SweetSpot: Ryan Madson

Craig Kimbrel Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesCraig Kimbrel led the NL in saves last season and is considered the most dominant closer in baseball.

The Tigers need one. The Brewers thought they had one. The Cubs already have a new one. Some teams probably wish they had a different one. Closers are already melting down in rapid fashion.

On Monday afternoon, with closer Jason Motte sidelined with a sore elbow (he'll get a new MRI on Tuesday), the Cardinals' bullpen imploded in a 13-4 loss to the Reds, led by Mitchell Boggs giving up seven runs in the ninth inning. Now they might have closer issues as well. Rookie Trevor Rosenthal blew a 4-3 lead in the eighth, his second blown "save" of the young season, so he's not necessarily the answer if manager Mike Matheny has lost faith in Boggs.

The Tigers will apparently give Joaquin Benoit their next save opportunity, but many think they need to make a trade for a Proven Closer (tm). The problem ... well, there aren’t really that many Proven Closers out there. And the truth is, most closers weren’t preordained to be closers anyway, many arriving at the role only after failing as starters or finally getting the opportunity in their late 20s. Let’s rank all 30 closers and you’ll see what I mean.

Proven Closers
These are guys who have done the job for more than one season, thus earning the coveted title of Proven Closer.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
The best ninth-inning guy in the business, coming off maybe the most dominant relief season ever -- he fanned over half the batters he faced -- in the modern era, or what Goose Gossage likes to refer to as "After I retired."

Before becoming a closer: Groomed as a closer, he's never started a game in pro ball and became Atlanta's closer as a rookie in 2011.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
I'm actually breaking my own rule here since Chapman has only been a closer for less than one season. But unless his control suddenly abandons him, he's obviously the real deal after striking out 122 in 71.2 innings last season.

Before becoming a closer: Lacked the secondary pitches and stamina to make it as a starter.

3. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
He's old, he basically has one pitch and he's coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Anyone want to bet against him?

Before becoming a closer: Failed starting pitcher prospect.

4. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Starting his eighth year as a closer, which is entering elevated territory. (Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, for example, only had seven dominant seasons as a closer.) Papelbon had some not-so-clutch moments last season, however, finishing with four blown saves and six losses.

Before becoming a closer: Forty-eight of his 58 appearances in the minors and his first three major league appearances came as a starter, but Red Sox converted him to relief.

5. Joe Nathan, Rangers
Not quite the Rivera-like force he was during his Twins days, but still pretty good. Picked up his 300th career save Monday, becoming the 23rd reliever to hit that mark.

Before becoming a closer: Had a 4.70 ERA in two seasons as a part-time starter for the Giants in 1999-2000, had a 7.29 ERA in the minors in 2001 (5.60 in 2002), made it back, traded to the Twins, then became a closer at age 29.

6. Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Has three seasons as a closer with three different teams, so this will be his fourth year as a closer with his fourth different teams, making him the best example of Proven Closer, Will Travel.

Before becoming a closer: Spent parts of seven seasons in the majors (starting as a rookie with Seattle), many parts of which were spent on the disabled list.

7. Huston Street, Padres
Now entering his ninth season as a closer, Street has recorded 30-plus saves just twice, as he's often hurt and hasn't pitched 60 innings since 2009.

Before becoming a closer: Groomed as a closer since Oakland made him the 40th pick in the 2004 draft out of Texas.

8. Chris Perez, Indians
Now entering his fourth season as Cleveland's closer, he's been an All-Star the past two seasons despite a less-than-awe-inspiring 3.45 ERA and 4-11 record.

Before becoming a closer: Mediocre middle reliever with St. Louis and Cleveland for two years. Fell into the closer role in 2010 because Kerry Wood was injured at the start of the season.

9. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks
He's had four seasons of 30-plus saves, although he spent three years in between closer jobs. He's another guy who isn't the most durable pitcher around and hasn't pitched 60 innings since 2007.

Before becoming a closer: Started for three years in the minors for Seattle, moved to the bullpen, spent two years as a mediocre middle guy, but learned the splitter and became a closer at age 29 after Proven Closer Eddie Guardado imploded early in 2006.

10. Joel Hanrahan, Red Sox
All-Star closer with the Pirates the past two seasons, but he walked 36 and allowed eight home runs in 59.2 innings last year. Could easily lose the job to former Proven Closer Andrew Bailey.

Before becoming a closer: Didn't make it as a starter with the Dodgers, traded to the Nationals and then to the Pirates. Spent three years as a middle reliever.

One-year wonders

These guys became closers last year, and several of them had dominant seasons. But beware the John Axford lesson: One season does not make you a Proven Closer. Do it again and we'll start believing.

11. Fernando Rodney, Rays
After years as basically a bad reliever (22-38 career record., 4.29 ERA), he signed with Tampa Bay and lucked into getting a save in the season's second game as the fourth reliever of the ninth inning in a game against the Yankees. Went on to have one of the greatest relief seasons ever, with a 0.60 ERA and five earned runs allowed. He's already allowed three earned runs in 2013. Was last year a fluke?

Before becoming a closer: See above. Did save 37 games (with a 4.40 ERA) for the Tigers in 2009.

[+] EnlargeSergio Romo
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images)After many seasons as a middle reliever, Sergio Romo finally got the chance to close and got the last out in the 2012 World Series.
12. Sergio Romo, Giants
The slider specialist replaced Santiago Casilla, who had replaced the injured Brian Wilson. Saved 14 games and then allowed one run in 10.2 postseason innings.

Before becoming a closer: Not much of a prospect as a 28th-round pick who didn't throw hard, but Romo was an excellent middle guy for four seasons.

13. Ernesto Frieri, Angels
The hard-throwing righty came over after an early-season trade with the Padres, got the closer job after Jordan Walden struggled and had a terrific season. Might lose his job anyway if former Journeyman Made Good Ryan Madson gets healthy.

Before becoming a closer: Moved to the bullpen after posting a 3.59 ERA in Double-A in 2009.

14. Jason Motte, Cardinals
Took over the closer role late in 2011 and helped the Cards win the World Series. Saved 42 games with 2.75 ERA last year. Currently injured.

Before becoming a closer: Spent first three pro seasons as a catcher.

15. Jim Johnson, Orioles
In his first full year as closer he saved 51 games. Rare among closers, he's a ground ball specialist who doesn't register many whiffs (41 in 68.2 innings in 2012).

Before becoming a closer: A not-very-good minor league starter.

16. Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners
In his first full year in the majors, he replaced a struggling Brandon League. Did just fine with his mid-90s fastball and hammer curve.

Before becoming a closer: Was bartending. No, seriously.

17. Addison Reed, White Sox
Saved 29 games as a rookie, although his 4.75 ERA wasn't exactly Rivera-ish.

Before becoming a closer: Drafted in the third round out of San Diego State in 2010, he had a dominant relief season in the minors in 2011 (1.26 ERA) that pushed him quickly to the majors.

18. Greg Holland, Royals
Had 16 saves last season, but his job could be in jeopardy after four walks in his first two innings of 2013. Aaron Crow saved Monday's win for the Royals.

Before becoming a closer: Came out of nowhere to post a 1.80 ERA with the Royals in 2011.

19. Steve Cishek, Marlins
Saved 15 games after expensive Proven Closer Heath Bell gakked up several memorable save opportunities.

Before becoming a closer: The sidearmer was never on prospect radar lists because sidearmers are never on prospect radar lists.

20. Brandon League, Dodgers
Saved 37 games for Seattle in 2011, but lost his job early last season due to general lack of impressiveness. Throws a hard sinker so he gets ground balls but not many K's. Pitched better in 27 innings for the Dodgers last season so they gave him a bunch of money. Control was fine in 2011, not so fine last year.

