The Inexplicable Non-Tender

While it is an overused writing cliche, I can still think of no better way to drive home this point, so let’s use the old anonymous player comparison.

Relief Pitcher A: 49 IP, 1.65 BB/9, 9.00 K/9, 26.2% GB%, 3.02 FIP
Relief Pitcher B: 62 IP, 2.02 BB/9, 8.23 K/9, 32.5% GB%, 2.81 FIP

Pretty similar pitchers, right? Both are extreme flyball guys with good command and strikeout stuff. Pitcher B throws a little harder, but Pitcher A throws a curveball, giving him less of a demonstrated platoon split. Overall, they’re coming off pretty similar years.

Pitcher B is Rafael Soriano, generally considered the best closer on the market, and a guy likely to cash in with a mutli-year deal for significant money this winter. Pitcher A is Joel Peralta, who was inexplicably non-tendered last night.

I have yet to see an explanation for why the Nationals cut their best relief pitcher loose, and unless there’s a significant off-the-field issue that hasn’t become public yet, this looks to be one of the strangest decisions of the year. After dominating Triple-A and earning a promotion, Peralta was simply lights out for Washington last year.

Among relievers who threw at least 40 innings in 2010, only two issued fewer unintentional walks than Peralta, and he pounded the strike zone while also striking out 26 percent of the batters he faced. It’s not like his traditional stats were lousy, either – his ERA was 2.02. Even his career long struggle with giving up the longball wasn’t really a problem, as he allowed just five home runs.

Sure, Peralta would have been able to take those shiny numbers to arbitration, but given his previous salaries and experience, he wouldn’t have been able to command more than a couple of million dollars for 2011. As a guy who had to settle for a minor league contract last winter, trying to extract a big raise would have been impossible. Wilson Betemit had a similar season on the offensive side of things, starting the year in the minors and then performing once he got called up, and he accepted a $1 million offer from the Royals yesterday.

Considering that the Nationals will have to pay the league minimum to whoever replaces Peralta, their savings by cutting him loose is probably going to be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is chump change for a Major League team, and deciding to part ways with Peralta over that kind of money is honestly baffling.

Peralta will be just fine. Now free to negotiate with any team, he won’t have a hard time finding work. His 2010 numbers compare favorably to almost every other reliever on the market, and while it was the first year he’s ever been this good, that didn’t matter for Joaquin Benoit. In fact, there’s a good chance that Peralta will make more now that he’s a free agent than he would have through the arbitration process.

While Jack Cust, Russell Martin, and Bobby Jenks will draw all the attention, Peralta is perhaps the most interesting player set loose yesterday. I’ll be curious to hear Mike Rizzo’s explanation for this one. From a cost/benefit standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

58 Responses to “The Inexplicable Non-Tender”

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  1. You would pay “a couple million dollars” for a career 4.31 WHIP? His career has had moments of success, but we’re looking at a guy who really has no prior history of being a dominating reliever. I think if you could find some data to suggest that his 2010 numbers were legit this might be a story, but with what you are presenting, I’m walking away unfazed. It truly doesn’t seem like a mistake to save “a couple million dollars” on a 35+ year old on a building team.

    Another strange comment, “the Nationals cut their best relief pitcher loose”. I’m certain you are familiar with the fact that WAR has him as the 3rd best reliever on the squad (tied) – forth had they retained Capps.

    With that in mind, the explanation is simple. Storen isn’t going anywhere. So yea, I guess you are right, it doesn’t make sense why a rebuilding team didn’t want to spend “a couple million dollars” on their 4th best reliever. I suppose you imagine that the Indians are a LOOGY away from the playoffs?

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    • Bryz says:

      You mean 4.31 xFIP, his career WHIP is 1.22.

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    • Temo says:

      That doesn’t really explain it, since there ARE teams out there that will pay $2M on essentially a 1 year contract on a player coming off a year like Peralta. He’s got value as a trade piece at the very least.

      The Marlins used to hoard relievers like Peralta all the time– sign a bunch of them to a minor league contract, keep the ones who perform well and flip them for assets (or keep them until they’re too expensive, then flip them). They were able for the longest time to operate a cheap yet capable bullpen while also obtaining free trade chips.

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    • Lee says:

      4.31 ZOMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111

      That’s a bad WHIP for a coach in batting practice.

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  2. Lintyfresh says:

    Not that I agree with this, but on Nationals Fan Forum, a common saying is LAC (Lerners are Cheap). Saving a few hundred thousand dollars is exactly the type of thing they do.

