Kerry Wood, Joel Peralta and the 3-Year Reliever Club

Yesterday, Dave Cameron examined the grim history of 3+ year contracts dished out to free agent relievers over the past four off-seasons. The Cliff Notes version? Those ‘pen arms, save for the anomaly that is Mariano Rivera, have provided a paltry return on investment for their respective teams. After a few years of fiscal restraint, four relievers have received ample job security from clubs this winter: Joaquin Benoit (Tigers), Scott Downs (Angels), Matt Guerrier (Dodgers), and Jesse Crain (White Sox) all signed three-year contracts. If recent history is any indication, a few of these deals might elicit more forehead slaps than high-fives in front offices over the next three seasons.

In contrast to the long-term commitments given by the Tigers, Angels, Dodgers and White Sox, the Cubs and Rays each added a talented reliever for peanuts on Thursday. Kerry Wood will reportedly return to Wrigley Field on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Joel Peralta, curiously non-tendered by the Nationals after a season in which he posted a 3.02 FIP and a 3.64 xFIP, is on the verge of signing a one-year contract with Tampa Bay for $900,000. Take a look at the 2011 Bill James projections for Wood and Peralta, compared to their much pricier free agent peers:

There’s not much separating the guys who are locked up through 2013 for a hefty sum of money from the guys who signed for table scraps. It’s true, Wood and Peralta are far from sure-fire success stories. In a 2010 season split between the Indians and the Yankees, Wood was limited to 46 innings pitched due to DL stints for a strained muscle in his upper back and a blister on his index finger. He has been placed on the DL 14 times during his career. Peralta is one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in the game — his career ground ball rate is 32.5 percent — and he’ll likely surrender more homers next season.

But it’s not as though the three-year relievers are without their flaws: Benoit has a history of shoulder and elbow problems, Downs has missed time in recent years with ankle, toe and hamstring issues, and Crain has a labrum surgery and another DL stint for shoulder tendinitis in his past. Guerrier has pitched above his peripheral stats, but do you really want to wager that his BABIP will remain below .240 in Dodger Blue? There’s uncertainty for both the bargain-basement and big-money relievers. But if Wood and Peralta get hurt or fizzle out next year, their teams can move on without much pain. If injury or performance issues creep up for the three-year guys, their teams have long-term headaches to deal with. Not that the money involved would cripple them, but no one likes to burn payroll on an employee who contributes about as much as Stanley Hudson on The Office.

And, in the case of Peralta, there are circumstances that could mitigate some of the worries over his fly ball tendencies. Peralta will be backed by an outfield featuring some permutation of Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist. Carl Crawford‘s gone, but these guys have plenty of range. Plus, Tropicana Field takes the juice out of power hitters: according to StatCorner, the land of the cowbells decreases lefty home run production by 11 percent and righty homers by six percent.

Given the information that we have at our disposal, there’s little separating Wood and Peralta from the three-year reliever club, other than cash and commitment length. Kudos to the Cubs and Rays for adding quality bullpen pieces without paying a premium price over a number of years for a volatile type of free agent.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


31 Responses to “Kerry Wood, Joel Peralta and the 3-Year Reliever Club”

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  1. Souldrummer says:

    Very much agree with this. Wood was a hometown discount, so it’s hard for me to give the Cubs but so much applause for that. I’m also curious to hear if there any significant incentives in there because I’m so incredulous about those terms.

    While I’m not overjoyed with the Nationals for not signing Peralta, there bullpen is crowded with younger arms that they think could eventually close for them in the longer term. Right now their pen is Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Colling Balester, Craig Stammen, Cole Kimball (prospect that impressed and has to be on the 40-man), Adam Carr (prospect they like that has to be on the 40-man), their Rule 5 guy (who has to stay on the 25 man), Henry Rodriguez (who is out of options). Basically, they decided that they wanted to go younger. Not saying I agree with it, but that’s their process so it’s not like Rizzo totally lost his mind on this one.

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    • Jack Weiland says:

      Why shouldn’t they receive credit for getting a “hometown discount”? Just seems like being stubborn about giving credit where it’s due. No matter what they signed a decent piece to a nice deal, and they resisted any urge to go longer than necessary. The Cubs have made MANY free agent mistakes, but when they get one right at least give them the kudos they deserve.

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      • jirish says:

        You are correct. It’s a great deal, Wood goes where he wants to go and he’s made enough money in the past that he doesn’t have to worry about that part of the deal. And yes, kudos to the Cubs for seeing that.

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  2. We get it. says:

    Reliever + multiyear contracts= not good. We get it.

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    • Bill says:

      I think the point of this article wasn’t that 3 year deals are bad, rather that equivalent talent can be picked up for less with less risk. It’s a similar point, but different enough that I thought it was worth a read. You didn’t have to read it.

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      • We get it. says:

        If equivalent talent couldn’t be picked up at less cost/risk, then multiyear deals for relievers wouldn’t be so bad. It’s a different side of the same coin. And it’s getting beaten to death.