Before becoming a closer: Didn't make it as a starter in the minors despite high-90s fastball.

Journeymen Made Good
These guys became closers essentially because their teams didn't have anyone else. Perseverance pays off!

21. Grant Balfour, A's
Hard-throwing Aussie became a closer last year for the first time at age 34.

Before becoming a closer: Played Australian rules football. OK, not really. Went from Twins to Reds to Brewers before finally having some good years with Tampa Bay.

22. Glen Perkins, Twins
The rare lefty closer had 16 saves a year ago.

Before becoming a closer: Career 5.06 ERA as a starter in 44 games before moving to the bullpen.

23. Rafael Betancourt, Rockies
At 37 years old, he became a closer for the first time and saved 31 games for Rockies in 2012.

Before becoming a closer: Has a career 3.13 ERA, so he'd been a good reliever for a lot of years.

24. Jason Grilli, Pirates
The veteran reliever had a career year last year at age 35 with 90 K's in 58.2 innings and took over the closer role when Hanrahan was traded.

Before becoming a closer: Played for five major league teams before Pittsburgh.

25. Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
Another late bloomer, he got the ninth-inning job after Sergio Santos was injured last year.

Before becoming a closer: The former starter didn't really have a wipeout pitch so he got pushed to the pen.

26. Bobby Parnell, Mets
He's long been heralded as a closer candidate due to his high-octane fastball. Now he'll finally get the opportunity.

Before becoming a closer: One-time minor league starter has spent past four seasons in the Mets' bullpen.

The Import
27. Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs
The new Cubs' closer could be good, bad or something in-between. I think he'll be pretty good.

Looking for help
28. Tigers. The problem with Phil Coke as a closer is that Phil Coke just isn't a very good reliever. Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal have better stuff but not much experience.

29. Brewers. Axford was signed out of independent ball and had a monster 46-save season for the Brewers in 2011. He's allowed four home runs in 2.2 innings this season and the Brewers may sign Rollie Fingers.

Might not get a save opportunity until May

30. Jose Veras, Astros.
Now 32, he's pitched for the Yankees, Indians, Marlins, Pirates and Brewers and has five career saves.

Before becoming a closer: The Brewers had the worst bullpen in the majors last year and even they didn't want him back.
 

Teams should go with youth in bullpens

February, 16, 2013
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When you think of the best bullpens, you likely think of the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves first and foremost. The two teams featured, by measure of ERA, the highest-quality bullpens in 2012 behind 24-year-old closers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. As you may expect, both teams did very little over the winter to bolster their bullpens: the Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal while the Braves acquired Jordan Walden from the Angels in a trade for starter Tommy Hanson.

Other teams spent a lot of money fixing up their bullpens. In total, nearly $206 million was spent on major league deals for 31 relievers, an average of about $6.6 million per player.

While the Chapmans and Kimbrels of the baseball world are few and far between, many more teams should be following the youth model. Aside from their star closers, the Reds and Braves featured the following players in their bullpens during 2012:



The Reds learned first-hand the risk of spending money on older relievers. They guaranteed $8.5 million to 31-year-old Ryan Madson, but he missed all of 2012 with an elbow injury. Nick Masset, 30, also earned $2.4 million last season and spent the year on the sidelines with a shoulder injury. In total, the Reds spent $21 million of their $88 million payroll on the bullpen, but the aforementioned six earned just over $10 million. The Braves spent $7.2 million of their $93.5 million payroll on the bullpen, with the aforementioned six earning $5.5 million of that.

Even the Washington Nationals, who handed out the most money to a reliever this offseason (Rafael Soriano: two years, $28 million), will be utilizing a young and cheap bullpen with Tyler Clippard (28), Drew Storen (25) and Ryan Mattheus (29) among those eating up high-leverage innings. At present, the Nationals have $106.6 million committed, but less than $25 million is devoted to the bullpen.

Staying in the NL East but looking at it from the other side, the Phillies illustrate how superfluous veteran relievers are. The Phillies featured the sixth-best bullpen in baseball by defense-independent standards (that is, looking only at strikeouts, walks, and the rate of groundballs and flyballs). Philadelphia Daily News writer David Murphy pointed out on Twitter that three of their young left-handers -- Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, and Jake Diekman -- ranked No. 2 through 4 behind Chapman in strikeout rate per nine innings among lefty relievers. Bastardo, who had commonly pitched in the eighth inning, was demoted when the Phillies added two veterans in Mike Adams and Chad Durbin over the winter, which also effectively pushed Horst and Diekman down a peg as well. Adams and Durbin posted strikeout rates well below the Phillies' three lefties last season.

While the Phillies aren't devoting as high a percentage of their payroll to relievers as some other teams, it is most of that money is very heavily weighted toward veteran relievers Jonathan Papelbon and Adams, meaning that they will be hoping they can stay healthy just like the Reds did with Madson and Masset -- gambling, more or less. In reality, the Phillies could have stood pat, invested no more money in their bullpen, and been in equal or better standing.

For one more example, look at the Oakland Athletics last year. They had the second-best bullpen ERA in the American League at 2.94. After 34-year-old Grant Balfour, the bullpen was comprised almost exclusively of players in their mid-20s. The only relievers they paid $1 million or more to were Balfour ($4 million) and 36-year-old Brian Fuentes ($5 million), who was injured and ineffective. They acquired exactly zero free-agent relievers over the winter and should be expected to have one of the better bullpens in the league once again.

One need not find and cultivate a Kimbrel or Chapman in the minors to have an extremely effective yet young and cheap bullpen (although the Tigers are hoping hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon turns into a young and cheap closer). Teams can feature a revolving door by devoting low-leverage innings to younger players early on, then promoting them into more important situations later in the season as their performance merits. This is a much more cost-effective, less risky method than simply signing a veteran and handing him high-leverage innings no matter what, simply based on their experience. Remember, even Kimbrel had to be auditioned as he pitched in the seventh inning or earlier in seven of his 21 appearances in 2010, the year he made his debut.

Teams are looking for edges any way they can, however small or seemingly insignificant. The bullpen is one very obvious area where teams can become smarter and more efficient.

Bill Baer runs the Phillies blog Crashburn Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @CrashburnAlley.

Offseason report card: Angels

February, 13, 2013
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2012 in review
Record: 89-73 (88-74 Pythagorean)
767 runs scored (3rd in American League)
699 runs allowed (7th in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Signed free agent Josh Hamilton to five-year, $125 million contract. Traded Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas. Traded Jordan Walden to Braves for Tommy Hanson. Signed free agents Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett and Joe Blanton. Traded Ervin Santana to Royals. Lost Torii Hunter, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Maicer Izturis, LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen.

What to make of general manager Jerry Dipoto's busy offseason? In some ways, it's just a reshuffling of the deck chairs.

Hunter: 5.5 WAR, 88 runs created in 584 PAs
Hamilton: 3.4 WAR, 115 runs created in 636 PAs

At quick glance, Hamilton looks like the far superior hitter in 2012, creating 27 more runs in a few more plate appearances. Once you adjust for home-park environment, Hunter edges a little closer, then when you factor in Hunter's superior defense (Hunter plus-15 defense runs saved, Hamilton minus-9 DRS), you can see why Hunter moves ahead in wins above replacement. That doesn't mean Hamilton was a bad signing; Hunter was unlikely to repeat his season -- at the plate or in the field -- and Hamilton might have a better year. In terms of 2012 value versus 2013 value, however, this looks pretty even.

