Brewers Strengthen Bullpen With Saito

After improving its starting rotation with the acquisitions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke, the Brewers have moved onto other aspects of team building. On offense the team appears set, as they’re returning seven of the eight starters who contributed to the team’s 110 wRC+ last season, which ranked third in the majors. Where the team could use some fortification is in the bullpen. It has addressed this by signing Takashi Saito to a one-year contract.

While Saito, who will turn 41 as spring training commences, has dominated opposing hitters since coming stateside in 2006, he represents a significant health risk. You might remember the story of how he pitched in the 2008 NLDS despite suffering a mid-July elbow injury that normally would have required Tommy John surgery. Saito instead had Dr. Neal ElAttrache inject platelet-rich plasma into his elbow, which helped spur the healing process. Saito was remarkably bad in that NLDS, allowing a hit to each of the three batters he faced. But he did appear to be a viable option for 2009.

The Dodgers non-tendered Saito after 2009, and the Red Sox took a chance on him. While he got off to a slow start during his American League debut, he improved after April and ended up as one of Boston’s more reliable relievers by season’s end. That earned him a one-year, $3.2 million contract with the Braves. There he flat-out dominated, striking out 11.5 per nine on his way to a 2.83 ERA and 2.43 WHIP. Still, the injury concerns persisted. Saito suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out for nearly three weeks in June, and then missed the final two weeks of the season, save for one appearance, with shoulder inflammation. At age 41 it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to hold up any better in 2011.

The Brewers had something of an underrated bullpen in 2010. While the unit ranked 26th in the league in ERA it fared much better in the peripheral categories: 8th in FIP, 5th in xFIP, and 10th in tERA. In other words, if not for a strand rate that ranked fourth worst in baseball, we might see the Brewers bullpen in a different light. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some fortification. Much of the pen’s success came from a pair of rookies, John Axford and Zach Braddock, so signing Saito helps hedge against either of them slipping in 2011. He can also more than capably fill a portion of the innings that Todd Coffey pitched in 2010.

When a team signals that it’s going all-in for a season, it can justify taking bigger risks than other teams. Saito’s age and health certainly present concerns, but the Brewers can certainly justify the signing. If the deal works out as hoped they’ll be on the hook for around $3.2 million. But since some portion of that $3.2 million comes through bonuses, if the deal busts then Milwaukee won’t be out quite as much. For a team with so much riding on a single season, signing Saito makes plenty of sense.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

20 Responses to “Brewers Strengthen Bullpen With Saito”

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  1. Obligatory Sox Fan says:

    A 2.43 WHIP? Gotta be a typo.

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  2. Kevin L. Wiley says:

    I think it is an excellent signing. When he is right he’ll give you dominant performances. The pitchig coach and manager need to watch carefully for signs of injury though and not over expose him when he shows signs of injury.

    I’m also interested in seeing how Mark Rogers fits into their 2011 pitching staff.

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    • Michael says:

      my new blog

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I think that if one is going to have a blog and propose things like “clutch score” they should be required to do all the research and busy work, and only write the article when there’s some data to present.

      As my comments represent, there is no shortage of guys that have opinions or ideas about things that could or should be done.

      But, what the world needs is guys that are willing and capable to do those things.

      I’d be interested to see what your clutch score research illutrstaes when it’s done. Lots of work to do there.

      My guess is that the work is not worth all the trouble, so that’s why WPA is used. But, there have been bigger surprises in the world of stats.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Another interesting point would be whether the WPA is primarily the result of hitting in the middle of the order or the quality of hitter.

        If Benji Molina hits 3rd for StL what would be his projected WPA? If Pujols hit 9th for the Ginats, Royals, etc … what would his projected WPA be?

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      • Michael says:

        I am going to implement the clutch score and run a computer program to compute the clutch scores for each player in the majors with Retrosheet… All I need though is information on the dataset that Fangraphs uses to compute WPA… I would apprieciate if you could help me there

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Actually, all you need is to kiss some girls.

