The Tale of Three Overpaid Closers

Last off-season K-Rod, Kerry Wood and Brian Fuentes were considered to be the cream of the free agent crop for closers. Wood signed for $20.5 M with an $11M vesting option if he finishes 55 games for the Tribe next year. Fuentes signed a two-year, $17.5 million contract w/2011 option. Francisco Rodriguez signed the richest deal of the three, with a 3-year, $37M contract. Other than all three pitchers becoming very rich men last winter, what else do they have in common?

They have all been, by varying degrees, free agent landmines. K-Rod’s peripherals have continued their downward decline. While his ERA looks acceptable enough at 3.36, his FIP has gone up from 2.70 to 3.22 to 3.79 this season over 65 innings pitched. That’s good for 0.6 wins above replacement, worth $2.6 million, a mere fraction of his actual salary.

Kerry Wood has thrown 51 innings and his FIP has nearly doubled from last year, from 2.32 to 4.08. His strikeout rate is still good at 10 K’s per nine innings, but his walk rate from has doubled and he’s suffered some severe bouts of gopheritis. Wood has been worth a measly .5 WAR. At least for this season, the rebuilding Indians are paying him 5 times his actual value. Chris Perez, who came over in the Mark DeRosa trade, has better peripherals and the stuff to close.

Brian Fuentes has all but lost his job for the Angels to youngster Kevin Jepsen. Fuentes has 43 saves but an awful 4.48 FIP, meaning he’s more deserving of mop-up duty than high leverage innings. He’s been worth just .3 WAR.

Meanwhile, the best relievers in the game have either been homegrown, as in the case with Brian Wilson, Andrew Bailey and Jonathan Broxton, or they have basically been freely available talent like Heath Bell or David Aardsma.

Paying a high price for a “proven” closer just isn’t always the greatest idea.



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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.


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Dayton Moore
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Dayton Moore
6 years 10 months ago

This is precisely why i want to see the Red Sox trade Papelbon in the off season. Some team will surely over pay for him.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

I’d LOVE if the Red Sox did this:
Papelbon for a SS, Wagner close for a year (I know we said we wouldn’t pick his option up, but I think he’d be fine with it if the job was his). Yes, we’d be paying him $8 mil, but…13.94 K/9 Yes please.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

SSS obviously, but even if he regresses to a little below his career average of 11 K/9, gives up 3 BB / 9 and 1 HR / 9, that’s still a pretty good player to run out there.

Danny
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Danny
6 years 10 months ago

Id see it as more likely that we go after someone in the offseason to fill the closer position than keep Wagner, but Id be more than fine with it if Theo took the plunge. Selling high on Papelbon and getting an SS or another valuable piece would be great, especially sense Bards gonna be ready to close in a year or two.

Diaz
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Diaz
6 years 10 months ago

I’d love to see Theo do this. I am positive that a ballpen of Ramirez, Oki, Bard, MDC, Saito (assuming the option is picked up in this case), plus possibly the addition of one more low profile but solid reliever would still be very effective. In this case I would cash in on Paps and let Wagner walk for the 2 picks. Though I must admit, I am sometimes guilty of overvaluing draft picks, and undervaluing the importance of having a lockdown ballpen in a pennant race and then in the playoffs.

Felonius_Monk
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Felonius_Monk
6 years 10 months ago

I don’t think you’ll get two picks for Wagner. If he’s offered arbitration, it’s hard to see him saying no.

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

Francisco Cordero’s 2-6 record includes him in any discussion of overpaid closers. And unlike Fuentes the Reds have absolutely no business overpaying a closer, as they’re clearly in no position to contend. Not that that’s an excuse for the Angels, but it’s at least philosophically defensible.

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
6 years 10 months ago

Cordero has pitched very well this year. Certainly no where near his contract, but using his W/L record as a metric for success is a bad strategy.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

Thanks in no small part to a 3.1% HR/FB rate.

James
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James
6 years 10 months ago

I really don’t see the argument for anything besides W/L record for a reliever being relevant.

Not David
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Not David
6 years 10 months ago

I really don’t see the argument for anything besides W/L record for a reliever being relevant.

If you’re saying what I think you’re saying it’s one of the more inane comments I’ve read here.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took it as sarcasm.