Vargas and Hanson: 2.8 WAR and minus-0.9 WAR (392 IP)
Haren and Santana: minus-0.6 WAR and minus-1.6 WAR (354.2 IP)

Haren and Santana were pretty bad last year, posting high ERAs despite playing in a pitchers' park and with a good defense behind them. Hanson remains an injury risk, but Vargas has developed into a solid innings-eater and should put up good numbers in Angel Stadium with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos running down fly balls behind him. This should be an upgrade of a few wins over 2012 performance. However, some of that is given back with the Blanton signing, given that he's unlikely to replicate the Greinke/Jerome Williams rotation slot. So unless Hanson is healthy and pitches better than last year, this looks like a minor upgrade -- maybe a win or two.

Morales out, Bourjos in.

Bourjos won't produce as much offense as Morales, but adding his elite glove back to the outfield on a regular basis is a big plus. Still, if Morales is 20 runs better at the plate than Bourjos and Bourjos is 20 runs better than Mark Trumbo in the outfield, that's another equal tradeoff.

The bullpen should be better, although Madson -- returning from Tommy John surgery -- has already been shut down with a sore elbow.

In the end, I can't give the Angels' offseason that high of a grade, especially given that they didn't get the guy they really wanted: Greinke. But at least give Dipoto credit for adjusting to not getting Greinke by signing Hamilton and trading for Vargas.

Position Players

The Angels have the best player in baseball, a 40-homer guy, one of the greatest players of all time who is still pretty good even if he's in decline, a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, a 32-homer designated hitter and two middle infielders who hit pretty well for middle infielders. The catcher hits OK for a catcher, and the third baseman at least puts up a decent OBP.

That's a lineup without a glaring weakness. It's a lineup that will be as fun to watch as any in the game. Is it a great lineup, however, or just very good?

Aside from Trout's sophomore campaign and Hamilton's transition across the AL West, Albert Pujols is the guy to pay attention to. Take away his homerless April and he hit .297/.357/.553. His days as a .400 OBP machine are long gone thanks to the continued deterioration in his walk rate, but a lot of teams would still like Pujols anchoring their lineup.

The one problem area? Depth. There is none (no, Vernon Wells doesn't count). The Angels do have some players with injury histories, so we'll see whether that comes into play.

Pitching Staff

A year ago, we were talking about the possibility of the Angels having four 220-inning starters. Instead, C.J. Wilson led the staff with 202.1 innings.

Jered Weaver, Wilson and Vargas should be a solid top three, although Wilson had his elbow cleaned out in the offseason. His first season with the Angels was a bit of disappointment -- 3.83 ERA after a 3.14 ERA with the Rangers over the previous two seasons -- and if his walk rate remains at 4.0 per nine innings, it's going to be difficult to get that ERA under 3.50.

Blanton is a bit of wild card in the fifth spot. He's the opposite of Wilson -- a guy who basically throws strikes and hopes his defense helps him out. He had a 4.79 ERA in the National League over the past three seasons, so there's a good chance he won't last the season in the rotation.

The Angels' bullpen had a 3.97 ERA last year, ranking ahead of only Cleveland and Toronto in the AL. But it was arguably even more problematic than that. Only the Yankees' pen threw fewer innings, so Mike Scioscia was able to concentrate his innings in his best relievers. Although Ernesto Frieri did an excellent job as the closer after coming over from the Padres, it was the middle relief that hurt the club. The Angels lost 12 games when they led heading into the seventh inning -- 3.5 more than the major league average. Madson was supposed to help out there (or assume closer duties, with Frieri sliding to the seventh and eighth) but is a big question mark. The one thing the Angels do have is three good lefties in Burnett, Scott Downs and rookie Nick Maronde, if he's kept on the big league roster as a reliever instead of starting in the minors.

Heat Map to Watch
With a quick glance at Trout's heat map, you can see he punished low pitches. On pitches in the lower half of the zone, he hit .360/.396/.608 -- the best OPS in the majors against pitches down in the zone. Does that mean pitchers should attack Trout up high this year? Possibly. But if you attack up in the zone, that means doing it with the fastball. Trout hit .297/.397/.509 in plate appearances ending in fastballs. Which is actually kind of scary: He already has shown he can cream the off-speed stuff. Good luck, pitchers.

Mike Trout heat mapESPN Stats & InformationWhere do you pitch Mike Trout? Working him low in the zone didn't pay off in 2012.
Overall Grade

SportsNation

How many games will the Angels win?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,753)

The Angels might be the best team in the American League. With Trout, Pujols and Hamilton, they might have the best offensive trio of any team in baseball. In Weaver, they have a legitimate No. 1. That makes them one of the top World Series favorites, at least according to the latest odds in Vegas.

But they were in that position last year and failed to make the playoffs despite Trout's monster rookie season. I worry about the lack of depth behind the starting nine and the back end of the rotation. I don't think Pujols will put up better numbers than last year, and I don't think Hamilton will hit 43 home runs again. The Angels will surely be in the playoff chase, but I don't expect them to run away with the division -- and they might not win it.

What do you think?
Jerry Crasnick reports that the Los Angeles Angels have signed Ryan Madson to a one-year deal, pending a physical. The Reds are also reportedly close to re-signing Jonathan Broxton, a move that would allow them to move Aroldis Chapman into the rotation.

Let's take these one at a time.

The Angels clearly had bullpen issues in 2012, posting a 3.97 ERA that ranked 12th in the American League. This even though they were able to concentrate their innings on fewer relievers, since only the Yankees required fewer innings from their bullpen. The Angels also had 22 blown saves, tied with the Red Sox for most in the league. The American League average was 16 blown saves per team; the Rays had the fewest with eight, although the Orioles with that phenomenal record in one-run games had 18 blown saves. Remember, not all blown saves result in losses.

The Angels were 77-3 when leading after eight innings, so the problems came in the middle innings. The Angels allowed 33 percent of inherited runners to score, tied with the Royals for highest in the AL -- although that vaunted Orioles pen was at 32 percent. Angels relievers also entered with the lowest average "leverage" in the league. In other words, the pen was bad even though it entered in fewer high-pressure situations than other bullpens.

SportsNation

What would you do with Aroldis Chapman?

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Discuss (Total votes: 713)

So, yes, if Madson returns healthy from Tommy John surgery, he'll help. Relying on his terrific changeup, he had a 2.89 ERA over his final five seasons with the Phillies. He generally keeps the ball in the park and the changeup makes him effective against left-handed batters. Ernesto Frieri had 23 saves in 26 chances after becoming the team's closer, so we'll see if he keeps the job or if Mike Scioscia hands that role over to Madson. In the end, it doesn't really matter: As the Angels showed last year, the seventh and eighth innings are arguably more important than the ninth inning. The closer gets to enter without runners on base and often with the comfort of a two- or three-run lead. It's the middle guys who have to pitch with runners on base in tight games. Which means it's all about bullpen depth. The Angels now have Madson, Frieri, hard-throwing Jordan Walden, lefty Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen and lefty Nick Maronde (a third-round pick in 2011 who reached the majors last September).

The talent and depth is there for a better bullpen. Now the players have to perform.

As for the Reds, signing Broxton means Chapman finally moves into the rotation -- a move the Reds wanted to make last season until Madson got injured in spring training. Certainly, it's worth the effort to find out if Chapman can pitch six or seven innings at a time instead of one or two.

The Reds arguably had the best rotation in the NL last year, in part because their top five guys didn't miss a single start (Todd Redmond made one start because of a rainout), which made Johnny Cueto's injury in the NLDS all the more painful. The Reds' 3.64 rotation ERA was fourth in the NL (the Nationals led at 3.40), but the Reds threw the second-most innings behind the Phillies and had to pitch half their games in their home-park bandbox.

