Five Relievers Who Are Finding “It”

Quite often we hear that a relief pitcher does or does not have what it takes to get the high pressure outs. Certain pitchers have “it” while others melt under the spot light. Ryan Madson could not be a successful closer because he lacked the vaunted “closer’s mentality.” I’m sure on a case by case basis you will find players who simply cannot handle the pressure; however, studies have shown that a reliever should perform to his talent level regardless of the leverage. After all, they are just roles not skill-sets.

As a fan of the Rays, I have watched Kyle Farnsworth transform from a guy who also lacks the closer’s mentality in to a true relief ace pitching in high leverage situations. Farnsworth is not the only middle reliever to graduate to the high life with success. Including Farnsworth, I found five relief pitchers who moved from the mid-to-low level situations up to a higher level. All five pitched at least 50 innings last season with a pLI less than 1.0. In 2011, they have tossed 30 or more innings with a leverage index of 1.3 or higher (basically set-up man or more). Here is the list…

Jamey Wright

The former starter turned reliever; Wright has bounced around the league since 1996. After making 246 starts, he became a full-time member of the bullpen in 2008. Last season, he pitched mostly middle relief (0.87 pLI) for the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners. In 58.1 innings, he was largely below average with a 4.23 FIP/4.54 xFIP. Back with the Mariners for 2011, Wright has a pLI of 1.30 this season. He has responded with a 3.94 FIP/3.69 xFIP. According to the pitch f/x data on Wright’s player page, he has picked up the use of his cutter this season. The pitch has been effective with a 1.64 wCT/C. Given his groundballs ways and the ballpark he calls home, Wright’s new role may add a few years to his major league career.

Logan Ondrusek

Ondrusek had a decent rookie season in middle relief for the Reds. Pitching in mostly average situations (.87 pLI), the right-hander racked up a 3.68 ERA in 58.2 innings; however, his defensive independent metrics were near or below the league average (4.32 FIP/4.19 xFIP). Dusty Baker has trusted Ondrusek in some high leverage situations this year bumping his pLI to 1.35. As a set-up man to Francisco Cordero, he has dropped his ERA down to 1.79. Once again, that is outperforming his FIP (3.86) and xFIP (3.75), but he has increased his strikeouts while allowing fewer home runs and roughly the same amount of walks. Although his BABIP and LOB% are begging for regression, Ondrusek has turned into a nice, cheap, option in the later innings.

Javier Lopez

The same Lopez that appeared in 61 games for the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox team found himself out of a job before 2010 and resurfaced as a low-leverage pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants where he collected a second World Series ring. Lopez was fantastic with the Giants, earning him an invite back this season with an increased role. After an 0.79 pLI last year, Lopez’s pLI has jumped to 1.85 this season. His results remain largely the same (3.36 FIP in 2010, 3.39 FIP in 2011) although his xFIP is a bit higher since he has yet to allow a home run. Lopez is a true loogy, but Bruce Bochy has nearly split his usage in half a.k.a. playing with fire. That said, if Lopez is used correctly, he should be shutdown late-inning weapon from the left side.

Ryan Webb

A piece of the Cameron Maybin trade, Webb has seen his leverage index rise as a member of the Marlins. He was a true middle reliever with the Padres (0.94 pLI) last season. In 2011, more than half of his 35 appearances have come in the eighth inning earning him a pLI of 1.30. Webb’s numbers have regressed across the board, but his 3.82 FIP and 3.94 xFIP are slightly above the league average. For a pitcher who throws in the mid-90s, one would expect more strikeouts than 5.77 per nine innings. That said a 60% groundball rate is pretty useful with runners on base late in the game.

Kyle Farnsworth

Yes, the same Kyle Farnsworth who bombed as a member of the New York Yankees has returned to the American League East as a shutdown closer for the Tampa Bay Rays. Farnsworth pitched in middle relief as a member of the Royals and Braves (.87 pLI) last season. This year, he has been Joe Maddon’s go to guy in high leverage situations (1.37 pLI). Despite not actually holding the closer’s role, the right-hander has racked up a career-high 17 saves with a 2.80 FIP and a fantastic 2.92 xFIP. The old dog has learned a new trick and that is the ability to induce groundballs. With more cutters and two-seam fastballs, his GB% is 55.8% this year which is well above his 40.2% career rate. He is also getting a high number of popups when the ball is lifted in the air. Farnsworth’s strikeouts are down quite a bit, but he can still get a swing and a miss. All in all, the guy who didn’t have it in New York or Chicago may be planning a trip to Arizona next week as a relief ace.

