Madson to Cincinnati

Walt Jocketty and his Cincinnati Reds have signaled to the baseball community that they believe the NL Central to be ripe for the taking in 2012.

The organization has been extremely bold this offseason. They opted to leverage several of their young, valuable assets — namely Yonder Alonso, Travis Wood, and Yasmani Grandal — to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, in hopes of complementing a potent offense that posted the fourth-best team wOBA in the league last season and catapulting the team into the postseason.

Cincinnati ratcheted up that aggressiveness even further on Tuesday evening by inking closer Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5M contract.

In many ways, this is an overpay by the Reds. According to the WAR-to-dollars conversion, Madson has never been worth $8.5M in a single season. Not only has Madson never been that valuable in a single season, but also only seven relievers were worth at least $8.5M last year: Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Sean Marshall, David Robertson, Mariano Rivera, Greg Holland, and Joel Hanrahan. Madson did approach that amount last season — as his +1.7 WAR estimates open-market value at $7.6M — but it is simply uncommon for any reliever be worth that much in a single season.

As has been illustrated countless times amongst the sabermetric community, relievers do not provide as much value as an everyday position player or a starting pitcher. For example, the most innings a reliever threw last year was 93 innings by Alfredo Aceves, while 137 starting pitchers threw at least 100 innings. The overall impact is lessened due to fewer opportunities.

Despite that fact, closers are still paid top dollar on the market. It is a ugly truth in today’s baseball economy. So when evaluating a closer’s contract, it is perhaps more informative to compare that contract to the other free agent contracts given to closers during that same offseason rather than by WAR and that corresponding monetary value, because the latter will almost always result in the same conclusion: overpay.

Here are the contracts given out to closers this offseason:

Closer Years Contract 2011 FIP
Jonathan Papelbon 4 $50M 1.53
Ryan Madson 1 $8.5M 2.25
Heath Bell 3 $27M 3.23
Jose Valverde 1 $9M 3.55
Frank Francisco 2 $12M 3.80
Joe Nathan 2 $14.75M 4.28
Matt Capps 1 $4.75M 4.75

In comparison to the rest of the closer’s market this winter, Cincinnati seems to have done a wonderful job guaranteeing the second-lowest amount of money to the second-best available closer. The only closer to get less guaranteed money is Matt Capps, who was terrible for the Twins last season.

The Cincinnati Reds may have overpaid Ryan Madson in terms of the amount of wins he is likely to provide in 2012, but by isolating the closer’s market, the Reds made out like bandits by signing Madson to a one-year, $8.5M deal. After all, he is the exact same pitcher who almost signed a four-year, $44M deal with the Phillies earlier in the offseason before that fell apart at the last moment.

With Madson now in the saddle as the closer and Sean Marshall able to remain in the set-up role, Walt Jocketty has fashioned what should be one of the best bullpens in the league next season. At the very least, it will be significantly better than the 2011 bullpen for the Reds.

Ryan Madson (+1.7 WAR) replaces Francisco Cordero (+0.1 WAR) = +1.6 WAR gain
Sean Marshall (+2.8 WAR) replaces Nick Masset (+0.6 WAR) = +2.2 WAR gain

Net Gain = +3.8 WAR

Thus, Madson and Marshall — if their respective performances remain similar in 2012 — should provide Cincinnati with a four-win increase in the back-end of their bullpen alone. This does not even include the natural improvements that will occur by shifting Masset, Bill Bray, and perhaps even Aroldis Chapman to the middle innings, where all three will be above-average.

Signing an established closer generally means having to overpay, which the Reds did do. In the context of the specific closer’s market this winter, though, the Reds signed arguably the second-best closer on a one-year, low-risk deal. Not only is the contract extremely team-friendly compared to Madson’s peers, but the Reds’ bullpen is significantly improved for the 2012 season and could legitimately become the best bullpen in the league, outside of Atlanta.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


54 Responses to “Madson to Cincinnati”

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  1. thomas says:

    Although I wish they had, the Reds did not in fact make the postseason in 2011.

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  2. clevelander says:

    is this dusty’s last stand in cincy?

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    • ole custer says:

      The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. “Vámonos, amigos,” he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.

      So…probably.