That doesn't mean Chapman wouldn't be an upgrade over Mike Leake or Bronson Arroyo, and the Reds will likely need more than five starters in 2013 anyway. I'm not a huge Broxton fan -- his dominant 2009 season in the rear-view mirror now -- and I think there's a chance that if he begins the season as closer that Sean Marshall, J.J. Hoover or even Chapman ends the season with that job.

But it's worth seeing if Chapman can throw 100-mph fastballs in the seventh inning. Do you agree?

Cueto putting it all together this year

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
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For a St. Louis Cardinals fan, saying something nice about Johnny Cueto, who in a 2010 brawl literally kicked Jason LaRue out of baseball, is possibly more difficult than complimenting Don Denkinger. (At least Denkinger never meant to hurt anyone.) Still, with Cueto helping the Cincinnati Reds to a National League Central-leading 76-50 record, I'll say it: Cueto is one of the best pitchers in the league this year and should be considered for the Cy Young.

That's less a personal opinion than a fact. Though he didn't pitch quite as well Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies -- allowing two runs in five innings, while issuing three walks in a game the Reds would lose 4-3 in 11 innings -- as he has for most of the year, Cueto entered the game with a 2.44 ERA, the best in the National League. Not bad for a guy who starts half his games in one of the majors' homer-happiest parks.

Somehow, he's keeping the ball on the ground, as his uncannily low 6.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio attests. But his third consecutive year with a single-digit homer-to-fly rate just might be due to something in his control, such as inducing weak contact. That's in no small part because of an increased reliance on his changeup, which he's featuring twice as often as he did in 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Cueto
Eric Hartline/US PresswireJohnny Cueto and his NL-leading 2.47 ERA have been a constant for the injury-plagued Reds.
His non-traditional stats -- career bests in strikeout/walk (3.65), fielding independent pitching (3.04) and xFIP (3.62) -- are strong, but not as knockout-impressive as other Cy Young candidates such as Stephen Strasburg (11.33 K/9), Gio Gonzalez (2.80 FIP), Clayton Kershaw (2.84 FIP), Cliff Lee (6.04 K/BB) or Adam Wainwright (2.99 xFIP). Still, it's not like Cueto is a one-hit wonder: He would've won the NL ERA title last year with a 2.31 ERA had season-starting and -ending stints on the disabled list not prevented him from pitching a measly six more innings to qualify.

He has been healthy the entire 2012 season and therefore has been a constant for the Reds, who have at various times been without the services of key players such as Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Madson. Just how important has the righty been to the Reds? Despite Votto's ethereal .465 OBP, Cueto nearly matches him in WAR (wins above replacement), 4.3 to 4.8. So Cueto may more appropriately qualify as an MVP candidate than for the Cy Young.

As the surging Cardinals head into Cincinnati for a weekend series, Cueto will miss the action (he's next scheduled to pitch Tuesday). In addition to the built-in rivalry between the two contending teams -- including former Cardinals Rolen, Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Cairo, all of whom don a different red-and-white uniform now -- the matchup is a reminder of the ongoing bad blood between the Reds' ace and the defending world champs. The weekend tilt isn't the only meeting with Cardinals players that Cueto has missed this season. Though he was expected to join Yadier Molina (later replaced by Matt Holliday), Carlos Beltran, Lance Lynn, David Freese and Rafael Furcal on the NL All-Star team, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa passed over Cueto, upsetting both the player and his manager, Dusty Baker. For his part, La Russa denied any vendetta, insisting that he omitted Cueto because he was scheduled to start two days before the game. La Russa also snubbed Zack Greinke, having a better year than Cueto, and of course is no stranger to head-scratcher lineup choices. But even so, the episode wasn't exactly an act of rapprochement.

Cueto made himself persona non grata with the Cardinals two years ago for his cheap shots in the fight. But there's nothing cheap about his 2012 campaign, which he's establishing with his arm. And that's what continues to make his presence on the field an unwelcome sight, not only for the Cardinals but the rest of the National League this year.

Matt Philip tweets at @fungoes and posts everything that doesn't fit at fungoes.net.
On Monday’s Baseball Today podcast Mark Simon and I revealed our thoughts on many pertinent topics dealing with this great game:

1. As part of our homework assignment we predicted win totals for each and every team, made them clear on the show and compared results. Very interesting!

2. Should we feel sorry for injured Reds closer Ryan Madson? One of us rants a bit on this one, as well as the Phillies missing Wilson Valdez.

3. What’s Davey Johnson doing with his closer situation in D.C.? Again, an interesting topic with surprising results.

4. Who is most likely to have a four-triple game? It has happened before, and while it wasn’t the awesome Doug Flynn, he came close.

5. Lots of emails today! Among the topics were Johnny Damon, contenders for a long hitting streak, what to do at Citi Field, and keeping an eye on Shlobotnicks when they leave your favorite team!

So download and listen to Monday’s Baseball Today podcast, as ridiculous isn’t merely a word that defines some of our emails ...

Mulling Cincy's closer options

March, 24, 2012
3/24/12
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The Cincinnati Reds suffered a major blow Saturday when it was discovered that new closer Ryan Madson has a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.

Madson will undergo Tommy John surgery, and his season is over.
Madson
Madson, of course, was a surprise offseason signing for the new-look Redlegs after a brilliant 2011 campaign (32 saves, 1.7 WAR [FanGraphs]) for Philadelphia. After acquiring Madson (for one year and $8.5 million) and trading for Sean Marshall, GM Walt Jocketty had good reason to be comfortable with the state of his bullpen. Now, questions abound.

The first question: Who replaces Madson? The obvious choice is Marshall, a shut-down lefty who has been one of the best relievers in baseball (with a 5.0 WAR over the past two years, he has arguably been much more valuable than Madson). Cincinnati just inked Marshall to a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension, but the Reds weren't quick to name him the closer in the wake of the Madson news. Jocketty would only say that Marshall would be "a candidate" for the job.

The next best candidate? Aroldis Chapman.

The Reds finally began grooming Chapman as a starting pitcher this season, and things have been going swimmingly thus far. This spring, Chapman's control has been good, and his velocity remains excellent.

Though he has one minor league option remaining, the big lefty has been making a strong case to be in Cincinnati's rotation.

But not so fast: The worst-kept secret in the Queen City is that Dusty Baker wants Chapman in his bullpen, having openly refused to endorse Jocketty's plan to make Chapman a starter. Baker may get his wish. No one who felt the electricity that surged through Great American Ball Park every time Chapman entered a game during his rookie season would be surprised to see him named the closer, despite an inconsistent 2011 campaign. The more likely scenario, however, is that Chapman would be the primary setup man.

That, of course, would be an exceptionally shortsighted move by the Reds. Having Chapman in the rotation helps to maximize the value of his enormous contract; over the first two years of that contract, Chapman has pitched a total of 63.1 innings. Did the Reds really pay Chapman more than $30 million to be a setup guy?

The only other option is likely Nick Masset, who had seemed to be the closer-in-waiting until he suffered through an up-and-down 2011 season. If the Reds are not comfortable with Marshall as closer, and if Jocketty is determined not to stunt Chapman's development as a starting pitcher, Masset is certainly a capable, if not ideal, alternative.

Whatever Cincinnati's brain trust decides, the loss of Madson makes the bullpen -- which had been one of the club's strengths -- significantly weaker. Cincinnati remains one of the top contenders in the NL Central, but things just got more difficult.

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation

Podcast: The return of Law

January, 17, 2012
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We got the gang back together for Tuesday’s edition of the Baseball Today podcast, as Keith Law and I ranted about this and that in the baseball world. Among the topics we discussed:

1. Yu Darvish is still not officially a Texas Ranger, but we expect a contract will be worked out before Wednesday’s deadline. So who is Darvish and why is he so important? Hey, at least he doesn’t have to pitch Opening Day! The Rangers aren't messin' around!