Print This Post

Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and Follow on twitter @TRancel

24 Responses to “Five Relievers Who Are Finding “It””

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Telo says:

    Nitpick alert – I wouldn’t call 2.97 xFIP “fantastic” for a reliever. That’s not even top 20 in the league. It’s more like… “great” or “really good” or “that guy has been very solid”, but FANTASTIC makes me think top 10 or even 5. Anyway, there’s some useless feedback for you.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ryan says:

      Kyle Farnsworth: 10th in the AL in xFIP pitching in the AL East = fantastic.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        I’m not saying that Farnsworth hasn’t been excellent, but the whole “in the AL East” point loses a little bit when he has only thrown 1 inning against the Yankees and has not pitched well against the Red Sox and Blue Jays.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric says:

        to build on the previous reply, Farnsworth has thrown a total of 4 innings against the Red Sox and Yankees combined allowing 2 earned runs.

        And being on the Rays, he never has to face them. So please don’t use his being in the AL East as evidence of any particular boost to his level of competition faced.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Eric says:

    No mention of Farnsworth dominating as a closer in Detroit in 2005 before being dealt (to Atlanta I believe)?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. xrayxtals says:

    So Madson going 15/16 in Save opps this means what?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jake says:

      It means the Phillies coaching staff is full of crap and that disrespecting a player like that in front of the media is a horribly stupid thing to do. I don’t think there is a chance Madson re-signs with Philly.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JMal says:

        Or it means that before this season he sucked as a closer and put it together this year and will remain the closer once he returns from the DL and perhaps for years to come.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Robbie G. says:

        Nor should Philly re-sign Ryan Madson at what is likely to be his (high) asking price. Which is kind of the point of this article, i.e., one can find solid middle relievers who can be solid relievers fairly cheaply/easily. Let somebody else overpay Madson for his saves on a high profile team and promote Antonio Bastardo to closer. Surely Philly learned from its fairly recent Brad Lidge mistake that overpaying for a “closer” is not a good way to run a MLB team. [Unless that closer’s name is Mariano Rivera.]

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Zak says:

    Bobby Parnell has quietly been of the best RP’s in baseball the last year and a half. 2.45 FIP and a 2.60 xFIP.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. David Robertson says:

    Hey guys!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. John says:

    How about Glen Perkins? Among relievers in the AL he is 6th in xFIP, 2nd in FIP, and 6th in WAR. He looks completely reborn this season.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. The next 5 posts says:

    How about this guy and how about that guy and how about…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • X-Terminator says:

      lol, i’ve never heard of Glen Perkins so he must be in the AL and Parnell i thought he might have played for the Mets but i’m too lazy to look it up…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Tommy says:

    A lot of relievers are finding their niche in hi-lev roles, but these are the guys who pitched a lot (50 for a mid RP) in average or lower roles last season and have moved up this year. I think there are a lot of underrated hi-lev aces who don’t get enough credit because they do not get credited with a save.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Aaron says:

    Sergio Santos? Or was he used in high leverage situations last year more than I recall (he was just the fourth option behind Jenks, Thornton, Putz)?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Fan of home team says:

    What about that one reliever from my favorite team? I’m upset you didn’t include him, he’s certainly good enough. *Insert coast bias/conspiracy here*

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. jorgath says:

    Um…Tyler Clippard? Y’know, the guy who leads all MLB relievers in WPA? Who was not THAT long ago a failed starter?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. David Pauley says:

    I’m better than Jamey Wright

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Marver says:

    Marlins fans must be thrilled that Webb has found “it”. Otherwise, where would they get that 0.1 WAR he’s given them this year?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. NEPP says:

    On Farnsworth…fool me once, fool me twice.

    I wont ever be a believer in him. Too many disappointments over the years.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Calogero says:

    Jose Veras has been good and was a waiver pickup. I’d like to read more about how he’s doing it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1