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    • NWS says:

      damn these writers for forcing us to read their free content!

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  3. the fume says:

    I can’t believe Wood only got $1.5M. He must want to pitch in Chicago.

    Obviously a lot of teams do not believe in the Bill James projections.

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    • Otter says:

      He’s also hurt all the time. It’s Kerry Wood.

      Peralta has to be hurt, that’s the only thing that explains any of his offseason.

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  4. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Nice read, David. We’re pretty happy with Peralta and the Minor League contracts so far, but I’d still like to see us get a Balfour-type back. We’re trawling for guys that can get one side or the other out, but we’re going to need someone to pair with McGee, and eventually Howell, that can get out both types of hitters. Here was my breakdown of Peralta:
    http://dockoftherays.com/2010/12/16/who-is-this-guy-a-comprehensive-look-at-joel-peralta/

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  5. Paul D. says:

    Wood will be a bust…did you notice his strand rate and babip to go along with an awful walk rate with the Yankees to go along with that “sterling” ERA? There is a reason that guy got a one year deal….He will be buried into low lev situations by mid May….

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  6. “There’s not much separating the guys who are locked up through 2013…”

    But what is separating them is the certainty. Peralta has been a bad reliever for essentially his entire career, he’s dropped in a couple good seasons, but has essentially been fortunate to have the ML opportunities he has had.

    Wood has shown flashes of dominance, but you can’t even expect 50 innings out of him.

    As such, while the other pitchers were more pricey, you’re paying for that certainty of both durability and quality. Odds are, the three that were more expensive will have substantially more valuable seasons in 2011 based on past performance.

    Further, using Guerrier’s FIP is a mistake in my opinion. Clearly Guerrier is an outlier. His career ERA is more then a run less then his FIP. In 5 of 6 full seasons he has provided numbers to this extent due to an outstanding BABIP which clearly he has some control over.

    So the long term contracts are risky, yes, we all know that. They are risky for every position on the field and seemingly more so for relievers. Of course it would be better for the Yankees to sign Teixeria to a year to year contract based on performance bonuses, but that’s not going to happen in this, or any market.

    One of the issues that is being ignored here is that teams are signing some BAD arms (Danys Baez was Peralta “good”, not Benoit good) to long term contracts. However this year, we have some okay to good arms signing these contracts.

    The difference then, isn’t marginal, it’s that teams would rather have a ‘safe’ option at the end of their bullpen instead of paying for a flyer like Peralta or Wood. Fact is, you can find a flyer in MiLB FA or anywhere and save money. But to have a guy that you can rely on, not so much.

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    • Ari Collins says:

      The issue, as has been pointed out numerous times, is that no reliever (okay, maybe Rivera) provides any kind of certainty. Every one of those three-year deals given out in ’06 was to a reliever with good performances over the previous several years, and yet most of them pitched at replacement level. So you might as well save money and get the same performance, a la Kevin Towers run in SD.

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      • “Every one of those three-year deals given out in ’06 was to a reliever with good performances over the previous several years…”

        False:

        Schoeneweis had two seasons with a FIP below 4.

        Context:

        Walker was 36 when he signed that contract. This would be like comparing Matsui’s contract to Dunn’s.

        Speier was simply a bad signing. His 3 year average FIP and xFIP in Anaheim were pretty close to his career numbers. His contract would be like signing Melky Cabrera to a multi-year, big money deal.

        Baez, again, another bad signing. A 30 year old reliever that had seen his k/9 decrease by 2 over a 4 season stretch?

        Further, this was a “different era”. We’re looking at relievers that could have benefited from PED’s, let’s not forget about what happened during the winter of 2007 and how many players showed up to 2008 Spring Training looking like teenage versions of themselves.

        If things are looked at in a glass bubble – as they are in the previous article – it’s easy to point out flaws. When things are looked at in context, you begin to understand it completely.

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    • 81 says:

      You’re ignoring that reliever performance fluctuates dramatically from year to year. This is a paradigm. So you’re not paying for certainty, because there’s a growing (and growing!) body of data to suggest that certainty is not (or shouldn’t be) a consideration when offering contracts to most relievers.

      You’re also ignoring that the crop of relievers to sign multi-year contracts this off-season aren’t really models of reliability themselves.
      Benoit has had a host of shoulder and elbow problems that forced him into a minor league contract with the Rays last season after missing out on 2009 and posting a 5.71 FIP in 45 innings as recently as 2008.
      Crain and Guerrier have had stable careers but it’s hard to imagine Crain maintaining the value of his contract as he’s exceeded 1 WAR exactly one season his entire career, posts an uninspiring K/9 and is moving to one of the more generous hitter’s parks in the AL.

      The point of this article is not that these GMs are paying for certainty, it’s that you can’t buy certainty.

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      • I think the “data” that supports the reliever conundrum is insufficient.

        The first problem we have is with sample size where a conclusion is drawn after one season.