2. Of course, some other moves have happened since the last time we conversed with Mr. Law, including the challenge trade between the Yankees and Mariners. Young players dealt for one another? Never happens! We talk Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda.

3. What are the Colorado Rockies doing? Neither of us quite understands their offseason agenda, from the Michael Cuddyer signing to Monday’s Seth Smith trade for obvious flyball-prone pitchers. Yeah, that should work out swimmingly. But at least they've got Jamie Moyer.

4. Ryan Madson or Jonathan Papelbon, whom would you rather have for the next four years? Sadly, I knew KLaw’s answer before I asked the question. But I had to ask anyway.

5. Finally, Keith, who is not known for ever expressing his opinion, rants about the Hall of Fame and those that choose the members. You’ll want to hear this rant.

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today. It’s not only the return of Law, but bias cat. No, really.

Madson's changeup: A deadly weapon

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
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Left: Where Ryan Madson threw his changeup (2011)
Right: Where average RHP throws his changeup (2011)
Click here to create your own Madson heat maps

What’s the best "neutralizer pitch" in baseball?

What we’re asking is which pitch best shuts down hitters who bat from the side opposite of how the pitcher throws.

You might think, as a colleague suggested, that the standard-setter for right-handers is Mariano Rivera’s cutter.

But because Rivera throws the pitch almost all the time, it doesn’t quite have the value of the one that was the statistical champ for righties in 2011 -- Ryan Madson's changeup.

Madson, the newest member of the Cincinnati Reds, has had an effective changeup against left-handed hitters for much of his career.

Madson proved himself as a highly capable closer in 2011 with 32 saves in 34 chances, but a large reliever presence in the free-agent market, and a lack of teams wanting to make a long-term investment in a closer, diminished his payday.

The Reds end up being the team which can reap the benefits of Madison’s work.

Madson’s 2011 success was largely due to his holding left-handed hitters to a .198 opponents batting average and .506 opponents OPS, both of which rank among the best in baseball.

He did so with a changeup that was unlike almost any other pitch in the sport. Let’s take a closer look at this pitch.

The Ryan Madson changeup
The image atop this article shows where Madson threw his changeup most often to lefties.

That pitch had the following characteristics:
  • An average of 10 inches of break to the right (the second-biggest amount in MLB).
  • It was out of the strike zone nearly 75 percent of the time.
  • Yet, it was swung at 65 percent of the time (second-most often among right-handers).
  • Hitters missed on more than half their swings (52 percent, third-best among right-handers).
  • Hitters chased 62 percent of pitches out of the strike zone (the highest chase rate for a righty in baseball).
  • It was put in play less than 25 percent of the time (fourth-least among right-handed pitchers).

Madson threw the pitch more than half the time in two-strike counts, and about 30 percent of the time in non two-strike counts. It was very effective in both instances.

The results


Locations for the 2 hits against Madson's changeup



Last season, Madson got 44 left-handed hitters out with his changeup, including the Braves quartet of Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward a combined seven times.

He allowed only two hits and one walk (to Prince Fielder) with the pitch. The hits were both by Nationals -- Scott Cousins and Danny Espinosa -- both in two-strike counts.

The image on the right shows where both pitches were located. They weren’t exactly hanging over the middle of the plate.

Why is this pitch valuable?

In baseball, left-handed hitters generally perform better against right-handed pitchers than right-handed hitters do.

Those who can neutralize this advantage are very valuable, as Madson was for the Phillies.

There is a "Next Level" stat -- Run Value Per Plate Appearance -- that can best establish the value of Madson’s changeup.

In simplest terms, Run Value Per Plate Appearance weighs the positives accomplished with a pitcher’s pitch (strikes and outs) against the negatives allowed (balls, hits, walks, hit by pitches).

Madson’s Run Value per Plate Appearance with his changeup against left-handed hitters last season was -.276. This number is outstanding. In fact, only one pitcher had a pitch that neutralized opposite-hand hitters better than Madson’s changeup last season -- Braves lefty Jonny Venters’ slider had a -.281 RV/PA against right-handed hitters.

The Reds have taken an interesting approach to constructing the back of their bullpen for 2012 with the additions of Sean Marshall and Madson. It will bear watching to see if it makes a difference in neutralizing the Cardinals advantage in the NL Central.

Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty may be too old to do a backflip, but he may be attempting one right now. This is how you build a good team in a small market with a limited budget: Sign one of the better closers in the game for a one-year, $8.5 million contract, as Jerry Crasnick is reporting.

Over the past five seasons, only eight relievers with at least 300 innings pitched have a lower ERA than Madson's 2.89 mark. Over the past two seasons, he has a 2.45 ERA, a 126-15 strikeouts-unintentional walks ratio and has allowed just 96 hits in 113.2 innings. In his first season as a closer, he converted 32 of 34 save opportunities. Importantly for the Reds, considering the cozy dimensions of Great American Ballpark, Madson keeps the ball in the park, allowing just two home runs in 2011 and six over the past two seasons.

Madson should be viewed as a solid upgrade over Francisco Cordero, whose 2.45 ERA last year masked a pitcher in decline. In 2007 with the Brewers, Cordero was a pure power reliever, averaging 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. That number steadily dropped during his years with the Reds, all the way down to 5.4 in 2011. Cordero managed to survive last season due to improved control and a likely unrepeatable .215 batting average on balls in play.

Mind you, this doesn't necessarily make the Reds better than what Cordero gave them in 2011 -- although he did blow six saves (the Reds lost four of those games) -- but it does make them better over what Cordero likely would have given them in 2012.

The Reds' bullpen now looks pretty solid with Madson, lefty setup man Sean Marshall (acquired from the Cubs), Bill Bray, Nick Masset, Logan Ondrusek and possibly Aroldis Chapman. The Reds will need a lot of quality innings from the 'pen, since their rotation ranked 13th in the NL in ERA and eighth in innings in 2011. The addition of Mat Latos will help that group, but the bullpen now appears to be the strength of this pitching staff.

As for Madson, he misread the free-agent market for closers, that's for sure. His initial asking price was reportedly $40 million for a long-term contract, but once the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon, the Marlins signed Heath Bell and the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, there were no more big-market teams on the search for a closer. So he'll take the one-year deal and head back into free agency, hoping for that monster deal next offseason.

The remaining all-free agent team

December, 21, 2011
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Prince FielderJerry Lai/US PresswirePrince Fielder is the biggest catch remaining in baseball's pool of free agents.

There are still some good free agents out there, perhaps even a few bargains. What kind of team could you buy if you signed the best of these guys? Let's find out. Here's a 25-man roster of unsigned players, with estimated salaries and WAR (wins above replacement). Would it be a competitive team?

C: Chris Snyder
Snyder is coming off back surgery, but it's a thin lot of available catchers. He's been up and down in his career with his bat, but will draw some walks and has a little pop.

Projected salary: $2.5 million
Projected WAR: 1.0

C: Ramon Castro
The career backup never landed in the right place at the right time, but he can he hit left-handed pitching and provides a capable 200-plate appearance backup.

Projected salary: $1.2 million
Projected WAR: 0.6

1B: Prince Fielder
We're going to empty our pocketbooks and have the big guy anchor our lineup. We'll sign him to a seven-year, $165 million contract, but we'll backload the deal. That way, if we get fired, it screws the next GM.

Projected salary: $20 million
Projected WAR: 5.0

2B: Ryan Theriot
Honestly, he doesn't bring a whole lot to the table other than a proven ability not to be horrible. He'll hit an empty .270 or so and play capable defense.