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  3. Ben says:

    The bullpen appears at the moment to be Madson, Marshall, Masset, Bray, Arredondo, Ondrusek and Lecure. I do want to point something else out though. The Reds keep insisting they want Chapman to start and are likely to have him begin the year in Louisville unless he beats out Bailey and Arroyo for the 4th spot in pitching rotation.

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  4. Colin says:

    I’ve read a lot recently that Chapman is going to be in the pen, but all indications from the team is that he will be starting, and beat writer John Fay has noted they will be willing to send him to AAA if he can’t crack the rotation.

    Also, though Marshall is taking Masset’s role he isn’t knocking him out of the bullpen so it’s not a straight WAR swap. Marshall is going to be taking innings that were occupied by guys like Jordan Smith and Carlos Fisher last year.

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  5. RMR says:

    Nick Masset is still a Red and will be pitching in middle relief, so Marshall should not be seen as replacing him. Rather it should be seen as replacing either Aroldis Chapman (50 IP, 0.6 WAR – headed to the AAA rotation most likely) or as bumping guys further down the line down to AAA. If you consider that Carlos Fisher, Jordan Smith, Matt Maloney and Jeremy Horst combined for 78 innings and -0.8 WAR.

    As of today, the Reds 2011 pen looks like this:
    CL: Ryan Madson
    RH SU: Nick Masset
    LH SU: Sean Marshall
    RH MR: Jose Arredondo
    LH MR: Bill Bray
    RH LR: Logan Ondrusek
    LH LR: Sam LeCure

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  6. Michael says:

    Maybe I am missing something, but if Sean Marshall had a 2.8 WAR last year, why wasn’t he included in the list of relievers worth at least $8.5M?

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  7. free agency is why says:

    Sean Marshall didn’t sign a free agent contract.

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  8. GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat says:

    We Reds fans are quite pleased with this development.

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  9. JWTP says:

    Is the replacement level for a closer or reliever defined the same way as it is for starting pitchers? Is there anything to having those be different or the same? I buy that the top closers are overpaid on the free market but feel like it’s not as dramatic as we think considering a team like last year’s Cardinals that rifled through closer candidates like crazy, blowing something like 30 saves, until finally sort of settling on Motte.

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  10. Mike D says:

    When you go 49-for-49 in save opportunities (assuming you don’t lose a ton a games for your team), $8.5 million is worth it, ex post. Ex ante for Valverde in 2012 is another story.

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  11. Bryan says:

    Is anyone else uncomfortable assigning dollar values to relievers based on WAR? There’s typically not a lot of variance among decent-to-great relievers, who are mostly worth between 1 and 2 WAR per year, and there seems to be room for interpretation up to about half a WAR, meaning that we can’t definitively conclude that a a 1.7-WAR guy had a better season than a 1.2-WAR guy. To assign millions of dollars to those decimal points may come with little risk when discussing long-term contracts for position players or starters, but in the reliever market, there seems to be a logical flaw in saying the Reds overpaid because Madson was only worth$7.6 million in 2011.

    I agree with your conclusion, of course, but there has to be another valuation method between $/WAR and the actual reliever market.

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    • sprot says:

      Lot of people are uncomfortable with it, mostly because its a stupidass way to evaluate transactions.

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    • James says:

      There was an article on here a few weeks back about the correlation between WPA and $ being stronger than WAR and $. I believe Matt Klassen, but I’m not positive.

      For the most part, I think the market’s valuation seems pretty fair.

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      • RMR says:

        Basically, teams pay for leverage as if it were a skill possessed by the player rather than merely a function of how the player was used.

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      • James says:

        There’s a mental/ethereal aspect to closing that can’t be quantified. Not everyone can do the job at a consistently high level. Right, Matt Thornton?

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      • Phils_Goodman says:

        Basically, teams pay for leverage as if it were a skill possessed by the player rather than merely a function of how the player was used.

        But the late-reliever is used in high leverage because he is typically the most effective pitcher on the team.

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      • TerryMc says:

        Actually there are often 4-5 better pitchers on the team. They are just being used as starters. I do get what you are saying though, teams put their best available guy in for what is percieved to be the highest leverage situation.

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      • Phils_Goodman says:

        Actually there are often 4-5 better pitchers on the team.

