Thursday, August 07, 2008

How to Fix a Bullpen, Part 3

The 2005 Cleveland Indians can probably best be remembered by the shot of Ozzie Guillen with his hands around his neck. Known for their late season charge and last week collapse, the 2005 Indians can also be known for having the best bullpen of the past five seasons. How was this bullpen built? Let's take a look at the opening day bullpen and give them scores as described yesterday. (On a completely unrelated note, I just found that the Indians planned on placing Juan Gonzalez on their opening day roster, but an injury forced them to recall Grady Sizemore. The funny thing is that the Cardinals almost made this mistake this year, a move that would have potentially left all star Ryan Ludwick off the roster. Make that three teams that have dodged the Juan Gonzalez bullet.)

Bob Wickman, 36, RHP
Salary: $2,750,000
Options?: No (5+ Service Time)
2004 Statistics: 29.7 IP, 4.25 ERA, 10 BB, 26 K, 4 HR
Signed: Free Agent, 11/24/04

Re-upping Wickman was a very shrewd move. He had missed all of 2003 and the first part of 2004 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. As a result, the Indians were able to re-sign him to a relatively cheap $2.75 million deal with the hope that he would return to form, being two year's removed from the surgery. Maybe the key to a bullpen is to load up on guys who had Tommy John Surgery two years prior.

David Riske, 28, RHP
Salary: $1,425,000
Options?: No (5+ Service Time)
2004 Statistics: 77.3 IP, 3.72 ERA, 41 BB, 78 K, 11 HR
Signed: 1996 Draft, 56th round

Riske spent time as the Indians closer when Wickman was out, but was much better served for a middle relief role. I estimated that his service time was over 5, but that was not the case for the entire year. As a review, a player cannot be optioned to the minors without the consent when they have over five years of service time. For a guy in his arbitration years, $1.4 million is about what you'd expect for an above average middle reliever.

Arthur Rhodes, 35, LHP
Salary: $3,700,000
Options: No
2004 Statistics: 38.7 IP, 5.12 ERA, 21 BB, 34 K, 9 HR
Signed: Acquired from Pittsburgh for OF Matt Lawton, 12/9/04

Rhodes looked to be nearing the end of the road the previous season with Oakland. He was sent earlier in this offseason from Oakland to Pittsburgh in a salary dump trade for Jason Kendall. Then he was dealt in this other trade for Matt Lawton, it what appeared to be another salary dump*. Maybe sending an overpriced player like Gary Sheffield to a team looking to unload a high priced reliever with rebound potential could be a worthwhile move.

*On the surface it looks like a salary dump, but Matt Lawton was later suspended for steroid use. There were parts of the Mitchell Report which detailed the Dodgers' internal meetings, suspecting Eric Gagne to be a potential user as they were trying to deal him. Perhaps the Indians caught wind of something here and shipped Lawton away while they could.

Scott Sauerbeck, 33, LHP
Salary: $500,000
Options?: No
2004 Statistics: DNP, Out with Torn Labrum and Torn Rotator Cuff
Signed: Minor League Free Agent, 4/12/04

Another buy low guy for the Indians. His shoulder surgery was in January, and they snapped him up to a Minor League deal, knowing he'd have to miss the entire 2004 season and excercised the option on his contract to get him on the cheap in 2005.

Rafael Betancourt, 30, RHP
Salary: $338,600
Options?: Yes
2004 Statistics: 66.7 IP, 3.92 ERA, 18 BB, 76 K, 7 HR
Signed: Minor League Free Agent, 1/20/03

Betancourt has had a rather unconventional career. Starting out with the Red Sox system as an infielder, he was converted to pitching. After pitching in their system for a number of years, he developed some elbow problems, and instead of having typical ligament replacement surgery in his elbow, he had a metal rod put in there to stabalize the joint. It was after this surgery that he tried out for the Indians and he made the club. After sticking with the bullpen in 2004, the rest has been history.

Bobby Howry, 31, RHP
Salary: $900,000
Options?: No
2004 Statistics: 42.7 IP, 2.74 ERA, 12 BB, 39 K, 5 HR (AAA: 26 IP, 5.19 ERA, 6 BB, 24 K, ? HR)
Signed: Minor League Free Agent, 1/7/04

Bobby Howry's career turned around during his two years with Cleveland. He had missed much of the 2003 season following elbow surgery, and the Indians were subsequently able to get him signed to a Minor League deal while he rehabbed his elbow. The patience and foresight paid off as Howry emerged as one of the top relievers in baseball.

Matt Miller, 33, RHP
Salary: $329,700
Options?: Yes
2004 Statistics: 55.3 IP, 3.09 ERA, 23 BB, 55 K, 1 HR (AAA: 14 IP, 1.93 ERA, 6 BB, 17 K, ? HR)
Signed: Minor League Free Agent, 2/13/04

Miller, another journeyman, caught fire in 2004. He didn't spend the whole 2005 season in the big leagues, but pitched well when he was up.

Jason Davis, 25, RHP
Salary: $341,700
Options?: Yes
2004 Statistics: 114.3 IP, 5.51 ERA, 51 BB, 72 K, 13 HR (AAA: 54 IP, 3.00 ERA, 18 BB, 39 K, ? HR)
Signed: 1999 Draft, 21st round

Davis actually started the season as the fifth starter, but only because of a brief injury to CC Sabathia. Davis was sent to the bullpen and Miller to AAA upon CC's mid-April return. For that reason, I am including him as a reliever.

Totaling up the statistics:
Number of Relievers: 7 (Even though, I've listed 8 guys, there were only 7 relievers)
Average Salary: $1.29 millon
Amount with Options: 3/8
Previous Year ERA: 4.26
Previous Year BB/9: 3.77
Previous Year K/9: 7.79
Previous Year: HR/9: 1.06
Starting Pitching Innings: 76.1%
Team Defensive Efficiency: 0.720
%Innings Pitched by Opening Day Relievers: 92.1%
Major League Free Agents: 1/8
Drafted: 2/8
Acquired in Trade: 1/8
UDFA: 0/8
Waivers: 0/8
Minor League Free Agents: 4/8

We'll know more about how these numbers compare as we look at other bullpens. You can learn a lot from this team, though. The first thing to notice is how they seemed to buy low on everybody. Bob Wickman was re-signed after recovering from Tommy John Surgery, Arthur Rhodes was picked up in a salary dump, while Bobby Howry, Rafael Betancourt, and Scott Sauerbeck were all signed to minor league deals while recovering from injuries. Could the secret to bullpen success be accurately predicting a pitcher's recovery from an arm injury?

Take notice of when these guys were signed. Sauerbeck and Howry were each signed during their rehab period before the 2004 season. It seems that this bullpen was built by projecting where these guys were going to be more than a year in the future. It's also interesting to note how many veterans comprised this bullpen. You also have to wonder how much the third ranked defense helped the cause. The fact that the bullpen stayed healthy for much of the year certainly didn't hurt either.

If this strategy seems like it would lead to short lived success, it did. The Cleveland bullpen regressed significantly in 2006. Rhodes and Howry left via free agency, while David Riske was dealt to Boston. It seemed the strategy of loading up on cheap veterans on the mend worked for one season

If you want to see how each pitcher did individually during the 2005 season, check out the team page at Baseball Reference. Wickman, Howry, Rhodes, Riske, and Betancourt were all lights out. Throw in mid-season promotion Fernando Cabrera and Eric Wedge had plenty of options towards the end of the game.

Before looking at this year's Dodger team (#2 on the list), I will spend the next post looking for possible relief pitchers who fit the Indians' plan.

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