The old adage about death, taxes, and something consistent being the only fixtures in life has a baseball offseason equivalent. The Royals signing a former Braves’ hotshot, the Red Sox making a splash, and the Angels signing a late-inning reliever are offseason givens. The Halos penned Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney to a pair of two-year deals over the last two offseasons, and added this year’s version with Scott Downs on Friday night. Unlike his southpaw predecessor and bullpen teammate, Downs received a three-year deal, not two, with the total worth at $15 million.
Playing for the Blue Jays has its disadvantages. One of those is being treated as an afterthought on the American soil. Downs has long been one of the best relievers in baseball. Since converting to the bullpen permanently in 2007, his FIP have been (in ascending order): 3.24, 3.39, 3.33, and 3.03. The mainstream statistics reflect Downs’ success just as well, as his ERA is 2.36 over those 236 innings pitched. For comparison, Mariano Rivera’s career ERA is 2.23.
Downs is a lefty and with all that written you know he dispenses emotional pain to lefties without issue (Downs’ career line versus lefties: .223/.292/.339), but his career numbers versus righties (.274/.344/.428) don’t tell the improvement he’s managed since moving out of the rotation.
Righties haven’t hit above .250 against him in each of the last four seasons, they’ve managed an on-base percentage over .320 once, and a slugging percentage over .340 once.
The Angels signing Downs is a bit of a surprise. All along, the name supposedly on their wishlist was Mr. Rafael Soriano. And yet, Downs is presumably cheaper than Soriano (what, without the proven closer tag and all) while possibly being just as good:
Downs (2007-2010): 7.8 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 2.36 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.46 xFIP
Soriano (2007-2010): 9.84 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 2.61 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.60 xFIP
Whether Downs will be used as the Angels’ closer or just as a setup man shouldn’t mess with his WAR too much. He’s been worth at least one win in each relief season. That means, at $5 million per season, he’s as good of a bet to reach that plateau as any setup man in the game. If a team is going to pay a setup man market price, then it may as well be Downs, even if he’s got as many career blown saves as successful conversions (16 apiece).