From Yahoo.Sports: (from Forbes.com)

Baseball’s free agent shopping season opened Friday, and it’s unlikely to show any effects of the economic slump. Led by New York Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, teams are signaling a willingness to spend.

But if general managers are looking to save a few bucks, there is one smart tactic they can take. That’s resisting the urge to improve their relief pitching by spending big on the “closers” out there on this year’s market – those one-inning relief pitchers whose jobs are mostly limited to finishing out games in which their teams build a lead after eight innings of a nine-inning game.

snip…

Last year, 20 of baseball’s 30 teams increased their spending on the closer spot. The result? Those teams won no more games than they did the previous year, on average (in fact, the average victory total went down by a fraction of a game per team). Meanwhile, the nine clubs that decreased spending on the position won more than they did in 2007, by an average of two games apiece.

Those stats vary some from year to year, but stretching them back to 2004 shows a virtual dead heat between those clubs that put more of their budget into the closer spot from the previous year and those that put less. Over the past five seasons, the victory totals for both groups have fluctuated by about one win per team. That means the closer plays a relatively small roll in the ups and downs of a club’s fortunes. Yet GM’s seem increasingly infatuated with them – the average closer made $4.3 million last season, up from $2.7 million in 2004.

True, teams with higher-paid closers usually win more than those without them. But that’s because those teams tend to have higher total payrolls; they’re spending more all over the field. On a percentage of payroll basis, there’s little difference. The 10 winningest teams of 2008, including the champion Philadelphia Phillies, devoted an average of 5.2 percent of their budgets to the closer spot. That’s just a hair above what the league’s bottom 10 teams invested.

The article goes on to contrast the Brewers closer situation and by extension their payroll situation and the Reds.

Data shows that when it comes to pitching, depth is the real key. This past season, Milwaukee Brewers closer Salomon Torres (3.49 earned run average, 28 saves) didn’t have quite as good a year as veteran Francisco Cordero did in 2007 (2.98 ERA, 44 saves), but Torres made $2 million less than Cordero, who went to Cincinnati after the 2007 season. But the Brewers won seven more games and made the playoffs, thanks largely to management’s ability to swing a midseason deal for star starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who went 11-2 down the stretch, spurring a flurry of ticket buying for the games he started. No doubt, shedding Cordero played a role in the Brewers’ ability to take on a portion of Sabathia’s $11 million contract.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, won only two more games than they did in 2007 (74 vs. 72), despite lavishing $8.6 million on Cordero.

Which again raises the issue, was the Cordero contract worthwhile?

18 Responses

  1. rpa

    well, cordero may or may not be worth the money, but the key point in the article:

    “Data shows that when it comes to pitching, depth is the real key.”

    if the reds can still put together a good pen with the money they are spending for cordero, great. otherwise, he’s overpaid because of the impact he has on the rest of the team.

    given the reds financial situation, i would still give up cordero for free to a team willing to take on his salary. there are better ways they could spend the money.

  2. jinaz

    FWIW, last offseason’s going rate for wins on the free agent market was about $4.4 million. So, if the only difference between the 2007 and 2008 clubs was Cordero, and he was the reason for the 2 win “improvement,” then the Reds got market value for their contract with Cordero.

    Of course, Cordero wasn’t the only difference… And Cordero’s rate jumps to $12 million next season…
    -j

  3. Dan

    Cool – thanks for that, Justin. That does put this whole discussion in context.

    It illustrates why it’s probably only smart for teams that are very close to being playoff contenders already to dip into the free agent market.

    Teams like the Reds need to be building in other ways, and probably building with an eye toward 2-3 years in the future rather than 2009.

  4. Dan

    How many wins do you think the Reds would need to make the playoffs in 2009? Say, 88 or 90?

    How frequently does a team make a 14-to-16-win improvement in one season? I hope Castellini sees how delusional it is to keep saying “we’ll be competitive next year.”

    This was a 74-win team last year, and that was about right given the runs scored and runs allowed numbers.

  5. Dan

    (All that said… I will admit that I am irrationally high on Milton Bradley and I irrationally want the Reds to go after him. We need an infusion of OBP in the lineup in the worst way.)