Not David
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Not David
6 years 10 months ago

I would hope so, but it’s been getting increasingly more difficult to give up that benefit.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

Mariano rivera should blow some saves and let the offense win games in the bottom of the inning. Then he’d have a good W-L record and be superawesomeman.

James
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James
6 years 10 months ago

Can you put a good FIP in the W column? Didn’t think so.

(I’m being sarcastic fyi. Sorry just bored at work…)

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

Yeah? Have you watched him much? I hate to sully the land of metrics with the anecdotal, but I watch the guy week in and week out and he has a clean inning about as often as I win the lottery. I should know better than to refer to W-L without clarifying, but to say that a closer’s record is less indicative of his performance than other pitchers would be to ignore the unique situation in which he enters the game. In Cordero’s case it’s far more of an indicator than his peripherals (which are mediocre at best, especially the plummeting strikeout rate) or his ERA, which is almost a full run lower than his FIP. But please, tell me what he’s done well, especially if you never see him actually throw a baseball. I’m especially interested in people who think they know everything about a player based on numerical analysis.

TomG
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TomG
6 years 10 months ago

“Have you watched him much?”

This is one of the most patently absurd arguments ever. Thanks to this technological advancement called the Internet, people from all over the world are able to follow the performance of any playerat such an in-depth level, whether it be with up-to-the-minute box scores, game logs, or even down to individual pitches with PitchFX, that it would be like he were there himself. So, unless there’s something that requires direct visual evidence, like whether a pitcher’s mechanics are a bit off or if looks like he’s suffering from the aftereffects of some bad shellfish, there’s nothing that you, dear Armchair Scout, can ascertain that isn’t readily available to anyone with a computer and two bits of common sense. And, even on the two latter points, you can bet someone, somewhere, has already commented about it on some website or message board.

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

Actually, even a cursory perusal of Cordero’s numbers would show his deficiencies. Please, explain to me how a closer loses six games — and they are in a special position to have losses counted against them as they typically come in with a lead and no one on base, often against inferior stretches of the hitting order — and that’s considered pitching well. And yeah, I’d expect habitues of this site to assert that they can tell all without actually laying eyes on a player. But that’s your problem, not mine. The confidence people have in this sort of analysis is growing laughable, as are blanket assertions about the uselessness of ERA and win-loss records in evaluating players. There’s a vast difference between *there are better ways to evaluate players than ERA and w-l* and *ERA and w-l have no bearing on player evaluation*.

It’s amusing that you mention game log, Tom. if you’d looked at Cordero’s you’d see what I see. And PITCHf/x is suddenly reliable? Funny, last thing I heard there were all sorts of disclaimers about variability of pitch characterization (look up Brett Anderson’s slider and CB allocations some time) as well as dubious velocity readings. I’m sure you think you’re talking to some BBWAA slob who thinks the Cy Young goes to the guys with the most wins. Allow me to disabuse you of that notion. The inanity in this thread is concentrated in assertions that it’s all in the numbers. Thankfully FanGraphs is a lot smarter than its comments section.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Actually, blackoutyears, W/L record really doesn’t tell you anything about a pitchers’ performance, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be gleaned from more reliable stats. But to your question about how a closer could lose 6 games and still be considered good, Mariano Rivera lost 6 in ’01. He was his typical excellent self that year. Sometimes closers come into tie games. They almost always are the last line of defense. Any other pitcher who gives up the lead will leave the offense a chance to bail them out. If a closer fails, the game is over. Since no closer, not even Rivera, is perfect, they are more likely to see their failures show up in the loss column.

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

You can keep saying that wins and losses tell us nothing, but that’s simply because, lemming-like, you must. What can you tell me about Rivera’s wins and losses besides a number? Nothing, because you’ve been conditioned to disregard them. As always, it’s nice to see the comments here serving as their usual bastion of independent thought. You can challenge yourself or you can be a caricature. Your choice. Insisting that you can find out everything you need to know about a player with PITCHf/x and Baseball-Reference is amusing I’ll grant. I guess the saving grace is you’re too arrogant to realize how stoopid you look?

