The New Wave of Relief
Are relief pitchers the new market efficiency? As new minds and fresh ideas invade traditional, or better put, current baseball sensibility, old customs are tossed aside in favor of statistic driven approaches that are these days less and less taboo. Once oft used batting average has fallen to the wayside in favor of stats that encompass more aspects of offensive production than just “hits”, fielding percentage has been all but forgotten and catchers have been scrutinized recently for their ability (or failure) to create strikes on the fringe of the zone.
This brings us to today’s look at relievers, and a possible trend that could have teams digging through the farm teams, rule 5 draft and even the scrap heap for viable late inning arms. Tampa Bay, who is considered one of the top teams in evaluating and developing pitchers is a great example of executing a low cost revolving door of relievers. We all know Kyle Farnsworth, who fell out of favor in NY only to land down south and give the Rays some quality innings. One of the very best relievers of 2012, 35 year old Fernando Rodney, was by some accounts found in a dumpster somewhere in southern California looking for a job when the Rays pulled him from the abyss and resurrected, nay, created a career for him as a closer. The reigning champion San Francisco Giants lost their 9th inning man to Tommy John surgery, but instead of hitting the panic button they reached from within and rode Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo’s arms all the way to a title.
On to the Yankees, who by every evaluation has had the benefit of having the absolute best closer of all time shutting the door for the last decade and a half. That has, however come at a cost, topping out at 15M per season the last several years. Now I’m not going to make the case that Mariano hasn’t been worth his weight in gold… no one has ever put up the kind of numbers he has over such a period of time, and none of us are likely to see it again. Paying for past performance is not uncommon in MLB, and for quite some time Mo was locking down games for a penance, so coughing up the cash these last few years for both present and past accomplishments is not by any stretch a raw deal. Mo will make at least one last run at a title after taking a small pay cut but still a sizeable amount. Moving forward however, and with a budget minded front office at the helm the team will need to look within to help hit that self imposed mark. Gone will be the days of having 25 million or more tied up in a pair of relievers; when Mo retires, so shall shelling out starter money for one inning thrills. Don’t get me wrong…I’d pay to have another Mariano, but that isn’t going to happen lest Mo Jr. can channel his old man’s greatness. Relievers are the most volatile in the business, and you have to ride the hot hand and know when to fold. With the future of the bullpen in mind let’s take a quick look at who could be sewing up the latter innings over the next few years.
Chase Whitley is probably the closest to landing a job in the Bronx bullpen, as he’s got some significant innings at SWB in 2012 and some solid numbers to go along with it. He started off in Trenton but only hung around for a handful of innings, and then moved on to the traveling circus that was our AAA team. He ended the season with a 3.09 ERA, striking out 66 on the year while walking 25. He held batters to a .207 average as a solid piece to their pen all year. He’s not the flashiest guy in the pen but he’s consistent and can chew up a fair amount of innings. A fairly fast riser, Branden Pinder, skipped Charleston and went right to Tampa in 2012, finishing the year throwing a few innings for Trenton. He threw 69 innings with a 67/29 K/BB, a 2.74 ERA and a .260 average against. Pinder combined with Jose Ramirez for a no hitter earlier this year, and will be looking to push his way to AAA in 2013. He’s another guy that could soak up some middle relief innings if he stays on pace and could be a part of the 2014 bullpen that will no doubt be on a tight budget. Another right handed pitcher that finished his year in Trenton is Tommy Kahnle, who has been reported to light the radar up to triple digits and can rack up the K’s about as well as anyone in the system. He had a bit of a rough go in 2011; while he struck out 112 batters, he walked 49 and got touched up to the tune of a 4.22 ERA. He harnessed a bit more control in 2012 pitching to a 2,37 ERA over 57 innings, walking 24 hitters while striking out 74 and holding them to a .162 average against. Kahnle will be in his age 23 season in 2013 and could well get himself a callup in September and a shot at the ML pen in ’14.
With Boone Logan in his last year of arbitration, now might be the time to sell on him. With a career high in appearances and innings in 2012 and a mix of lefties to choose from for 2013 I’d be looking to include him in any packages that might come up in the coming weeks. Cesar Cabral, impressed in ST earlier this year but ended up on the DL. If he can return to his spring form he might get himself a look. Another option is Juan Cedeno, who has played all over baseball for a number of parent clubs the last ten years put in 64 innings of work and pitched to a 2.81 ERA with a 57/21 K/BB, and a .273 BAA. He got touched up a little during fall/winter leagues dropping to a 3.49 ERA, but to his credit he pitched a lot of innings during the stretch of the year. Last but certainly not least is right hander Mark Montgomery, who has drawn numerous comps to David Robertson. Not only are their K rates both in 14/9 range, but his release point is similar to D-Robs in that his stride brings him closer to the mound, making his low 90’s FB play up a bit in the eyes of the batters. He features a slider that he can change the grip on slightly depending on the handedness of the batter, making it dive away from right handers and sink more like a curveball against lefties. He’s been a fast mover and I know a lot of people are really looking forward to seeing him as soon as possible, but I think he’ll stay stashed away for at least part of 2013. I have Whitley as one of the early callups in case of injury or ineffectiveness, but Montgomery could be soon to follow. This is just a handful of the arms that look to be part of the future NY Yankees bullpen; some will fade and other stars will rise, but the horizon looks pretty good for having the late innings protected, and at a fraction of what we are used to paying.