        The second problem is with measuring the value of a reliever, WAR is clearly a statistic that does not work for relievers and definitely not for WAR/$ for relievers. That is to say, do we really believe that the Padres would trade a 2.4 WAR reliever in Bell for a 2.4 Ian Kennedy? As is, a 2.4 reliever is much more valuable then a 2.4 starter as finding a 2.4 starter is much easier then finding a 2.4 reliever.

        Third, we have the issue with “what” and “who” a reliever is. There are career MLB relievers (Marmol, Bard, Rivera, etc), there are swing man relievers (ie an OK 6th starter – see Brian Tallet), there are replacement relievers, there are “can’t handle starting” relievers, etc, etc, etc…Utilizing the available data and grouping all relievers together is a mistake and as such will create results which are not telling the full story. That is, grouping Rivera with Schoenweis would be like grouping Pujols with Everett, it simply does not make sense.

        Thus, the position of a reliever should be treated for what it is, closers in one group, set up in another, middle men in another, LOOGYs in another, and so one.

        Similarly, the pay scale for a reliever should be treated in a similar fashion. Where the cost per win is relative to that of a reliever in a similar role, not relative to that of a position player.

        Further, it should not be assumed that Benoit 2010 flyer’s grow on trees. Yes, it is easier to develop a solid bullpen through a game of blind darts then it is a rotation, but it is no sure thing to success. This is the same in all facets of the game where spending does not equal winning. It puts you on the right track, but it doesn’t assure anyone of that.

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    • Greg says:

      The point is not that Wood and Peralta are incredibly safe, but that the big-money guys are far from sure things as well. Benoit had a fantastic year, but is quite far from a reliable option.

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      • They are safe in terms of the fact that the “worst case” scenario isn’t that big of a deal, it’s only one season after all.

        As a reliever, Benoit has been fairly reliable. At least compared to Wood and Peralta.

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    • Eric R says:

      “In 5 of 6 full seasons he has provided numbers to this extent due to an outstanding BABIP which clearly he has some control over.”

      In three of those six years though, his BABIP has been right in the ‘normal’ range [.291, .300, .360] and the other three rank as low to absurdly low. So the real question is how unlikely is it for an RP to have three really low BABIP and zero really high ones, over the course of six years.


      I could only find a handful of RPs with BABIP under .280 ages 25-31 [debut 1990 or later, with atleast a couple years post 31]:

      Wagner .276->.259
      ..
      Rivera .264->.263
      ..
      Benitez .241->.284
      Foulke .247->.285
      Howry .278->.296

      So, the two all-time great kind of closers improved or maintained their BABIP… the other three regressed to the mean. Granted five pitchers is too small to make much of a conclusion from…

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  7. Sox27 says:

    I’m very fearful that Jesse Crain will be the new Scott Linebrink

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  8. Steven Ellingson says:

    Guerrier has an ERA over a full run lower than his xFIP and FIP for his career, which is just under 500 innings.

    Tango has said that he generally takes the halfway point with relievers, as they have shown more of an ability to control things like LOB% and BABIP than starters. Guerrier is probably the worst arm on the list, but it’s probably closer than it looks from that chart.

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  9. Jeff Wise says:

    The one year deal for average relievers is the smart thing to do. Sometimes that is extra added pressure on the pitcher to perform. If he then shows consistency to perform at a high level you award them at that time.

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  10. pft says:

    I can not believe the Red Sox or Yankees would not have offered Wood 4-5 million. Unbelievable he gets signed for 1.5 million. Maybe the Cubs have the goods on him and he was forced to sign.

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  11. Paulie L. says:

    The only team that had a chance to sign Wood for $1.5m was the Cubs. Comparing his situation to that of the FA market is asinine. It has been reported several times that Wood and his family love Chicago and he would like to retire as a Cub. He is a special case.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Whenever players only pitch 40-70 Inn a season, their performance can fluctuate wildy … almost like a good month or bad month for a batter. A horrible 4-7 ER outing for a reliever can basically wipe out 10 or so quality appearances.

    Even good relievers can come in and walk 2 guys at the wrong time.

    Ryan Franklin and Brad Lidge are other examples. Same pitchers, two drastically different seasons in 2009 and 2010 (both guys).

    Perhaps someone can provide some research done on relievers, showing how many IP they need to accumulate in order to get a relaible read on their “true talent”?

    IMO, these two have ben discussed at length. Peralta’s season last year is about 180-degrees from his career performance.

    Wood is always an injury risk. So, that also factors into their salary. I do agree on the premise that if they are bad, the money risk is minimal.

    However, with most relievers, IMO, the risk is not in the money (as it is with some other positions), but in that they are taking up a roster spot of someone that might help the team … and well, when a reliever screws up, there isn;t very much game time left to overcome it.

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  13. AA says:

    Guerrier’s deal is idiotic, but playing in Dodger Stadium should help his HR/FB rate

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