How Are the Stars Being Acquired? Relief Pitching

Earlier we looked at where the best starting pitchers came from this year, this time let’s focus on their relieving counterparts. For the rankings I used plain ol’ FIP since relievers home run rates don’t regress to a central mean like starters and instead of the top 30, I used the top 15. Here are those players and how they were acquired by their current teams:

Phil Hughes – draft
Jonathan Broxton – draft
Chan Ho Park – free agent
Mike Wuertz – trade
Kiko Calero – free agent
Matt Thornton – trade
Brian Wilson – draft
Trevor Hoffman – free agent
Heath Bell – trade
Luke Gregerson – trade
Andrew Bailey — draft
Rafael Soriano – trade
Huston Street – trade
Joakim Soria – Rule 5
Joe Nathan – trade

The count:
7 traded
4 drafted
3 free agents
1 Rule 5

This is a similar pattern to the one established for starters. Of those acquired in trades, only Soriano and Street were truly established as top of the line relievers – although I suppose you could make the case that Wuertz was quite solid in the past as well.

Let’s take a closer look at the four drafted relievers.

Hughes was a former top-flight starting prospect for the Yankees. You have to figure he’ll make the transition back to starting at some point but Joba Chamberlain hasn’t flipped from Mariano Rivera’s Robin to the next Josh Beckett quite yet, so maybe the Yankees are hesitant to make the switch once more; no matter how easy of a long-term decision it seems to be.

Broxton too started games in the minors for the Dodgers. 50 of his 87 games came as a starter, and his numbers weren’t too poor in either capacity. The Dodgers let him make the switch full-time beginning in 2006.

Wilson is the only true reliever of the quartet. He started three games in low-A during his debut season and that was that.

Bailey started for the A’s throughout his minor league career. In fact, 47 of his 73 games came as a starter. He made the jump from Double-A to the majors this year in a full reliever capacity and hasn’t looked back.

The old adage is that anyone who can throw strikes can make it as a reliever. At the same time, a lot of failed starters are transitioned to the pen. Beyond the top 15 guys like Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, J.P. Howell, and even Trevor Hoffman were starters at some point in their career before making the transition.

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17 Responses to “How Are the Stars Being Acquired? Relief Pitching”

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  1. The Hemogoblin says:

    I think that there isn’t enough of a sample size here. I think that you should have done it the same way that you did the starters.


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  2. Matt Walsh says:

    Why don’t relievers’ HR/FB rates regress to a central mean?

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  3. Nateg26 says:

    I think that putting Paplebon’s name in the same sentence as the words “failed starter” is just totally false. Paplebon was quite good in limited time as a starter before his transition into closer. While some referred to his health concerns as reasons for keeping him a closer, I have never seen any real substance to that idea, nor do I think that labels him as a failed starter.

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    • Dirty Water says:

      Agreed. In fact, Papelbon was drafted as a closer from MS, was converted to starter in mL, and did very well as one, but is a closer today primarily because of how he absolutely dominated in the role in ’06. Papelbon has the pitches and command to convert back, if he so chose. Bet he’d be damn good too.

      Stating that Papelbon is a reliever today because he failed as a starter is akin to saying Joba is a starter today because he failed as a reliever. Neither failed. Instead, their respective teams slotted them where needed.

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      • B says:

        “but is a closer today primarily because of how he absolutely dominated in the role in ‘06”

        Or because of concerns about his shoulder imploding with a starters workload? If the Red Sox really thought Papelbon would dominate as a starter…he’d be starting. The simple fact of the matter is a good starter is worth much, much more than a good reliever.

        “Neither failed. Instead, their respective teams slotted them where needed.”

        Which basically makes this not true. Or it shows these front offices don’t understand the relative importance of starters vs. relievers? Or that they cater to fans/media that don’t understand? Take your pick, at least with the Red Sox they’ve built up enough credibility that injury concerns seem like they have to be the explanation…

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      • PhD Brian says:

        didn’t Papelbon say he preferred to close back in the day? My memory is that he liked closing more than starting and that was a big factor in the decision.

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      • B says:

        That sounds right (about his preferences), but I don’t see why a smart team like the Red Sox would let their investment make that decision (which is bad for the team) for them? I seem to remember it ultimately being about his shoulder, which is the only plausible explanation in my opinion…

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      • Dirty Water says:

        The Sox did go into ’07 slotting Papelbon as a starter. It was both Paps wish to close (and dominance doing so) along with no other option (Pineiro, really?) that put him there for good. Good thing too, having a dominant closer is underrated.

        I’m not sure about the shoulder thingy. I’ve read that relieving can be more stressful to a pitchers arm than starting would be. I don’t understand why but some apparently are of that opinion.

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  4. Wrighteous says:

    Is it just me, or do these lists not really say much about what is the “best” way to acquire players of certain positions? Small sample size aside, does the fact that most of the top relievers were acquired via trade or draft mean that those avenues are more effective for teams looking for a reliever?

    Or, does it just mean that there are more relievers drafted/brougt up through a farm system and traded in a given year than there are signed via free agency? i.e., it is easier and more cost efficient for teams to purusue relief arms in this fashion, therefore it is done more often, therefore it should be expected that a disproportianed number of traded/drafted relievers would be represented in the top ten.

    I just think this is an ineffective way of “proving” that teams are better off avoiding free agency when it comes to looking for relievers, if that is what you are trying to do. the same goes for the other positions you are looking at.

    Am I missing the point?

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    • Branch Rickey says:

      The best way to acquire players is to find talented players through the draft, free agency, amateur free agency, and trades by discovering these players through both good scouting and statistical analysis.

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  5. Tom B says:

    every writer on this site needs to STOP writing about hughes staying in the pen. get a clue.

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    • Dirty Water says:

      No doubt. Obviously the position is all Joba’s :)

      That said, would someone please explain to me how the MFY can win 100+ games, considering how the team’s FO has handled these two young starters? What a bozo operation.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        Having enough money to buy 4 WAR starters at any open position in every single offseason helps.

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      • Raf says:

        “That said, would someone please explain to me how the MFY can win 100+ games, considering how the team’s FO has handled these two young starters?”

        Having a 900-run offense helps a lot.

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  6. PhD Brian says:

    Solid bull pens are probably the easiest thing to acquire via free agency in baseball, but clearly it does not always work.

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  7. David Coonce says:

    Another thing to mention about Hoffman is that besides being a converted starter, he actually began his career as a shortstop, switched to the mound after a couple failed seasons at the plate in the Reds’ system.

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