Projected salary: $2 million
Projected WAR: 0.7

3B: Carlos Guillen
Third base is a bit of a problem so we'll have to gamble on Guillen. He's missed a lot of time the past three years, so we'll sign him to a low base salary with incentives if he remains healthy. Considering the production of third basemen in the majors in 2011, he could produce at a league-wide average for the position.

Projected salary: $1.5 million plus incentives
Projected WAR: 1.0

SS: Ronny Cedeno
No, a shortstop who hits .249/.297/.339 isn't ideal, but Troy Tulowitzki isn't available in this scenario. Still, Cedeno was a 1.5 WAR player in 2011 and there's no reason he can't duplicate that effort again.

Projected salary: $4 million
Projected WAR: 1.5

[+] EnlargeCarlos Beltran
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWhen healthy, veteran Carlos Beltran is still considered one of baseball's most feared hitters.
RF: Carlos Beltran
We need another big bat and Beltran is still out there. He's been compared to Michael Cuddyer, who signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal, so Beltran figures to go in a similar range. The good thing is he's better than Cuddyer. Even if he drops off a bit from his strong 2011, he'll be a productive player.

Projected salary: $12 million
Projected WAR: 3.5

LF: Luke Scott/Andruw Jones
We're going with a platoon here, hoping for Scott to bounce back but signing Jones to play against left-handers. Scott hit .264 and slugged .499 from 2007 to 2010, so we think he has something left in the tank. Jones had a .923 OPS against left-handers in 2011.

Scott's projected salary: $5 million
Scott's projected WAR: 1.9
Jones' projected salary: $3 million
Jones' projected WAR: 1.1

CF: Coco Crisp
We're going to want a good flychaser in center and Crisp is a solid defender who also led the AL with 49 stolen bases. His OBP fell to .314 in 2011, so we should be able to sign him for a decent salary.

Projected salary: $6.5 million
Projected WAR: 2.0

IF: Brooks Conrad
He's an insurance policy for Guillen as someone who could provide some pop off the bench and also play second base in a pinch.

Projected salary: $800,000
Projected WAR: 0.6

IF: Jack Wilson
Ugh. But considering Conrad isn't a glove guy (in fact, I'm not sure he even wears a glove in the field), we better sign Wilson as infield insurance. No, we don't like this move, especially considering Wilson's propensity to get injured while filing his fingernails.

Projected salary: $1.4 million
Projected WAR: 0.0

OF: Rick Ankiel
We wanted to sign Cody Ross here, but he's a little expensive for a fourth outfielder (although isn't that what he should be?). Ankiel can play center and provide a left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench.

Projected salary: $1.5 million
Projected WAR: 0.5

OK, now to the pitching staff, which will have to be the strength of our team.

SP: Roy Oswalt
For all the talk about his injury history, 2011 was his first season he didn't start 30 games since 2003. A bad back is always a concern but this was a guy who led the NL in WHIP in 2010. Jerry Crasnick recently reported that Oswalt wants to show he's healthy and is thus willing to take a one-year deal and aim for a bigger contract after 2012. Perfect.

Projected salary: $10 million
Projected WAR: 3.0

SP: Hiroki Kuroda
The Yankees reportedly offered Kuroda a one-year, $12 million deal. Sounds good to us.

Projected salary: $12 million
Projected WAR: 2.8

SP: Javier Vazquez
Yes, we are going to force Javy out of his rumored retirement. He had a 2.15 ERA in the second half last season, so he's far from finished.

Projected salary: $10 million
Projected WAR: 2.5

SP: Joe Saunders
The Diamondbacks declined to offer him a contract, making him a free agent. We're not in love with his soft-tossing style, but he's a solid innings eater for the back of the rotation.

Projected salary: $8 million
Projected WAR: 1.8

SP: Paul Maholm
He may be a little expensive for a No. 5 starter, but we like durability in our rotation. He was 6-14 with the Pirates in 2011, but that was a misleading record for a guy with a 3.66 ERA (4.36 career).

Projected salary: $6.25 million
Projected WAR: 1.5

[+] EnlargeRyan Madson
Howard Smith/US PresswireRyan Madson proved last season that he can be one of baseball's most dominant closers.
Closer: Ryan Madson
Baseball's most underrated reliever the past few seasons, Madson finally got a chance to close regularly in Philadelphia and did an outstanding job. His changeup is one of the best pitches in the game and we feel we can bring him in for slightly under his rumored asking price.

Projected salary: $9 million
Projected WAR: 1.7

RP: Hong-Chih Kuo
Kuo was unhittable in 2010, holding opponents to a .139 average and one home run in 60 innings, but developed his usual elbow problems in 2011 and had minor surgery after the season. He's a risky signing but with the potential of a big payoff.

Projected salary: $2.5 million
Projected WAR: 1.0

RP: Chad Qualls
A fungible middle reliever, the right-hander got pounded in 2010 but bounced back ... albeit in San Diego, so he's not necessarily a sure thing. But he's a veteran with a rubber arm. He's not as good as Octavio Dotel, who signed for $3.5 million, so we'll sign him for under that.

Projected salary: $2.3 million
Projected WAR: 0.8

RP: Darren Oliver
Doesn't every team need a veteran left-hander? Oliver has now had an ERA under 3.00 four straight seasons.

Projected salary: $2.7 million
Projected WAR: 1.1

RP: Micah Owings
He can be a long man, spot starter or even pinch-hitter!

Projected salary: $1 million
Projected WAR: 0.4

RP: Clay Hensley
After a strong 2010, his control deserted him in 2011 and he walked 30 batters in 67.2 innings and served up nine big ones. But we'll take a flyer to see if he can rediscover his 2010 groove.

Projected salary: $1 million
Projected WAR: 0.5

RP: Jamey Wright
Yes, we could sign Francisco Cordero, but bringing in two closers isn't realistic. Wright is cheap, mediocre and the perfect 11th or 12th guy on a staff.

Projected salary: $900,000
Projected WAR: 0.5

Total payroll: $127.05 million
Projected WAR: 37.0

How good would this team be? A team of replacement-level players would be estimated to win about 48 games, so our team with +37 WAR would be estimated to win about 85 games. Obviously, there's a wide range in there; if everybody stayed healthy and we had some big years, maybe it could win 90. On the other hand, there are a lot of injury risks on this roster, so the downside could be pretty extreme. Plus, there's the simple fact that a $127 million payroll is high -- that's about what the White Sox's payroll was, which ranked fifth in the majors in 2011.

If only we had a few good rookies making the league minimum to supplement the free agents!
It’s another day in chilly Dallas for Keith Law, but he braved the elements for the Baseball Today podcast as he and I discussed the latest rumors and happenings from the winter meetings, including:

1. OK, Mr. Pujols, you’ve apparently got your crazy offers, so make a decision. We explain how recent developments could signal a quick ending to this situation.

2. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Miami Marlins infield from Albert Pujols is former shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Is he happy? Is he sad? Does it matter? We try to think like Hanley.

3. Meet the new Mets, making all kinds of deals and rejuvenating their bullpen. Well, perhaps not rejuvenating, but at least they added pieces. We analyze the Mets-Giants trade.

4. And there’s more involving closers on the move, as the Padres get a guy they didn’t need, the White Sox move a guy they didn’t seem to need to move, and where will Ryan Madson and other free agent save fellows go?

5. Finally, Keith talks about what the GMs are actually doing in Dallas, where he likes and doesn’t like the meetings to be held, and congratulates a friend on making it into the Hall of Fame!