        I said most effective, not best. Lower the innings threshold and check the advanced leaderboards for ERA-, FIP-, K%, etc. You will see that it is crammed with late-relievers.

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  12. Brad Johnson says:

    “Ryan Madson (+1.7 WAR) replaces Francisco Cordero (+0.1 WAR) = +1.6 WAR gain
    Sean Marshall (+2.8 WAR) replaces Nick Masset (+0.6 WAR) = +2.2 WAR gain”

    This is where the FIP based WAR model makes things confusing. If we assume static WAR contributions, the result still deceives us since Cordero allowed nearly 2 runs per 9 less than his FIP. So we can’t actually interpret these numbers as the Reds gaining 3 wins over the previous squad since Cordero provided about a win of phantom value that is unaccounted for.

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    • Ian R. says:

      That may or may not be true. We can chalk up at least some of the difference between Cordero’s ERA and FIP to the Reds defense. Since Madson will benefit from essentially the same defense this year that Cordero had last year, we might expect him to outperform his FIP as well.

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    • regfairfield says:

      You’ve put far more thought into this article than the author did.

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  13. John says:

    Using $/WAR, especially to look at relief pitching contracts, is not analysis. Please.

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  14. Dekker says:

    fWAR for relievers should have more weight for inning leverage than it does. In Mario’s tenure with the Yankees, their record has easily exceeded their Pythag record. They have a better chance at eking out close victories due to performance in higher leverage situations.

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  15. sprot says:

    “As has been illustrated countless times amongst the sabermetric community, relievers do not provide as much value as an everyday position player or a starting pitcher. For example, the most innings a reliever threw last year was 93 innings by Alfredo Aceves, while 137 starting pitchers threw at least 100 innings. The overall impact is lessened due to fewer opportunities.”

    Well well, look at that. You mean to tell me that starters throw more than relievers? And that a model relying heavily on IP contributions somehow deems those starters as more valuable than the relievers? You dont say.

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  16. Chummy Z says:

    I’ll go with the rest of the folk here who don’t think that WAR is good for analyzing relievers, as it just treats them like small sample size starters. Even this site has had articles saying that maybe WPA is a better way of looking at it, and of relievers with at least 50IP in 2011, Madson had the 17th best net WPA. I believe the only pitcher on the market this offseason with a better WPA was Papelbon.

    And adding WAR, which uses a predictive FIP stat, to describe last year’s “net WAR increase” over the old bullpen is silly, as one person already mentioned, as Cordero significantly outperformed his FIP. It may not have been as pretty, but he did prevent runs from scoring.

    I love FG, but this was pretty lazy.

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  17. Robbie G. says:

    Do we know what officially happened with Madson, Boras, and Philly? Is it more or less an undisputed fact that Philly offered Madson four years, $44 mil and that Madson turned that offer down? Or is the truth more complicated than that? This appears to be a proverbial “epic fail” by Boras but maybe there are some facts here that I am unaware of.

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    • Colin says:

      Article on ESPN basically said that Boras thought they had a deal at 4 years 44 and Amaro said they were talking about it but that Papelbon became available for similar and they decided to go with him. So it actually does not sound like Boras totally f-ed his client, sounds like the Phillies just preferred Papelbon for a bit more.

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      • Cidron says:

        Prince Fielder, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, JD Drew, Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Jason Varitek, Rick Ankiel, and Kevin Millwood are all have two things in common. 1. They are all Scott Boras clients -and- 2. They are all unsigned while Scott plays out his traditional “slow play”. This year, it is going to cost him and his clients. Alot of those are serviceable for the right team, or teams. There are stars, was stars, and decent in the list. Boras just mis-read the market as he has for a couple years now. Yes, he will get his money, but…. he is costing his clients money by waiting PAST the time the market closes.

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      • Robbie G. says:

        I am not buying Scott Boras’ argument regarding what happened with Ryan Madson and the Phillies front office. Jonathan Papelbon is seemingly an upgrade over Madson but he is not a massive upgrade. Surely the Phillies (or any organization for that matter) would take Madson at one year, $8.5 mil over Papelbon at four years, $50 mil.