    They run the team as a business, not as a baseball team.

    It’s their decision obviously, but it sure makes it hard to root for the team when the owners just don’t care about the on-field product.

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    • Jason B says:

      I think the basic premise of that common saying is generally true – setup men are VERY fungible assets, so why sink 3-5 million bucks in one?

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    • Adam says:

      I’m willing to bet that when they need to spend the $$$ to contend, they will (see Zimm, Strasburg and Harper). Signing Dunn woul dhave been a huge mistake. Peralta is fungible. They’re still a couple of years away…be patient.

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      • highrent says:

        while Peralta is not a big lost, he was very likely to make about what tampa is giving him now maybe a bit more and the cost savings they get is negligible where if Peralta gets even gets anywhere close to last years FIP this is a win for Tampa and a head scratcher for the Nationals. You should treat relievers like bullets and use them year to year but if you can there is no reason to not keep the good bullets around for reasonable prices unless you have a farm full of super relievers ready and waiting. Its ultimately not a big loss but still a head scratcher.

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  3. Andrew says:

    It’s funny to see that Jack Cust has a wRC+ nearly identical to Adam Dunn, who just received 56 million.

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  4. drstankus says:

    So, this wasn’t about Eugenio Velez?

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  5. Temo says:

    Peralta signed a minor league contract last year with Washington last year and he probably had similar offers from other teams.

    In situations like that, when the contract for the major league team is near zero-risk and the player has multiple suitors, it’s not unusual to see the player negotiate a promise from management that they will cut ties at the end of the season at the player’s request.

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  6. Oscar says:

    “Among relievers who threw at least 40 innings in 2010, only two issued fewer unintentional walks than Peralta.”

    Early nominee for worst cherry-pick of the Fangraphs offseason? Haha

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    • Temo says:

      Yea, would have made his point just fine by citing his low BB/9 rate, no need to go all Fox Random Stat Graphic on us.

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      • TCQ says:

        Don’t get this. 40 IP threshold and throwing out IBB’s? Seems pretty reasonable.

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      • Lee says:

        Agreed with TCQ. I didn’t see this as a stretch either.

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      • Temo says:

        It’s just awkward is all. So among pitchers with at least 40 IP, only two issued fewer UIBB. So does that mean that Peralta pitched 49 IP, gave up 4 walks but we’re not including someone who pitched 10 more innings and gave up 5 walks? I don’t know if we are or not, but that’s the point.

        A guy with a higher usage rate could have more walks, but not have less control than a guy with a lower usage rate. So why not use a rate stat when you can?

        Also, do you know how many walks the average reliever had last year? I don’t, off the top of my head, because I’m used to it being expressed in rate form.

        “Among relivers who threw at least 40 innings in 2010, only 8 had a lower walk rate per 9 than Peralta.”

        There, clearer and more representative of his performance last year. (I didn’t take out IBBs, because I don’t feel like looking them up, but you get the idea)

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      • JH says:

        “It’s just awkward is all. So among pitchers with at least 40 IP, only two issued fewer UIBB. So does that mean that Peralta pitched 49 IP, gave up 4 walks but we’re not including someone who pitched 10 more innings and gave up 5 walks? I don’t know if we are or not, but that’s the point.”

        No, the cutoff is relievers who threw at least 40IP. It’s a pretty standard cutoff when you’re trying to find guys who put in substantial work out of the ‘pen, and guys who were just up for a few weeks at a time throughout the season.

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      • JonnyBS says:

        It’s not about the cutoff point. It’s about using rate stats instead of counting stats.

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    • Choo says:

      Early nominee for worst nit-pick of the Fangraphs off-season.

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  7. Lintyfresh says:

    According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the team offered him a one year deal, but Peralta asked for two years… and I guess they didn’t want to do arbitration, so they cut him loose.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2010/12/the_joel_peralta_non-tender_ex.html

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    • Mark says:

      Peralta was brought in on a split contract last year with an invite to the MLB camp and was evenually called up to the big club. I think it’s crazy to think that he’d be able to win more than $1.5 in arbitration. And would likely have to take more like $1.0-1.2. I cannot think that anyone would believe he’d get $2+M from the arb. panel.

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  8. timo says:

    Can you guys do something about that intrusive ARCO ad?

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  9. Matt says:

    Not that it was a reason why he was non tendered, but if any player is due for a MAJOR regression, it’s Peralta. Once that BABIP gets back to .300, all bets are off.