So tune in to Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast and be entertained and informed! We’ll be back on Thursday to wrap the winter meetings!
Steve Phillips Henny Ray Abrams/Getty ImagesSteve Phillips and Bobby Valentine rarely saw eye-to-eye during their time with the Mets.
When fans think of Bobby Valentine, most will initially think of the time he tried to sneak back into the dugout wearing glasses and a fake mustache after getting ejected from a game. There will be plenty of talk about the perception that he's arrogant, a little aloof and craves the limelight too much. There will be talk that he hasn't managed in the major leagues since 2002 (although he did in Japan after that) and that his departure from the Mets was fueled in part by his disagreements with general manager Steve Phillips.

So the talk will mostly be about his personality. But what kind of manager was he? Let's look back at his career -- focusing mostly on his full seasons with the Mets from 1997 to 2002 -- to see what that may indicate about how he'll manage the Red Sox.

Will Carl Crawford hit leadoff?

With Jacoby Ellsbury's new power stroke, it may make sense to move him down in the order to get him more RBI opportunities; that would leave Crawford as a leadoff option. I don't see that. Even if Crawford bounces back, his on-base percentage is hardly ideal for a leadoff hitter and Valentine -- a guy who was using computers and studying sabermetrics back with the Rangers in the '80s -- craves a high OBP from his leadoff hitter.

Check out his leadoff hitters with the Mets:

1997: Lance Johnson/Brian McRae.
1998: Brian McRae/Tony Phillips -- McRae posted a career-high .360 OBP that year.
1999: Rickey Henderson.
2000: Ten different leadoff hitters, including Benny Agbayani 27 games.
2001: Used four guys at least 20 games, led by Joe McEwing's 44 games. Led off Agbayani 32 times.
2002: Roberto Alomar/Roger Cedeno.

The unconventional use of Agbayani, the rotund Hawaiian without much speed but in possession of good on-base skills, shows Valentine's preference for OBP. In 2002, with Cedeno failing to do the job, he used Alomar there. I see Crawford remaining lower in the order, with Ellsbury staying in the No. 1 spot.

Does he like the quick hook or does he let his starters stay in the game?

There's not really a lot of in-game strategy in the American League, especially with a team like the Red Sox that basically just looks to bash the ball. So the most important strategic elements for Valentine will be how he handles the rotation and bullpen. The 2011 Red Sox were 12th in the AL in average innings per start, but that was more a function of a lousy rotation than Terry Francona's itchy trigger finger.

Let's see where the Mets under Valentine ranked in average in innings per start among NL teams:

1997: 5th
1998: 4th
1999: 8th
2000: 4th
2001: 4th
2002: 5th

Nothing really unusual here, as the Mets usually had a solid rotation under Valentine. They ranked in the upper half of innings because he had decent pitchers.

He was a little more generous when it came to allowing his starters throw 100 to 119 pitches:

1997: 9th
1998: 7th
1999: 12th
2000: 3rd
2001: 1st
2002: 4th

What's interesting about the 2001 squad is that they actually allowed the fewest walks in the league, so the high pitch counts weren't the result of a staff that walked a lot of hitters. He had a veteran rotation that year -- Leiter, Kevin Appier, Glendon Rusch, Steve Trachsel, Rick Reed -- and let his starters work deeper into games. It will be interesting to see if Valentine allows Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to reach the century mark more often than Francona did. In 2011, Lester had 22 100-pitch games -- tied for 25th-most among major league starters; Beckett had 21. Justin Verlander had 34, CC Sabathia 31, and other top AL pitchers like James Shields, David Price, Felix Hernandez, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver were all in the high 20s or low 30s.

Does he like an experienced closer?

In other words, would he be comfortable with Daniel Bard in the ninth inning? With the Mets, he initially had John Franco. The team acquired Armando Benitez in 1999 and when Franco went down with an injury in early July, Benitez took over as closer; when Franco returned, Benitez kept the closer job. As the Rangers' manager from 1985 to 1992, he had a different closer every year early on, before the club turned starter Jeff Russell into a successful closer in 1989. Hard to read too much into this, although both Russell and Bard throw hard. My guess is this becomes more of a front-office decision (do they sign Ryan Madson?), but that Valentine would have no problem making Bard his closer.

Does he like strikeout pitchers or guys who throw strikes?

With the Rangers, Valentine (and pitching coach Tom House) were obsessed with guys who threw hard. They had Bobby Witt, Jose Guzman, Edwin Correa, Nolan Ryan, Mitch Williams and others. Ryan had mostly refined his control (for him) by the time he reached Texas, but the other four would have problems hitting a barn door placed 10 feet in front of them. His first four staffs all had the highest walk rate in the American League. His staffs with the Mets were better, and Valentine seemed less concerned with velocity -- guys like Reed, Bobby Jones and Rusch were more finesse-type pitchers who threw strikes.

Mets strikeout rate under Valentine:

1997: 13th
1998: 7th
1999: 4th
2000: 3rd
2001: 5th
2002: 5th

Mets walk rate under Valentine:

1997: 2nd
1998: 7th
1999: 8th
2000: 3rd
2001: 1st
2002: 5th


Does he like a set lineup?

During his years with the Mets, Valentine always had a set infield, but remarkably never had one outfielder start 100 games at one position more than once. His machinations out there were pretty remarkable and show the willingness to be flexible and mix and match players as needed. Now, with the Red Sox he won't have same issue, with Ellsbury and Crawford playing every day, but it certainly suggests he'd be comfortable with a platoon in right field.

Here's the list of outfielders who started 100 games in a season at the same position with the Mets under Valentine:

1997: Bernard Gilkey, LF, 134
1998: Brian McRae, CF, 144
1999: Rickey Henderson, LF, 113
2000: Jay Payton, CF, 124; Derek Bell, RF, 136
2001: None
2002: Roger Cedeno, LF, 125; Jeromy Burnitz, RF, 131

The big issue here is how he handles Crawford, especially if he struggles to hit left-handers again (.195 in 2011). Would he consider benching Crawford against lefties, or at least the tough lefties?


Does he like young players?

With the Mets, he mostly had a veteran lineup. He did give Agbayani an opportunity, broke in Payton and Timo Perez, and gave Cedeno his first chance to play every day. With the Rangers, he broke in position players like Ruben Sierra, Oddibe McDowell, Steve Buechele, Pete Incaviglia, Jerry Browne, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer. Again, this might be more of a front-office decision, but I'd say Valentine would give youngsters like Josh Reddick and Ryan Lavarnway an opportunity to play regularly.

Valentine's reputation with the Mets was one of being prepared and being tactically smart with his in-game moves. He had to do more with the Mets than he'll have to with the Red Sox, especially considering he was often platooning at one or two outfield spots. He trusted his veteran starters to go deep into games. In short, there's nothing radically unconventional about Valentine's managerial philosophy. Of course, he last managed in the majors 10 years ago and his biggest challenge won't necessarily be strategy, but getting Crawford to rebound, getting his older players in better shape, and rebuilding Bard's confidence.

Time to moon over Miami?

November, 11, 2011
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The unique history of the Marlins franchise took its latest twist in the singular trail they’ve been blazing since they were launched as a big-league concern back in 1993. On Friday night, they officially made the long-anticipated switch from being the Florida to the Miami Marlins, with new uniforms to match, and a Pitbull mini-concert to mark the occasion.

[+] EnlargeJosh Johnson
AP Photo/Alan DiazMiami pitcher Josh Johnson introduces the Marlins' new uniform, name and logo Friday.
In barely two decades of existence, theirs has been perhaps the strangest franchise saga in the game’s history. Two-time world champs in 1997 and 2003, but otherwise averaging 10 games below .500 per 162-game season over the rest of their existence, the Marlins have become the game’s enduring rags-to-riches-to-rags story. But where that sort of on-again, off-again relationship with success might inspire some sort of enthusiasm from their fan base -- unlike many older teams, they have actually won the World Series -- attendance has become reliably terrible. In the past 13 seasons, they’ve finished last or next-to-last in attendance a dozen times.