  6. Ellis

    Of course the Reds need an infusion of OBP, but not an infusion of OBP that will play a few weeks in the OF and then land on the DL for the rest of the year. Bradley has no place in the field and should be relegated to DH duty. Gammons has him ending up in Toronto…

  7. Scott

    The problem is that the question ” Is he worth the money” in baseball is a relative, since there is no cap. Coco in ultimate terms is probably not worth the money but just because they spent this money doesn’t mean they can spend more. No one on the outside knows what finite financial resources the Reds have so it’s hard to argue if it was wise or not. If spending this money means they can’t spend other money then it might be dumb, but maybe they wouldn’t have spent this money if it wasn’t on him. Until we know the limitations of a team’s financial resources, it’s all just relative.

  8. GRF

    With the “glut” of closers on the market I don’t think we are in the best position to move him, so at this point I think the salary is a sunk cost. At the time I certainly thought the contract was worth it. Now that we appear to be farther away from contending, the extra 3-4 wins he might provide probably are a luxury (although I got in trouble for using that word before) if the money could be deployed elsewhere.

    The problem, as Dan points out, is that we do not know if that is the case. Putting it another way, if his contract blocked us from extending Affeldt (and I think that was a good deal from the Giants) and picking up a bat, then his contract now probably is not “worth” it. Depending on what happens, if someone gets pitching desperate mid-season, maybe there is a move to be made.

  9. Deaner

    A good closer is definitely worth it IF you have a starting pitching staff and team strong in fundamentals to keep the team in games until the later innings. The Reds don’t have either, so spending that much on a closer doesn’t help the team as much as it would others. Take the Cardinals for example… they blew 30+ saves in 2008. If they had a decent closer it’s likely that they would have won AT LEAST 10 more games and made the playoffs.

  10. Y-City Jim

    The Cordero indicates that management thought the team was closer to contention than they really were. Now that it is obvious that the team isn’t close to be a contender perhaps they should deal him for some young talent.

  11. Dan

    No human can make a 10-game difference while pitching 60-80 innings. I think it literally can’t be done.

  12. GregD

    Did the Cardinals blow 30 saves in the 9th inning? I’m pretty sure that some of the blown saves in the boxscores come from losing leads in the 7th and 8th inning.

    Based on saves alone, the 2006 trifecta of Weathers, Coffey, and Guardado had 28 saves and 13 blown saves.

    Cordero had 34 saves and 6 blown in 2008.

    That’s a 6.5 game swing.

  13. justcorbly

    Was Cordero worth it?

    Depends on how many games they would have lost without him. And there’s no way to determine that.

    The Reds paid the market price for a closer with Cordero’s record. The choice is paying a lot for a reasonably known quality or taking a risk by paying less.

    There’s a reason the rich clubs pay big bucks for big stars.

  14. pinson343

    The bullpen was much improved last year, and the biggest single difference was obviously Cordero. The estimate of his value at 6.5 games seems reasonable, but if anything it’s conservative. Remember what the 7th and 8th innings were like in 2007 ?
    Saying his value was only 2 wins because we won 2 more games in 2008 is just plain dumb.

  15. Deaner

    Greg D and Dac,
    I went to Baseball-Reference and checked this out. This Cardinals lost 13 games in the ninth inning and 2 games in the tenth.

    In their case, a good closer (one person) would have, most likely, made a 10-game difference.

  16. GregD

    Did the Cardinals have the lead in all 15 of those games or were some of them ties?

    Another point about the Cardinals…they DID have a proven closer in their bullpen. Isringhausen (for $8 million in 2008) had saved 205 games w/31 blown in 6 seasons with the Cardinals from 2002-2007 (avg 34 SV w/ 5 bs per year).

    Another thought in determining how many games a closer like Cordero can save you…who is he replacing? Is he replacing the 2005/06 bullpen of no ones? Or is some of that money going to other bullpen help? For example, should you go after 1 Cordero or should you add 3 Jeremy Affeldt’s to your bullpen.