The Best Setup Guy on the Market

Just because I find it interesting, a comparison:

Joaquin Benoit: 217 batters faced, 30 hits, 6 HR, 11 BB, 75 K
J.J. Putz: 219 batters faced, 41 hits, 4 HR, 15 BB, 65 K

Benoit was marginally better than Putz a year ago. Putz has a significantly better track record than Benoit. Yet, it was essentially a consensus agreement that Benoit was the best setup reliever on the market, and he’s the one Detroit paid a premium to sign early in the offseason. But, given their respective careers, wouldn’t you rather have Putz going forward?

After all, Putz has done this before. In 2006 and 2007, he was one of the best relievers in baseball, non-Rivera division. Over those two seasons, he threw 150 innings, walked 26, and struck out 186. In 2008 and 2009, he had some arm problems, lost some command and velocity, and couldn’t match his previous dominance. This year, healthy again, he returned to something not that far from his prior levels. His 2.87 xFIP was essentially a dead-on match for what he put up in 2007.

For Benoit, though, this was something totally new. His walk rate was half of his previous career low, and his strikeout rate was nearly two batters per nine innings higher than anything he’d ever done before. He had a great year, but it’s the only great year he’s ever had.

Benoit, of course, has had plenty of arm problems himself, so he doesn’t really have that advantage over Putz. It may seem like Benoit is younger because he got to the big leagues at an earlier age, but they were both born in 1977. Ability to get lefties out? Putz can do that, too.

I’m struggling to find any real reason to prefer Benoit to Putz, honestly. Putz has a better track record, had a similar 2010 season, and has proven experience in the closer role (if you’re into that kind of thing). His agent should send the Levinson brothers a Christmas card, because there’s a pretty easy argument to be made that if Benoit can get a three-year deal, Putz deserves one too.

He probably won’t get one, as most big league GMs have figured out that multi-year deals for relievers are a bad idea. But he certainly has the right to ask for one now – he’s just as good, if not better than, the guy who just set the market.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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