Anaheim’s New Closer

Luck and a poor free agent economy paid off for the Angels as they managed to avoid being hamstrung to a long-term deal with Francisco Rodriguez put on the table early in the 2008 season and when the winter rolled around, the once boggling contracts for closers that were in vogue during the previous winter were now already out of style.

Rodriguez got considerably less from the Mets than he was hoping for and with few other teams bidding, the Angels have found their replacement in Brian Fuentes. According to Buster Olney, the contract is for two-years, totaling $17.5 million and comes with a $9 million option for 2011 that vests depending on 55 games finished, which is probably about a 50/50 shot.

Evaluating the deal on the premise that the option will vest leaves us with a three-year, $26.5 million and the Angels’ first round draft pick as the cost to Anaheim. This covers the age 33 through 35 seasons for Fuentes so there has to be some concern about age-related decline in the mix.

Fuentes rebounded last season to post a 3.25 xFIP. His more reported rates, FIP and ERA, were artifically low thanks to a unsustainable home run per fly ball ratio. All in all, 2009 projections for Fuentes are going to land between his 2007 and 2008 numbers, and look a lot like his 2006 season. We have a nice (but not so nifty) way of determining the value of relievers thanks to Tango (links here and here). Please refer back to Tango’s threads for the worhtwhile explanations and to point any mistakes that I am likely about to make.

Projecting pitchers is difficult and messy so I like to gather inputs from a variety of sources, much like on defense, to see if I can establish a reasonable consensus. Looking at Marcel, tRA and others and throwing in pixie dust for the NL to AL switch, I get a projection of 3.71 against a league average of 4.49. Plugging that into the winning percentage formula (reproduced below) leaves us with a .585 winning percentage. I looked at only RP when coming up with my league averages, so I need to deviate slightly from Tango’s stated 0.470 replacement level down to 0.451. Taking the difference between those two figures and multiplying by his projected playing time yields 0.92 wins.

Fuentes is going to be used as a closer, so his expected leverage is about 2. Chaining that (refer to the second of Tango’s links) adds a 50% bonus to his win total and we arrive finally at a 2009 projection of just under 1.4 wins. Knock off 10% for the security of the contract and for aging and over the brunt of the contract, it appears that the Angels are paying Fuentes at a rate of $7 million per win.

The contract initially looks like a bargain because of the numbers that were bandied about last winter and the start of this one, but the simple truth is that relievers have to be very, very good to warrant big salaries and while Fuentes was superb in 2008, he was average in 2007 and merely good in 2006.

The formula for computing a pitcher’s winning percentage:
A = (RA + leagRA) ^ 0.28
B = (leag RA / RA) ^ A
Win%= B / (B + 1)




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

14 Responses to “Anaheim’s New Closer”

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  1. DJShell says:

    I read your analysis and appreciate the work, but I disagree with its direction.

    Perhaps I’m missing the mark, but closers are paid to close out games rather than generate wins. A closer who generates a win has blown the save. I’ve read several opinions to day from people in Colorado who didn’t much like the quality of his work. That’s really understandable. If you look at Fuentes home/road splits over his career, he’s been a much better road versus home pitcher in four of the past six years.

    In 2008, Fuentes had a road 1.84 ERA and held hitters to a BAA of .140. My point here is that all of the post-trade analysis I’ve seen has failed to account for Fuentes’ Coors performance. I’ve also not seen any work done as to the number of save opportunities generated by teams. Empirical data tells me the Angels are at or near the top of that list. So, assuming he closes in Anaheim (and with the open closer situations, I find it to be a low probability he took the Angels job without a guarantee of some sort, hometown or not), he should improve on his totals, factoring out Coors and even adding a couple of HRs allowed to the mix.

    Don’t have my slide rule in my pocket and haven’t run the numbers. Just consider it a hypothesis to be proven or disproven.

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  2. Truth says:

    Gee, what a surprise. Matthew Carruth is the first one to write about this. Next time, have someone who isn’t biased. Matthew can’t be taken seriously when he writes about the Angels.

    Fuentes is a 2 WAR closer going forward.

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  3. Truth says:

    Merely good in 2006? Out of 201 listed relievers, he had the 28th best tRA*. 5th best in 2008. He suffered numerous injuries in 2007. That most definitely hurt his numbers. You should know that, shouldn’t you?

    PS You are still wrong. Your math is off.

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  4. dan says:

    Truth–

    He had a 3.44 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 2006. I’d say that’s good, not great. Would you say that’s better than good for a reliever?

    Also, what Matt projected here was a 3.71 RA, which is around a 3.40 or 3.50 ERA (roughly). Bill James and Marcel project him for 3.43 and 3.63 ERA, respectively. Essentially the same exact thing.

    What part of the math is wrong? Care to elaborate?

    DJShell–

    We’re not talking about wins in the traditional sense, like the 20 that Mussina had this year or the 18 Lincecum had, etc. We’re talking about how many runs are saved versus what a replacement level reliever would give up, and then translating those runs saved into wins (dividing by 10 essentially). Fuentes generates wins for his team the same way a middle reliever does, regardless of the save stat.

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  5. DJShell says:

    Got it, Dan. Thanks.

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  6. Mike says:

    I\’m with truth. I respect Matthew\’s opinions, but I don\’t like his projection method in this instance. It\’s not a fair or accurate assessment.

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  7. Learn how to read says:

    Some of you need reading lessons.

    Matthew wrote: Projecting pitchers is difficult and messy so I like to gather inputs from a variety of sources, much like on defense, to see if I can establish a reasonable consensus.

    Is his projection perfect? No. Is it reasonable? Yes. Are there different projection methods? Yes.

    Mike,

    Read above. It’s right there.

    Truth,

    You are a dipshit. You deserve to be banned for throwing unfounded accusations.

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  8. D Wrek says:

    I know 9 mil is a lot of money, but this seems like a low risk move for the Angels. Its only for 2 years and the Angels have back up plans if needed. Sheilds stays slotted in the 8th where he has been great. And they have 2 years to groom Arrandando. If Speier can rebound and Oliver can hold off father time, this could be 1 heck of a bull pen to complement an already fierce rotation.

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  9. jskelly4 says:

    I’m just wondering if your data is taking into account the change in park and the change in league? If it doesn’t account for the change in park, I don’t think his HR/FB rate is unsustainable with the park change. Being moved out of Coors, I’m not sure how much Coors inflates home runs, but even based on his other years of ~9.1% hr/fb, I don’t think an 8.7 projection is fair given the park change. Also I could be wrong but Coors also inflates BABIP and doesn’t Angel Stadium deflate both BABIP and hr/fb? I may be way off base, just wondering.

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