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  3. DonCoburleone says:

    I love it when a team like Milwaukee (or TB last year) is smart enough to realize exactly what their situation is. Having 2 players (well, hitters) like Fielder and Braun is just not something that happens too often in small markets. Throw in Rickie Weeks (when healthy) and thats 3 superstar caliber players in one lineup. They might be able to win their division in 2012 with awesome pitching (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo) and an MVP season from Braun, but they KNOW that 2011 is their best chance at winning a championship and they’re going for it.

    I wish that more teams in Milwaukee’s position (Ahem.. San Diego… Ahem) would do the same thing, cuz it makes MLB alot more interesting on a year to year basis.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      This is the perfect time for MIL. CIN is likely to regress more than they progress, and StL is about as weak as they have been over the past few years.

      Had this been the 100 win StL team of 04 and 05, MIL may not “go for it” like they are now.

      I’d like to yell at SD for “pussing out”, but they’re also in the same division as SFG and COL, which are very good teams. But, they threw in the towel on competitiveness and traded it in for a future that may never come. IMO, their chance to win the division in 2011 may be better than any other chance in the next 5 years. So, I don;t know what they were waiting for.

      Announce that they’re going for it in 2011. make some moves that might help. Come up with a catchy “Win Rocky Win” slogan. Get the fans on board, and try to win the whole damn thing. That’s the goal right?

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      • Dustin says:

        Don and Circle, you are looking at the perspective of fans who want excitement in baseball. Yes, the fans want championships, but it is not that simple. Team management needs to do what is best for the team in the short term, long term, and financially.

        The Brewers seem to have a lot more money to spend than the Padres, a significantly better lineup, and weaker teams above them in the division.

        The Brewers have been spending around 90 million a year on payroll since CC made a brilliant cameo for them. The Padres on the other hand have been reducing payroll drastically due to the transfer of ownership and the inability to get enough ticket revenue.

        As far as lineups go, it is not close between the two teams. Like Don said, the Brewers have 3 legit all-star caliber bats, in addition to the quality bats of Mcgehee and Hart. The Padres have(had) Gonzalez and….. that’s it.

        Like Circle said, Cincinnati will have a tough time improving on last season and the Cardinals have holes to fill to complete a roster behind their superstars. On the Padres side, the Giants just won the World Series and the Rockies are a quality team as well. Both teams are much more complete(even though the Giants are weak with the bats) than anything the Padres could have put together if they went for it.

        For all of these reasons it makes sense for the Brewers to shoot for another playoff berth and possibly a deep run.

        With that said, the Brewers have completely emptied their farm system to go for it. Will this work out, time will tell, but the Padres are definitely in a better situation to win in future years than the Brewers despite the lower payroll because of their decision making.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        My main point with the Padres is what makes them think they will have a better shot at both winning the division AND having fan support in the next 5 years?

        All the things that make SFG and COL good will still be there.

        The SDP have bonafide CYA and MVP candidates on their team right NOW (well, they did). What are the odds that will happen in the next 5 years?

        I’m not condemning them for the reasons you posted, they are in a different situation than MIL. But, IMO, the SDP chances in 2011 are probably better than they’ll have in 2012-2015 (of course, I cannot know that for certain).

        Coming off of a successful season, if they came out and said “we’re going for it”, the fans might be along for the ride. As it is, the fan support will decrease in 2011 (attendance), and the SDP will once again hope to have a crazy year where they win 90 games sometime in the future, based on prospects that may or may not pan out.

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      • rickie weeks says:

        @ Dustin

        Agreed on the farm system. As a Brewers fan though I just hope they are willing to be as aggressive in rebuilding through the draft as they have been with trades. Open the wallet a little and the farm could get restocked quickly with 2 top 20 picks and a deep draft class.

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      • logan says:

        Even a restocked farm system means 2-3 down years at least unless we trade some players for MLB ready prospects. Provided the Collective Bargaining agreement stays the same we should have quite a few picks from Greinke, Marcum, Weeks, and Fielder in the next few years. My hope is that we see a Weeks extension along with Marcum and/or Greinke.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    Saito was remarkably bad in that NLDS, allowing a hit to each of the three batters he faced.

    Don’t you mean he was “remarkably unlucky”?


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