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

1) You’re looking at stats, too. You wouldn’t know a pitcher’s W-L record if you didn’t look at a stat sheet.
2) In 1983, Lee Smith went 4-10. 10 effin losses. Oh yeah, he also appeared in 66 games, threw 103 1/3 innings, had his best career ERA+, and converted 29 of his 33 save chances, and two of those blown saves were him being called in with runners already in scoring position. The next season, Lee Smith went 9-7, and his ERA doubled in the process, and gave up over 2 more baserunners per 9 innings. Looking at W-L record for a reliever is pretty much useless.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Blackoutyears, care to explain to me what, exactly, Rivera’s 4-6 record told you about him that year? You insist that it must say something, but you haven’t mentioned what it says. Because if tells you he was bad that year, you’re retarded. It rated among his best seasons in K-rate, BB-rate, FIP, appearances, innings pitched, and even saves (not that those mean much, but since you like W/L, I’ll throw you a bone). But yeah, he lost six games, so I’m sure he wasn’t good that year, right?

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

Nice try, Joe, but the misconception here seems to be that I think *a* 2-6 record is the problem, when in fact I’m talking only about Cordero’s. Four of his six losses have come in the last month, a period of time in which he’s pitched like dogshit for the most part. Because I actually *gasp* watch him pitch, I know this. I’ve seen his losses and his saves, and I know that the difference between the two is generally attributable to the Reds’ much improved defense. He was observably lucky in the first half and this stretch is a predictable regression. It is amusing that an off the cuff remark about a player’s record endgenders this sort of programmed response, to the degree that his mediocrity is defended and the efficacy of scouting is completely ravaged. Like I said, it borders on caricature or parody. I comment solely on players I’ve actually seen. Can anyone who’s responded here say the same?

And to the guy who said that Cordero has pitched well this year, I’d like to know by what measure. I don’t believe it exists statistically or anecdotally.

blackoutyears
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blackoutyears
6 years 10 months ago

Thanks, Kevin S. I was hoping someone would resort to calling me retarded; that’s how I know I’m on the internet. You know the second way I know I’m on the internet? People who’ve never formulated a profound analytical thought or created a statistical tool of their own present themselves as experts, as if I’m supposed to be impressed with what is simply an ability to parrot received opinions. I do see why you feel special. Which reminds me of the third way I know I’m on the internet: people are idiotic enough to think that they can actually persuade others. Fucking hilarious.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

I learned something today; apparently, there are only two types of people on teh internets, those who create models, and those who parrot. It isn’t possible to read something else, understand the principle, and decide it makes sense. Nope, parrotism. Still waiting for you to explain why you think wins and losses are worthwhile for relievers, and tell you something other stats don’t. All you’ve done is launch ad hominem attacks at people who think that other numbers tell the story to the point that record adds nothing to it. You made the claim, the onus is on you to prove it, or shut up and go away.

Oh, and as for calling you retarded? IF you think Rivera’s ’01 was bad because of his six losses, a conditional I used before and continue to use now, you are retarded. Sorry, that’s non-negotiable.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

blackoutyears is using an extreme end of the bell curve for his “point”.

It’s like when some old guy says “average is important, geeks, there’s a big difference between a .200 and .350 hitter”, you say “no shit you ignoramus, that’s a batting champ vs. a guy who probably shouldn’t be an MLB regular”.

Same here. 4 losses in one month, he pitched bad in this month, therefore, W-L record is significant. No shit.

Pitcher A plays for the Sucktown Sucks. He pitches 210 innings in 30 starts, giving up only 30 ER, strikes out 300, walks only 30. But because his team can’t field or hit well, he goes 4-16

Pitcher B plays for the Awesometown Awesomos. He pitches 150 innings in 30 starts, gives up 100 ER, K/BB of 1. Team hits behind him, he goes 12-8.

Who, among these two, is “better”? How much does W-L record “tell” us? Know how many loses Brian Wilson has? 5. David Aardsma? 5 as well. Let’s conclude they both suck.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

And I love the accusations of “parroting” and “groupthink”. Not only does that show an unwillingness to argue with facts and hard logic, it shows a misunderstanding of the word “groupthink”.

There’s a huge difference between “groupthink” and “consensus”. If you threw 20 nomadic people in a room 50 stories above the ground and gave them two options to escape, a window and the door. These people have never been in a room before, but after looking through the facts, realize the door is a much better option. This is a consensus opinion. If one leader said “let’s go out the window” and they all decided to follow, this is groupthink. Groupthink is taking a stand without inspection. Statistical analysts are the opposite; they inspect almost to a fault, and come to a conclusion. Often times, their views can clash, as well.