        It is impossible for me to believe that Philly did not convey their interest in Papelbon for slightly more than 4/44 (if $6 mil is “slight,” that is; I suppose everything is relative) to Boras. Boras should have recognized that Papelbon at 4/50 seemed like a better expenditure than Madson at 4/44 and counteroffered with, say, 4/36 or 4/40. Hell, 4/32 would have been significantly better than 1/8.5. It is also impossible for me to believe that Philly management would have opted for Papelbon at 4/50 rather than Madson at 4/32-4/40. It is also impossible for me to believe that Papelbon’s agent would not have subsequently lowered his asking price accordingly. In other words, it appears that Ruben Amaro, Jr. has cost his team $10-$15 mil by being unnecessarily aggressive in the free agency process, and it’s not the first or second time that this has happened while Amaro has been in charge in Philly.

        If Prince Fielder doesn’t get anything close to the kind of money that he was hoping he’d get, then we may see Boras lose quite a bit of business in the near future. It will be interesting to see if Boras conducts himself differently next offseason.

        I am an attorney and it disgusts me to see an agent not act in his client’s best interest. Extremely unethical behavior by Boras here.

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      • Phils_Goodman says:

        Surely the Phillies (or any organization for that matter) would take Madson at one year, $8.5 mil over Papelbon at four years, $50 mil.

        That is a false choice. You’re completely ignoring the procedural aspect of free agency (“development of the market”).

        If there’s an aspect of the Boras line that you should reject, I would start with the idea that the Phillies ever formally offered Madson 4/44.

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      • Dan says:

        The article doesn’t say that. Read Boras’s statements more carefully. He said that they would agree to such a deal, not that they had agreed to such a deal. Amaro’s response is the key–he asked why he would agree to a deal then not sign him?

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  18. nick says:

    Compared to other closer signings, it’s a good one. But the point you make midway through the article is the important one: teams (pretty much always) shouldn’t sign FA relief pitchers.

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  19. pft says:

    Any valuation method that treats the 6th inning in a blow out the same as the 9th inning in a 1 run game is worthless.

    For most teams, including the Reds, losing a few games a good closer would have saved is no big deal, but for teams expecting to W with large payrolls like the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox (under Theo), they understand the value of a good closer, who is also consistent.

    In Bailey, the Red Sox have a good closer, but a guy who has not thrown much more than 40 IP the past 2 years (meaning someone else is closing for 20+ innings) . Consistency (and durability) is priceless when it comes to closers.

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  20. Joe says:

    I believe its at least 8 relievers were worth 10 million. Sergio Romo had a 2.2 war season which at $5 mill a war is a little over 10 mill.

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  21. Andre says:

    I agree with the above comments that Fangraphs under values high leverage relievers. I’m also pissed the Angels didn’t sign Madson instead.

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  22. Antonio Bananas says:

    Was Venters not worth that much last year? I usually look at baseball-reference just out of habit, I think I remember him at over 3 WAR with them. I think his insane GB% justifies his low ERA.

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  23. bstar says:

    Combined WAR totals for the Braves trio(O’Ventbrel):

    bWAR: 10.4
    fWAR: 6.5

    Man up, Fangraphs, and admit your FIP-based pitcher WAR counts need some work.

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    • bstar says:

      Eric O’Flaherty is the third Braves reliever, maybe I didnt make that clear. He also posted 3.7 WAR at b-ref last yr.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        exactly, you can’t “well luck…” bullshit your way into saying FIP should be used only. Split the difference at least. If you think Venters lucked his way into having an incredibly low ERA, you’re crazy. Maybe some of it, but jesus that guy is sick. He’s so filthy, they’re thinking about installing shower heads on every seat so people can rinse off after washing him because he’s so filthy you feel like you need a wash after watching him.

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      • bstar says:

        Antonio, Eric O’Flaherty was an even bigger victim of his performance being downgraded by FIP. He led the major leagues in ERA at a stunning 0.98 but his FIP balanced out to 2.54. But of course luck had everything to do with that 0.98 ERA and his over 92% LOB%.

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    • Phils_Goodman says:

      What is this supposed to prove?

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  24. Antonio bananas says:

    On a related note, how awesome were the untouchables last year? Maybe the best year by 3 relievers ever? They essentially combined for 238.2 Cy Young innings out of the pen. Strikeouts, groundballs, disgusting.

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