
4. Some major players returned to the lineup Monday, but can Chase Utley and Josh Hamilton adjust their style of play just to remain healthy? I don't think that's so easy.
5. So, the Cleveland Indians just keep on winning, five games better than any other AL team ... and one of us still doesn't believe. You know what? This won't be settled in the next few weeks, either.
Plus: Excellent emails, discussion about a top St. Louis Cardinals infield prospect, checking the potential debut schedule for baseball's top teen prospects, how MVP voting either should or should not correspond with a team's record, the top matchups for Tuesday and, really, so much more on Baseball Today! Enjoy and get those questions in for Wednesday!
- Umpire Rick Reed acknowledged Thursday that his ball-four call on a ninth-inning pitch by Angels closer Brian Fuentes to Nick Green on Wednesday night "very well could have been a strike." He also admonished the Angels for their actions after the team's 9-8 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
With two out and Green at a full count, a strike call would have given the Angels the game. Instead, the walk forced in the tying run.
Reed said that on that final pitch to Green, Mike Napoli's actions led him to call it a ball after the Angels catcher tried to frame the knee-high pitch. Reed said he also had an earlier call on his mind -- a call he confesses he might have missed.
"I saw the strike zone," Reed said of the pitch to Green, referring to the telestrator box used on television replays. "That said it was a strike -- it was a pitch I thought was borderline. The catcher did a nice job of bringing it up, and that was a telling blow. If a catcher moves his glove, it's to improve the pitch.
"I called a [strike] earlier in the game that I thought was low, and I said, 'I'm not going to let that happen again.' I wish they were all waist-high. They'd be a lot easier to judge."
As I learned from this truly wonderful book -- those on-screen representations of the strike zone are mere approximations. Close approximations, usually. But approximations none the less. Someday we'll have three-dimensional zones to look at on TV, and those will be closer than what we've got now. But even those will be subject to the vagaries of each hitter's "natural stance" (whatever that is).
If something on TV says a pitch clips the bottom of the strike zone and Rick Reed says it doesn't, well, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But throwing the catcher into the equation, while refreshingly honest, doesn't do much for his credibility as an umpire.
- Manager Mike Scioscia met with closer Brian Fuentes in his office with the door closed for 25 minutes before Sunday's game.
Afterward, Scioscia said the discussion centered on Fuentes' mechanics and he dismissed the notion that they talked about the veteran reliever's role.
Scioscia has replaced Fuentes with Kevin Jepsen in the middle of a save opportunity four times since July 27, most recently on Saturday. Twice in the last five weeks, including Sunday, Jepsen began the ninth inning of a save situation and recorded the first out.
Fuentes said the meeting with Scioscia was not about mechanics, but he said he didn't object to Scioscia using Jepsen at times in the ninth.
"That's Mike's decision. They just pick up the phone and tell me when I'm going in," Fuentes said. "I just pretty much do what I'm told."
Fuentes, in his first season with the Angels, was named to his fourth All-Star team this July, but he has struggled for much of the past six weeks. He has a 6.23 ERA and has allowed seven hits and five walks in September.
Jepsen has been stalwart since July 1. He has allowed just two runs in his last 17 appearances.
Jepsen's upper-90s fastball is more typical of pitchers who work the ninth inning regularly.
Last year, the results for Fuentes included nearly a dozen strikeouts and slightly more than three walks per nine innings. This season he's struck out roughly eight batters per nine innings. Even granting that last season's strikeout rate was uncharacteristic and probably unsustainable, Fuentes' K-rate this season is down roughly 25 percent from his career rate.
Fewer strikeouts usually means more hits, and more hits usually means more runs and a higher ERA. Which is exactly what's happened to Fuentes this season. He's throwing about as hard as he always has, and there's really nothing wrong with him that a few more strikeouts and a few fewer walks won't cure. But the four-time All-Star isn't a superstar, and there's nothing wrong with the manager keeping his options open. Each of the Angels' six busiest relievers this season -- led by the surprising Jason Bulger -- have struck out more than seven per nine innings.
Jepsen's been no better than his bullpen mates in that regard. Where he's excelled is limiting the home runs, giving up only two in 46 innings. Which might go some way toward explaining Mike Scioscia's affection for him.
- On Monday, Brian Fuentes said he was told he would pitch the sixth inning of the All-Star game. On Tuesday, he was told he would not, which Fuentes blamed on the commissioner's office.
"That bumped me from my inning," Fuentes said. "It's kind of crazy they would have their hand in making up the lineup."
Fuentes, the Angels' closer, did not pitch in the game. He said he was told in an American League team meeting Monday that he would pitch the sixth inning, and he shared that news with family, friends and Angels officials in St. Louis.
On Tuesday, two hours before game time, Fuentes said AL pitching coach Jim Hickey told him that there had been a "misunderstanding" and that AL Manager Joe Maddon had not been aware that the commissioner's office wanted the starting pitchers to work two innings.
That left one fewer inning for the relievers and that left Fuentes out.
Looking at the box score, both pitching staffs were employed in exactly the same way: two innings for each starter -- even though Roy Halladay should have been lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the second -- and one inning apiece for seven relievers on each squad. Apparently that's the plan, to be altered only if someone gets into serious trouble. And by Joe Maddon's standards, Nathan didn't quite qualify.
Anyway, you have to feel for Fuentes. Here's a bit of happier news, from last-minute replacement Chone Figgins:
- He did not get a chance to meet Obama, as security detained Figgins outside the clubhouse because the president already was inside.
He did not get into the game either. Maddon apologized to him afterward, but Figgins said no apology was necessary.
"I wasn't bothered at all. I honestly wasn't," Figgins said. "Back in the day when guys played eight innings, a lot of guys didn't get in. For me to complain is not right."
The greatest thrill, he said, was simply standing along the foul line as he was introduced as an All-Star.
"My mom and dad got to see me stand on the line," he said. "That was the greatest feeling ever."