In conclusion, try to exercise the left side of your brain for once while you’re not busy skipping psychology classes at community college*

*this is a blatant, stereotyping, likely highly wrong assessment of blackoutyears. I said it anyway.

Felonius_Monk
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Felonius_Monk
6 years 10 months ago

with the possible exception of Mariano Rivera (who has not QUITE been worth his contract the last few years by WAR, but you’ve got to take into account the extra value for a constantly-contending team of having a shutdown closer in the post-season, plus the fact that they have the financial power to be able to pay over-the-odds per WAR to secure the absolute best talent in every position) it’s hard to think of a relief pitcher who’s been signed to a rich multi-year contract who hasn’t been a bust to some extent. You’d think teams would learn, but somehow the cache of having that “proven closer” continues to be siren song luring unsuspecting GMs onto the rocks.

TomG
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TomG
6 years 10 months ago

That Nathan guy hasn’t been half-bad.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

One thing about Nathan, check out his career BABIP. It’s low.

But it’s been low for years. Even as a starter, it was low. The highest it’s ever been is .286. This season his LD rate is low, but his career rate is 17.3%. Wonder how he does it.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

My first inclination was good outfield defense, but UZR/150 for Twins outfielders has them hovering around five runs below average for the past three years, and approximately average the two years before that. Further investigation would be warranted, but I’m lazy/hungry right now.

lookatthosetwins
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lookatthosetwins
6 years 10 months ago

Gomez is more likely to be in center, with span in left at the end of a close game. That alignment is very good. I don’t know for sure how much this has happened the last 2 years, and I they didn’t had a good defensive replacement like Gomez before last year.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

Yeah. I wish we could look at the UZR behind a given pitcher instead of just having to go by what the team did on the aggregate. Given the volatility of defense, it’s certainly possible they played better for Nathan.

Felonius_Monk
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Felonius_Monk
6 years 10 months ago

I actually thought Nathan was on a pretty small contract. I see now he’s on a 4yr-47m deal. Strange to see a small market team signing a closer to such a monster deal, but yep, it looks like they’ve beaten the odds there and got a winner.

They’ve been lucky so far with his health, though – if he misses a year (which is statistically quite likely to happen if you sign an ageing pitcher to a 4-year deal) it’s VERY hard for him to recoup that value.

James
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James
6 years 10 months ago

“This season his LD rate is low, but his career rate is 17.3%. Wonder how he does it.”

17.3% is low…..

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

His career BABIP is .264. Out of 1810 pitchers with 600+ major league IP, that’s good for a tie in 74th lowest ever. Many of the guys he’s in the company of played in the dead ball era.

James
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James
6 years 10 months ago

Dude… exactly. My argument was that a low LD% was causally related to his low BABIP…

That is a pretty remarkable stat nonetheless. The point is, he has 3 + pitches, and you just can’t hit any of them hard.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

.264 is low, even for that LD rate. Especially given he’s played most his career on a fast track and the Twins aren’t exactly running out the Mariners’ defensive outfield.

jirish
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jirish
6 years 10 months ago

Hey, I can’t prove it, but I think some guys, say a guy like Nathan, have consistently low BABIPs because he throws high quality pitches. The kind that batters consistently and repeatedly fail to square up. Stats DO show that, right?

Richie Abernathy
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Richie Abernathy
6 years 10 months ago

Obviously Jonathan Broxton is team controlled still. He will make a lot of money when becomes arbitration eligible, and later, if applicable, a free agent. It is nearly disingenuous to include him in comparison to guys that have the mlb service time that Fuentes, Wood, and Rodriguez have accrued.

Alireza
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6 years 10 months ago

Broxton already went to arbitration. He has 2 more years left and is in line for a massive raise.

Bobby Boden
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Bobby Boden
6 years 10 months ago

Forgive me if I’m stating something that’s obvious, but is a lot of the variability in relief pitcher performance attributed to the small sample size of innings that they pitch over the course of a season? Over 60-70 inning stretches a lot of starting pitchers can look brilliant, or terrible, but over the course of an entire season, it tends to even out more.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

Yes, but usually steady declines in K/9 is predictive of problems. All 3 have had it.