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    • Temo says:

      His FIP says that he’s due to regress to a mark that’s still pretty good. His FIP was similar to Neftali Feliz last year (though obviously Peralta pitched to much worse batters in lower-leverage situations).

      Relievers often overperform their FIP, so Peralta’s “expected” ERA was probably like 2.80 for the year.

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  10. Steve says:

    Perhaps you can do a companion post called “The Inexplicable Tender” about the Angels offering a contract to Jeff Mathis (at a minimum of $1.3 million) despite all the evidence suggesting that he is one of the worst players of all time.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      Mike Scioscia’s radiation addled mind seems to think he’s better than Napoli, so there’s that.

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    • Socrates says:

      This was clearly one of the worst tenders, but frankly not suprising. Scioscia clearly has a favorite. Napoli should demand a trade. I bet Boston would be there in a heartbeat.

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  11. Lee says:

    He’s a flyball pitcher who has shown difficulty keeping the ball in the park.

    That being said, his peripherals show promise, and specifically if his control and K rate he showed last year indicates a real improvement of his true talent, to the tune of say 8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, it’s hard to think this his HR/FB won’t settle in to league average, making this non-tender a real mistake.

    They must’ve felt he was very fortunate to pitch so well this year. It’ll be interesting to see where he lands and how he pitches next year.

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    • Brandon says:

      A 34 year old repeating a career year? Wasn’t the Uribe signing ripped for this same reason?

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      • quincy0191 says:

        Except Uribe’s 31, and he had a better season in 2009, so if he had a career year, he’d easily be worth that contract.

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      • 32 in 2011.

        2009 does trump 2010, although it’s close.

        Fact is, FanGraphs walked away unimpressed about a 32 year old “who hasn’t produced that many above-average years in his 10-year career.” Yet Peralta who has provided even fewer “above-average years” throughout his career should be tendered a contract for a couple million?

        I’m missing the logic.

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  12. Brad Johnson says:

    Seems like a pretty straight forward decision. Look at the Nationals 40 man roster, they have practically 15 swingman/middle relief types. It makes sense that the most expensive and oldest middle reliever is the one to go. They might get 40 IP at a lower quality next year, but they aren’t really looking to compete yet so it’s better to have the roster flexibility and extra shekels.

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    • hk says:

      Yes, but coming off of last season, it would have been worth the risk to keep Peralta – even if it meant going to arb – and trade him (or keep him and trade one of the other swing man / middle relief types).

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  13. Brian says:

    Maybe the Nationals remembered Mike Hinckley pitching 13.2 innings in 2008 with a 0.00 ERA, 0.805 WHIP and 6 K/9, only to show up in 2010 with 11 walks in 9.2 innings before getting cut.

    That said, I don’t understand this move at all either.

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  14. Mark says:

    It would definitely make sense for a contending team to keep Peralta, but this post seems to make his season and future projections more rosy than they actually are. In a 40 inning sample, there’s only so much information that can be derived. His BABIP was .219 and his HR/FB was a tad low. Additionally, when about 75% of the balls a guy lets in play wind up in the air, that cuts off a huge element of potential tactical value. It makes it difficult to use him against any kind of hitter with power when in a road bandbox stadium as well as against hitters who have high HR/FB marks. He was pretty awful in 2009 with the Rockies, and while you can cry small sample size, it was only 15 fewer innings, and it wasn’t a HR/FB issue. Bill James projects him at a 3.79 FIP next year. Yes, that’s a decent value at under $2 million, but its not such a great value that a team that is still building for the long term absolutely must keep. He’s not putting butts in the seats and he’s not controlled or young enough to be relevant in a couple years when the Nats might be able to realistically compete.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Agreed. I don’t understand how Dave can write that article without addressing the BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB% numbers.

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  15. Paul says:

    I think you’re overstating things by a good bit, Dave. Putting a lot of stock into a 49-inning sample from 35-year-old-to-be reliever with ridiculous flyball issues. Given the up & down nature of relievers, there is a pretty good chance that Peralta’s season was a complete fluke and he will regress severely when his BABIP comes back to Earth.

    The investment probably wouldn’t have been much for Washington, though some of the comments have shed light on their reasoning, but even still it probably wasn’t a necessary investment given his age and their status as contenders.

    I just think you may have blown this one a good bit out of proportion ignoring the obvious age, sample size and fluke potential within Peralta’s line. Generally I’d see a piece like this elsewhere and then you or one of your colleagues here ripping it to shreds pointing the obvious flaws in trumpeting a 49-inning middle relief sample.