The hope is that the new, retractable-roof stadium they’ll open up in the Little Havana neighborhood next spring will bring their attendance issue to an end. They’ve already brought in the reliably engaging Ozzie Guillen to manage the team, a face transplant from the White Sox that will help forge an identity for a franchise that has long lacked any defining characteristic beyond a vague sense of vagrancy.

That sensibility has only been exacerbated by transience in the owners’ suite, with the switch from Wayne Huizenga to John Henry to Jeffrey Loria in their brief existence. Huizenga clearly gunned to buy a pennant, then dumped salaries once the players had won him his ring. Henry was a temp, perhaps merely biding his time for the franchise swap to come. And Loria’s outfit arrived after seemingly sabotaging any attempt to keep the Expos in Montreal. There has also been a ton of attendant controversy to the Marlins and their place in the surrounding community, especially after the leaks of their reported profitability while annually crying poor, which triggered a successful initiative to recall Miami’s mayor, Carlos Alvarez.

But with a new park and a new identity, it seems like the Lorians are setting down roots and the Marlins are gearing up to become a Miami institution. They seem to have money to spend, creating the additional expectation is that they’ll be able to make a play for major free agents for extended stays. They’ve already met with Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Albert Pujols, three of the top six players on Keith Law’s list of the best free agents available. They’ve also been attached to rumored bid for spurned Phillies relief ace Ryan Madson, another one of the best available players at his position on the market.

They’re clearly playing for higher stakes, but to their credit they’ve also been building up to this for a while. They got their best players signed up long-term in plenty of time. Hanley Ramirez was signed to a long-term commitment in May 2008, and they made a multi-year commitment to Josh Johnson in January 2010. It was only after coming up short on their bid to keep Dan Uggla in Miami with a long-term deal that they dealt him away to Atlanta, where his contract might wind up helping the Marlins by handicapping the Braves’ bottom line.

With all of that buildup, and questions about their new uniforms aside, the Marlins could be prepped for another wild ride to postseason glory after throwing around some money this winter. Whether or not they sign one or all of Pujols, Reyes, Buehrle and Madson, this year’s bid for winning with free-agent talent will be meant to achieve more than another rented hello-and-good-bye championship. If they deliver on that promise, it’ll be Miami mooning over them instead of the other way 'round.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
As a little follow-up to Wednesday's post on Ryan Madson being a risky signing, I wanted to add a few more comments. It's important to note that the Phillies, with an aging roster, have a more urgent need to win now. Thus, if they believe Madson to be an integral key to their chances of winning the World Series, they should be more willing to take on the long-term risk for an immediate return. And it may be a necessary evil to overpay to secure Madson's services.

The question then becomes: Do they need Madson? The two parts to that question: (A) Is there an obvious internal solution if Madson leaves? (B) Do you need a great closer to win the World Series?

For the first part, the answer is probably no, although Antonio Bastardo was dominant in a set-up role for most of last season before tiring down the stretch and Michael Stutes showed potential as a solid middle guy. Either could probably do a passable job as the closer, but maybe not enough to make Charlie Manuel comfortable (although don't forget the Phillies reached the World Series in 2009 despite Brad Lidge going 0-7 with an ERA over 7.00).

[+] EnlargeMariano Rivera
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMariano Rivera aside, a great closer doesn't necessarily produce great results in the postseason.
For the second part, I want to begin with a somewhat arbitrary list of the best closers over the past 15 seasons -- those who did it year after year, the kind of closer you'd be theoritically comfortable giving a long-term contract of around $40 million:

1. Mariano Rivera: Four World Series titles (plus one as a set-up guy).
2. Trevor Hoffman: Reached one World Series (lost).
3. Billy Wagner: Never reached World Series.
4. Joe Nathan: Never reached World Series.
5. Francisco Rodriguez: Won one World Series (as a set-up guy).
6. Jonathan Papelbon: Won one World Series.
7. Francisco Cordero: Never reached World Series (in fact, has never appeared in a postseason game).
8. Robb Nen: Reached two World Series, won one.
9. Troy Percival: Won one World Series (only year in postseason).
10. Armando Benitez: Reached one World Series (lost).

Leaving Rivera aside for a moment due to his one-of-a-kind status (and keep in mind he blew potential series-closing saves against the Indians in 1997, the Diamondbacks in 2001 and the Red Sox in 2004), here's the postseason record of the other nine guys: 40 saves, 25 blown saves. Even removing Benitez (a couple of his blown saves came as a set-up guy), you get 36 saves and 19 blown saves. In other words -- even the best closers have failed a third of the time in the postseason. There's no guarantee Madson would be any different from this group.

Now ... that doesn't mean you don't need or want a good closer to win a World Series. If we combine the regular-season statistics of the past 10 World Series champion closers, we get a 2.12 ERA with 261 saves and 25 blown saves. In the postseason, the 10 relievers went a combined 4-1, with a 1.26 ERA and 49 saves in 56 opportunities. This group of relievers were terrific during the regular season and pretty dominant in the postseason.

BUT ... the list includes two rookies, a midseason trade acquisition, a 24th-round draft pick and two converted minor league catchers. Closers can come from anywhere and World Series closers tend to be guys on a hot streak as much as a proven commodity. Here's the list of those 10:

2011 Cardinals: Jason Motte. Converted minor-league catcher. Became the team's third closer of the season in late August. Stats: 5-2, 2.25 ERA, 9 saves.

2010 Giants: Brian Wilson. A 24th-round draft pick who spent two years in middle relief and held on to his closer's job despite a 4.62 ERA in his first year in the position in 2008. Stats: 3-3, 1.81 ERA, 48 saves.

2009 Yankees: Mariano Rivera. The greatest closer of all time. Stats: 3-3, 1.76 ERA, 44 saves.

2008 Phillies: Brad Lidge. Acquired from Astros for prospect Michael Bourn. Stats: 2-0, 1.95 ERA, 41 saves.

2007 Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon. Fourth-round pick, became the team's closer his first full season. Stats: 1-3, 1.85 ERA, 37 saves.

2006 Cardinals: Adam Wainwright. A rookie reliever pressed into closing games when veteran Jason Isringhausen became unavailable due to injury. Stats: 2-1, 3.12 ERA, 3 saves.

2005 White Sox: Bobby Jenks. Another rookie, he had six saves during the regular season after Dustin Hermanson was injured. Stats: 1-1, 2.75 ERA, 6 saves.

2004 Red Sox: Keith Foulke. A free-agent signing in 2004 after saving 43 games with the A's in 2003. Stats: 5-3, 2.17 ERA, 32 saves.

2003 Marlins: Ugueth Urbina. A midseason trade acquistion from the Rangers for a prospect named ... Adrian Gonzalez. Stats: 3-0, 1.41 ERA, 6 saves (with Marlins).

2002 Angels: Troy Percival. Veteran closer had converted from catcher in the minor leagues. Stats: 4-1, 1.92 ERA, 40 saves.

Does this mean the Phillies shouldn't sign Madson or the Red Sox shouldn't sign Papelbon? Not necessarily; I think the question is more: Is the money that would be spent for a good closer worth it? You need a good closer to win a World Series, but there's no guarantee your good closer will actually push you to a World Series title, if that makes sense. It's a little bit of a luck thing to a certain extent -- hope you get lucky and that a rookie steps up at the right time (Wainwright, Jenks) or that your good middle reliever elevates his game in October (Motte) or that your GM can make a deal if necessary (Urbina). Sometimes it's merely hoping that a guy who is consistent has the season of his life (Lidge).

Me? If money is an issue, I'd try and spend the $40 million in other places.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

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