Free Agent Bargain: Jeremy Affeldt

As we head towards free agency, the focus is always on the big name guys – who is going to sign Mark Teixeira or CC Sabathia? Which team is going to give Manny Ramirez a deal that pays him into his 40s? What kind of contracts will older-but-still-effective guys like Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer get?

But every year, there’s always a guy signs as something of an afterthought and turns into an important player, with the rest of baseball looking back and wondering why they weren’t more interested when he was available. This week, we’ll profile a group of players that should pay nice dividends for the team that recognizes that they’re worth more than they’re going to get this winter.

Starting off, let’s take a look at one of the more underrated pitchers in the game – Jeremy Affeldt.

A former top prospect as a starter, Affeldt didn’t live up to expectations in Kansas City and has bounced around the bullpens of the Royals, Rockies, and in 2008, the Reds. His career has seen him struggle with command problems, and as such, he’d never been trusted with any kind of meaningful role.

However, in 2008, he took a pretty big step forward. His average fastball velocity went from 92.3 MPH a year ago to 94.6 MPH, and his CB saw a similar improvement (going from 76.9 to 79.1). Adding several ticks to both pitches moves him into the power pitcher category, and it showed in his results.

His swinging strike rate (data from statcorner.com) jumped from 7.6% last year to 10.8% this year, putting him in the company of guys like Grant Balfour, Joakim Soria, and Kerry Wood. The swinging strikes translated directly to his strikeout rate, which jumped to 9.19 K/9. More swings and misses means less called balls as well, and Affeldt significantly improved his walk rate as well, down to a respectable 2.87 BB/9.

In a lot of cases, a pitcher will add velocity by switching to a four seam fastball and pitching up in the zone, but that’s not the case here – Affeldt continued to pitch down in the zone, posting a career high 54.4% GB%. Because he keeps the ball down, he was able to sustain a fairly low HR rate even though his HR/FB went through the roof (as it can with every reliever, thanks to the small yearly sample of batters and its variance).

Based on 2008, Affeldt has shown an entirely new skillset as compared to his major league career, adding a couple of ticks to both his fastball and curve, which have transformed him into one of the game’s best left-handed relievers. Because his curve is a legitimate second pitch, he shows almost no platoon split, and is equally effective against both LHB and RHBs. His stuff is clearly closer-worthy, and while he has no experience as the 9th inning guy, some smart team would be wise to give him a two or three year contract for setup man money and watch him blossom into one of the game’s best relief aces.

There’s a good case to be made that Jeremy Affeldt is the best reliever available this winter, while most of baseball has no idea who he is.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


10 Responses to “Free Agent Bargain: Jeremy Affeldt”

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  1. Derris says:

    A relief pitcher as one of the most underrated pitchers in the game? Affeldt as this mythical creature based upon 78 innings and gun readings that may or may not represent anything real?

    Color me skeptical.

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  2. Dave Cameron says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Josh Kalk’s Pitch F/x card has Affeldt’s average fastball velocity at 95.59 MPH and his curve at 80.02 MPH this year.

    So, let’s see, what’s more probable here:

    Option A: Affeldt started throwing harder and his performance improved as a result.

    Option B: Affeldt did not start throwing harder, the BIS and Pitch F/x systems are both wrong, and his performance improvement is due to some unknown factor.

    Good luck with Option B.

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  3. Derris says:

    Kalk’s data suggests that Affeldt had roughly a 1 mph increase in velocity between ’07 and ’08. That is a short peg to hang a “most underrated pitcher in baseball” hat upon.

    Really, who expects Affeldt to K over 9/G and less than 3/G during his next 78 IP?

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  4. Derris says:

    That should read: Really, who expects Affeldt to K over 9/G and BB less than 3/G during his next 78 IP?

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  5. mymrbig says:

    Moving away from Coors also probably helped improve the K/9. I have thought Affeldt is very underrated and have been trying to sell him as a potential closer in a few forums (I think he would work for almost any team). In fact, Dave, I think you stole my idea!!! Well, I guess I should acknowledge that it is possible for two people to independently have the same idea, but color me skeptical.

    I think it would be smart to see some rebuilding team to offer Affeldt something like 3 years, $9 million with some nice incentives for games finished that could take him to around $5 million (incentives distributed so it would be really hard to earn over $4.5 million). If he implodes as a closer, then 3 years, $9 million is a solid contract for a younger, LH set-up guy that is more than a LOOGY. And 3 years, $15 million for an “established closer” is a good deal that would allow the team to flip Affeldt after “establishing” himself as a closer. They idea could even be sold to Affeldt that his next contract would increase big time if he could “establish” himself as a closer. Maybe even go for a 2-year deal with a fairly expensive team option ($7 million) and a fairly inexpensive buyout ($300,000).

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  6. mymrbig says:

    Oh yeah, how funny is it that the Reds gave Francisco Cordero a rightfully criticized 4 year, $46 million contract and somehow also ended up with Affeldt as a bargain at 1 year, $3 million? Plus they get a comp pick if Affeldt signs elsewhere.

    Dave, since so many teams overvalue closers, do you think it would make sense for someone like the Mariners or Pirates to try and snag some nice prospects by dealing Putz or Capps, assuming they could ink Affeldt as a replacement?

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  7. Tom Au says:

    The Pirates picked up Phil Dumatrait off Cincinnati this year.Maybe they’ll do the same with Affeldt. Good tip, Dave, and mymrbig.

    Affeldt would be a replacement for John Grabow. The Pirates have Capps locked up till 2011 at an affordable contract.

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  8. mymrbig says:

    Tom Au, all the more reason to trade Capps! Because he is affordable, he fits the budget of a more teams than F-Rod or Fuentes, and he is a lot more desirable than the other closing retread alternatives like Izzy, Gagne, etc. And he while he is signed to a very affordable contract for 2009 ($2.3 million), he is arbitration eligible in 2010 and 2011 and probably won’t be all that cheap.

    Affeldt is too good to be a Grabow replacement, as Grabow is more of a LOOGY with big splits. Affeldt is equally effective against righties & lefties.

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  9. The Giants sign him for two years, $8M, or about what mymrbig suggested, though he might not won’t get the chance to close with the Giants. However, he could establish himself as a really good set-up guy who is ready to close with two good years and he’ll still be only 32 for the season he starts his next contract.

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  10. drillfork says:

    PEDs?…

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