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Paul

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    • Lee says:

      He had 33 fantastic innings in AAA too, though. Additionally, it looks like he has made a holistic change to his approach in the last 1-2 years, which should lead us to believe last year is a closer indication of his true talent than we might otherwise assume.

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  16. Am I the only Kevin? says:

    It is not that has to be kept. It is that he is very likely to have significant trade value even if he gets $1.2M in arbitration. Tender him, and trade him for a “lottery ticket” prospect to some contending team like the Yanks, Rays, or Twins who have some spots open in their bullpen.

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  17. The Nicker says:

    This decision is kinda befuddling but the same thing can be said about the non-tenders of Jack Cust, Taylor Buchholz, and Andrew Miller.

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    • Jim says:

      Given that Cust was outrighted off the A’s 40-man roster at some point last season(and eventually had his contract purchased from AAA and re-added later), it’s not really befuddling that he was non-tendered. Not only do the A’s think they can do better at DH, but they probably will do better by pursuing a free agent to replace Cust(and of course, they still probably envision Chris Carter as the long-term answer there).

      I totally agree with the other 2, and they were both done by Boston. And Miller’s non-tender after already surrendering an asset to acquire him is what makes his non-tender all that much worse. Coupled with the non-tender of Okajima, and Boston’s bullpen is dangerously thin right now.

      (And I was also taken by surprise by the J.P. Howell non-tender, but the work on the street seems to be that the Rays and Howell have an understanding that he will sign a minor league contract with them, so I guess we’ll see.)

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      • Socrates says:

        After the story the other day about when Howell might be ready, he will pretty much have to prove health before anyone signs him to a real contract. That source was clearly from the Rays organization. I would be pissed if I was him.

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  18. Socrates says:

    I’m sitting on the toilet the other day passing the time thinking about how good the Nationals bullpen is going to be in 2011 (I live in DC so root for the Nats, although I am really from NY and a Yankee fan).

    Storen (3.58, young and likely getting better)
    Clippard (3.07, 11.1 SO/9 and 6.8 H/9… what did the Yankees get for him?)
    Burnett (2.14, 8.9 SO/9… a lefty but dominated righties .487 OPS)
    Slaton (3.10 ERA, .385 OPS vs Lefties)
    Balester (2.57, 12.0 SO/9 and 6.4 H/9 granted in only 21 innings)
    Detwiler (4.25 ERA but better in relief) – he might end up in the rotation)
    AND
    Joel Peralta (2.02 9 SO/9, 5.5 H/9, and 1.7 BB/9. Put another way he struck out 5.5 batter for every 1 he walked)

    The rotation is going to stink (EVEN IF THEY SIGN LEE) so they are going to need the bullpen to stay in games. Unfortunately, Rizzo (who I have generally been pleased with) made one of the most suprising moves (to me at least) since Big Z traded Brandon Morrow for Brandon League (if that doesnt work we can do comparisons of Kazmir for Zambrano, or Chris Young for Adam Eaton, or even John Danks for Brandon McCarthy).

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  19. vivaelpujols says:

    Reliever stats are very volatile. He was below replacement level in the previous two years. Perhaps the Nationals didn’t want to shell out money for a player who they projected as average at best and who they could replace with their farm system?

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  20. Socrates says:

    Peralta has always shown talent. He is not replacable that easily. It is clear that with a guy like Benoit getting 18M for 3 years, that Peralta at 1.5M would have been a great trade asset now or during the season. Easily worth the money.

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  21. CircleChange11 says:

    Okay, but this was one 49 IP season sample at age 34. The rest of his seasons are trash. So, either he figured out how to pitch at age 34, or his 2010 season was a major outlier.

    Ryan Franklin is a closer for a playoff-caliber team. Life isn’t fair. But Perelta’s stats over his career and not just looking at ONE season, show a completely different story.

    I would have thought that comparison of one player’s season and another player’s single season, given different career paths, historical stats, age, and situation, would be frowned upon at FG.

    Soriano’s K/9 numbers have ranged from 9 to 12. What the data-mined numbers show is that Peralta’s absolute best ever season is comparable to basically Soriano’s worst … and Joel is 3 years older.

    I don’t see the big deal really. This site continually talks about how replacable relievers are, how they aren’t worth the money, how they’re just failed starters, and then we get a stretched/forced comparison to frown upon a case where a team elected not to overpay for an outlier season.

    Consistently inconsistent.

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  22. Paul says:

    The overrating of Joel Peralta in these comments is hilarious. Methinks a lot of it is merely because Dave wrote that it was a bad move so those who read and trust his opinions feel it MUST be true.