Felonius_Monk
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Felonius_Monk
6 years 10 months ago

None of these guys was a truly elite, top-5-in-the-game reliever when they signed the contracts. K-Rod had a declining K/BB rate, Fuentes was NEVER a truly elite relief pitcher, and Wood was held together with elastoplasts and popsicle sticks and thus must be said to have had a hugely elevated injury risk compared to an average pitcher.

I could just about stomach those sort of contracts for a Papelbon, Nathan, Rivera or a Soria, but Brian F’ing Fuentes? The same Brian Fuentes who’s never walked less than 3 per 9, who’s had a FIP less than 3.40 precisely once in an 8 year career, and who lost his job as a closer just two years ago because he kept on getting shelled and had a 4.15 FIP?

Andrew P
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Andrew P
6 years 10 months ago

Shouldn’t Rafael Soriano be on this list? His ERA only acceptable at 3.16, but his FIP is at 2.67, which better than some of these guys. His K/9 are good, and so are his HR/9.

On the other hand, he’s split closing duty with some of the other guys on the Braves relief staff, so he doesn’t have a ton of saves. He’s had a rough time since the All-Star Break. This is not his best year, but considering he’s only 29, and his WAR is 1.8, I think he’s worth just about what he’s getting paid.

Dirty Water
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Dirty Water
6 years 10 months ago

Does WAR account for this value?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu43lbTrvOQ

Nats Fan
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Nats Fan
6 years 10 months ago

that is just wrong!

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 10 months ago

As a dude, I love Papelbon.

You just know he’s going to unintentionally Rocker-out one day, though. Like not on purpose, but just say something stupid.

b_rider
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b_rider
6 years 10 months ago

>In other words, it took K-Rod a couple of months to earn what he’s actually been worth to the Metropolitans all season long.

Huh? I don’t understand this sentence.

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

It only took him a couple months to receive the salary that he’s been worth over the course of the year, according to FG’s WAR and win-value calculations.

James
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James
6 years 10 months ago

Yea I had trouble with this too at first:

In other words, it took K-Rod a couple of months to earn (in salary) what he’s actually been worth (in wins) to the Metropolitans all season long.

Erik Manning
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6 years 10 months ago

Yeah, I was a little behind the 8-ball this morning, didn’t have the time to edit as I would have liked.

Nathan
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Nathan
6 years 10 months ago

Even though he was signed mid season, ya gotta include Brad Lidge in this post. He has been worse than K-Rod, Fuentes, and Wood, and he is getting paid more.

Awful.

Dirty Water
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Dirty Water
6 years 10 months ago

Lidge is only half of it; I don’t see Philly doing anything in the playoffs with a bullpen that continues to wilt under pressure. Lidge, Myers, Park and Madson need a shrink, and fast.

anon
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anon
6 years 10 months ago

or maybe stop filming for that inane yet fun show of theirs for the time being.

neuter_your_dogma
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neuter_your_dogma
6 years 10 months ago

Now hold on, it is only fair to consider Lidge’s value last year. An argument could be made that the Phils don’t sniff the playoffs without Lidge and his low 2s FIP. As far as this year, just regress a little to 2008 during the playoffs Brad and I’ll be happy.

Gilbert
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Gilbert
6 years 10 months ago

If the current generation of career closers produce several Lidges and Gagnes, who are just unbeatable for a few years and fade, for each Joe Nathan, wonder whether Lee Smith will get reconsidered as HOF material. 500 saves looks reachable if you get 40/year, but unlike HR’s you can’t keep accumulating 25-30 per year if you are the #2 on your team.

The Fonz
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The Fonz
6 years 10 months ago

You might want to leave Gagne out of the discussion, since we already have an idea of where that came from.

RydeBlindWagner
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RydeBlindWagner
6 years 10 months ago

Brian Fuentes has 43 saves (in 50 attempts). Jepsen has zero saves in zero opportunities. Its hard to understand how Fuentes is displaced.

Benne
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Benne
6 years 10 months ago

Is this supposed to be sarcasm?

Pete
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Pete
6 years 10 months ago

This is a joke, right?

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 10 months ago

I think he’s saying Fuentes hasn’t been replaced from the Closer-with-a-capital-C role by Jepsen because Jepsen hasn’t had any save opportunities yet, not that Fuentes is a better pitcher.

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