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  1. It’s almost like bullpens in general are overrated. Give me a stud reliever and I’m happy. I’ll invest the rest of my money and talent in position players and starters.

    One reason bullpens get too much attention is that given the higher LIs they accumulate, over- and under-performance gets magnified. A 3.50 FIP true-talent bullpen that manages to post a 3.00 ERA is going to be more valuable than just those .50 points of ERA. And a bullpen that underperforms it’s true talent will cost it’s teams more games. That under- and over-performance isn’t due to skill, though, and next year could flip flop in the other direction. There’s a lot of luck involved in a bullpen’s performance and people tend not to separate the skill from the luck very well.

    Comment by Sky — January 21, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  2. Great writeup. Excellent analysis, and although it merely confirms what we already knew (as you said, middle-relievers being overrated), it is certainly interesting seeing that quantitatively laid out.

    Comment by BTC — January 21, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  3. Loved this piece, RJ. I think it’s right on the money. Bullpens — aside from the +3 win relievers like you listed above — just don’t add as much value to a team as most assume. Especially when you consider how much the media has inflated the concept of the Prove Closer(tm).

    Comment by Chris — January 21, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  4. Are Chamberlain’s wins boosted by his time as a starter or did you solely look at his innings of relief pitching?

    Thanks for this article though. As a Yankee fan it gives me one more article to throw in the face of the “Joba to the bullpen” crowd.

    Comment by WT — January 21, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  5. Relief work only. That’s also why he didn’t qualify once we raised the innings threshold.

    Comment by R.J. Anderson — January 21, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

  6. Does the FIP/wins measure incorporate leverage?

    Comment by Trieu — January 21, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  7. Im really having a hard time conceptualizing that IP have so much value, even at a very high FIP. The replacement level has to be off… finding a guy who can throw 170 IP of 6.35 FIP is not that difficult. There are loads of these guys hanging around. How can that be worth so much (In Robertson’s case, 1.3 wins/5.8M)? How can this be a desirable result from your pitching win value system? In reality, Detroit could have replaced Robertson with pretty much anyone. Replacement level has to be higher, by definition.

    Comment by alskor — January 21, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  8. So, you’re saying that a 3 years 19 million dollar contract was not a good deal for Danys Baez in ’07?

    Comment by Bill — January 21, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

  9. Maybe this was covered elsewhere, but I don’t understand. Are you using WAR? It would be helpful if you said so. What is it about the approach to WAR that makes relievers less valuable?

    And in what way are middle relievers overrated? I don’t see any evidence for that in your post. Overrated compared to what?

    I don’t mean to be picky, but I’d just like to better understand what you’re saying and why.

    Comment by studes — January 21, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

  10. Yep.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — January 21, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  11. Nate Robertson didn’t have a 6.35 FIP. He had a 4.99 FIP.

    Replacement level isn’t off. You’re evaluating him by his ERA.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — January 21, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

  12. Ahh… thank you. That makes sense.

    Comment by alskor — January 21, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  13. “middle relievers are overrated”

    Tell that to the 2007-2008 New York Mets…

    I see the point though.

    Comment by James K. — January 21, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  14. I think that statement was not so much based on their importance, as much as it was based on the fact they get paid a fairly significant amount to accomplish very little (and often times prove to be a detriment to the team).

    If anything, the Mets were the poster children of MRs being overrated. That statement, semantically, can really be looked at either way. Perhaps just the greatest ones are underrated given so few actually help their team.

    That said, I wonder if a calculation adjustment needs to be made for MRs. The reason being, if the vast majority (and in this case, the vast, vast majority) hinder a team’s chances of winning a ballgame over the course of a season, perhaps things needs to be shifted a bit in regards to MRs and wins. I suspect that MRs today aren’t all that different than those of 10 years ago, so perhaps a MR that simply “loses” you -1.0 games per season ends up being pretty damn good relatively. I mean, your worth on the market is based on those around you for the most part. If I know I’m going to lose games with my MRs, wouldn’t you want to limit the total loss as best possible? Sounds simplistic, but I think the definition of “overrated” perhaps needs to experience a relative shift due to what is being considered here.

    Comment by BTC — January 21, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  15. And the 2009 Mets are going to be dramatic evidence that overpaying for free agent relievers is one of the least efficient uses of payroll dollars. However, given that they have the revenue available thanks to the new stadium, and in lieu of other glaring weaknesses for a team that’s been agonizingly close to the postseason twice now, they can justify being inefficient. I’m not sure they can justify being quite as extravagant as they were — either the K-Rod or the Putz deal by itself might be defensible, but the two together is kind of ridiculous — but with the sour taste of the past couple of seasons still lingering on tongues amplified by the NY media environment (not to mention keeping up with those thrifty guys in the Bronx), Minaya probably had to go big or go away.

    Comment by joser — January 21, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  16. I am sure each team would love to have a stud reliever at each spot in there pen, but allocating the necessary payroll to do so obviously would be unrealistic. Except maybe to the Yanks…

    Comment by Matt B. — January 21, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  17. What this highlights is not just the marginal value of acquiring “stud” relievers, which are next to impossible to find, but the marginal value of acquiring decent starters, guys who will get you to the 8th inning so you don’t have to rely on so many BP innings.

    Comment by BD — January 21, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  18. I find it amazing that in 2007 only one reliever was worth more than 4 wins – and that the reliever was Rafael Betancourt

    Comment by APV — January 22, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  19. Mariano is really amazing. It’s not about 1 season. There have been many relievers who have had excellent seasons. Mo is often not the best reliever in any given season. But every year, he’s one of the best. I will miss that terribly when it’s over.

    Comment by Rob in CT — January 22, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

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