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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)