    This isn’t even close to the worst move or worst non-tendering around. It may not have been the best move, but please stop pretending this guy is Mariano Rivera and not just your garden variety reliever whose luck hit big in 2010.

    FORTY NINE INNINGS!!!!!!!!! (or 80-something if you REALLY want to harp on the minor league innings of a 34 year old journeyman reliever).

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    • Jason B says:

      …although there are a lot of commenters taking the diametrically opposite take – that Peralta is all-over-the-board over the past few years and as such is pretty easily replacable.

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  23. Socrates says:

    1) I dont even know who Dave is. I could care less about defending him.
    2) Peralta is not as good as Soriano. He might be for a short time, but he is not that good.
    3) The idea that Peralta had 49 good innings is not accurate. He had ONE bad year as a pro… in Colorado. The rest where good.

    Expanding on the last point. I dont have time to look at advanced stats, but his WHIPs by season are 1.212, 1.235, 1.279, 1.329, 1.581(in Colorado), and 0.796. That equals a career WHIP of 1.219. That is actually really good.

    Saying “49 inning!!!” is clealy blinding yourself to most of the facts. I am not saying that Peralta should have been treated like a closer. I am saying that he should be treated like a potential setup man and as a solid trade chip for a team that needs them.

    When the Nats tender Alberto Gonzalez at over $1M. They should be able to afford a reliever with a career 1.219 WHIP at the same price.

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    • Socrates says:

      So I just realized… Dave is the one that wrote the post. I get it, but I am not sure why we would feel inclined to defend him. I am defending Peralta. A guy I think has pitched a lot better OVER HIS ENTIRE CAREER than most of the relievers that were tendered contracts today.

      ALBERTO (F-ING) GONZALEZ!!!???

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      • K says:

        Gonzalez already agreed to $600,000, not over a million. I still thought they would have kept Peralta, low risk/good potential reward and I think that was the point of the article.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I brought up “49 IP” because THIS is THE site that preaches about Small Sample Size.

      I am not saying that he is or isn;t a decent chance at reliever. What I was expressing was not understanding why we’d compare one year of Peralta to one year of Soriano.

      Especially considering we’re talking about relievers (i.e., small sample size, fewer innings, more randomness)

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      • Paul says:

        Same reason I brought it up, Circle. I was blown away to see a FG author, especially Cameron, trumpeting a 35 y/o journeyman reliever based on 49 innings.

        My point isn’t that he’s a completely worthless entity, just that it’s hardly as big a deal as it’s made out to be. It may have been worth tendering him and either holding or moving him for a more useful (to them) asset, but given the volatility of relievers, especially those whose top season is built solely on a brilliant BABIP, is staggering.

        His career up until the Colorado season yielded 249 innings with a 4.45 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9. The latter of those numbers just about ensures the ERA will always be 4.00 barring a season rife with luck (see also: 2010).

        He’s a career 1.9 WAR pitcher and 0.7 of that came last year (37%). He may go succeed elsewhere or he may have his BABIP return to this stratosphere, continue to yield flyballs at an absurd rate, drop back to a ~7 K/9 and post a 4.20 ERA in 60 innings somewhere.

        There were 74 instances of Peralta’s career line or better last year (~60 IP, 7.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9) so I’m sure they’ll find someone to plug in.

        I’m not necessarily suggesting it wasn’t an error to let him pass, just disagreeing strongly with the degree to which is may have been an error as implied by the piece and subsequent comments.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I don’t have an issue with the conclusion, only the methodology.

        IMO, if a new reader made the same comments, he’d receive a lot of smug comments along the lines of “Come back when understand statistics” or “Feel free to speak up again once you understand sample size”.

        I would keep him around and see how the next season goes. But, I don’t get too worked up about a team non-tendering a reliever who just had his best season at 34 over 49 Inn.

        There is also a chance that some other stuff played a factor in the decision. I don’t know what goes on in the club, front office, on the road, etc.

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  24. Socrates says:

    Well we can nitpik the Soriano comparison (I agree that was not a fair comparison), but the author is right about the non-tender being boneheaded. Whether there are other non-tenders that are as bad or not is pretty irrelevant (I think the non-tendering Cust and Encarnacion but keeper Kouzmanoff was stupid too).

    He (the author) thinks this one was the worst, and without analyzing all of them, I tend to agree. I conceed I might be biased as I am a Nats fan AND spent an otherwise productive Sh*t thinking about the Nats pen just yesterday.

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