Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Could Have $50 Million Bought Your Team? Part Three

On Monday and Tuesday, you showed how you spent $32.27 million of your $50 million budget on eight position players and five starting pitchers.  Today, you are going to detail what is often a team's hardest portion of the payroll to control.  At this moment you have $17.73 million remaining to acquire six or seven relievers AND somehow assemble a bench.  This was certainly not an easy task. 
In 2008 the Milwaukee Brewers used nearly that amount of money on just three members of the bullpen: closer Eric Gagne ($10 million), set-up man David Riske ($4 million) and Salomon Torres ($3.2 million).  These three combine for 21% of the team's total payroll for the season.  For $17.2 million, the front office of the Brewers had purchased 168.6 innings of work and a 4.48 ERA (2 Win Shares Above Bench).

Smarter organizations have learned to approach their bullpens with more fiscal responsibility.  The American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays had a budget of almost half of the Milwaukee Brewers yet managed to piece together one of baseball's best bullpens.  Troy Percival ($4 million), Dan Wheeler ($2.8 million), Trever Miller ($2 million), Grant Balfour ($500K) and J.P. Howell ($397K) were compensated $9.69 million combine, exactly 21% of the team's payroll.  By investing 43% less than their National League counterparts in Wisconsin, the Rays were able to acquire - either through a trade or free agent signing - five members of the bullpen that accounted for 302.9 innings and a 2.91 ERA (not to mention 20 Win Shares Above Bench). 
With your limited finances, you had to tailor your approach to follow the Rays model and ignore the "brand-name" relievers that were on the market. 
Long Man/Middle Relief | RHP | Chad Durbin | 4 WSAB | $900K
For you, the signing of Chad Durbin was an insurance policy.  While with the Tigers, Durbin was used both as a starter and reliver.  The idea was that, if necessary, Durbin could start in a pinch.  Your pitching coach, however, decided to tinker with him in the spring.  He instructed Durbin to rely on that slider of his.  In 2007, Durbin was throwing it only 18% of the time.  Your coach said to increase the usage, which he did, to nearly 38% in 2008.  As a result, Durbin was able reduce the number of flyballs and witnessed a gigantic shift in the amount of home runs surrendered (21 to 5).  Because of the improvement, your manager began to use him in higher leverage situations as the season wears on.  He throws nearly 90 innings and posts a 3.77 FIP in 2008. 
Middle Relief | RHP | Joe Nelson | 4 WSAB | $400K

Joe Nelson was your long shot for making the team.  Long in the tooth (33 years old), Nelson had been a career minor leaguer running through the Braves, Red Sox, Cardinals, Devil Rays and Royals before you came upon him by accident.  In 2006, the Royals gave Nelson 44.7 innings of relief that was mediocre at best (106 ERA+).  Again to suppress the cost of your bullpen, you extended a minor league contract to Nelson who ended up closing games for your AAA affiliate before being recalled in late May.  Nelson was a heavy fastball (65.2%) and changeup (32.7%) user which lead to a 60/22 K/BB ratio.   
LOOGY | LHP | Arthur Rhodes | 4 WSAB | $500K
Older than Methuselah, there wasn't much use for this 38 year old that did not pitch at all in 2007 because of elbow injuries.  You recognized his value as someone that would appreciate a role that was focused on retiring just one batter per appearance and accept a minor league contract.  In that context, Rhodes outperformed expectations.  In 81 plate appearances against left-handed batters, Rhodes held them to a .157 batting average thanks to a 91-mph fastball complimenting a devastating slider that runs away from left-handed batters - this lead to a 2.23 FIP.  Rhodes will most certainly explore the free agent market for the 2009 season and inevitably land a contract that overpays for his services.  His performance lands you a compensatory draft pick because he is deemed a Type B free agent.  You smile bigger than a Cheshire cat. 
Right-Handed Set-Up | RHP | Doug Brocail | 4 WSAB | $2.5 M

One of the biggest reasons that you extended a large sum of money for a 41 year old set-up man was that your pitching coach noted something.  Per the video that you had accumulated on players throughout the years, the pitching coach saw that Brocail's weakness was that he insisted on throwing his looping curveball (76-mph) as his secondary pitch (20.8% of the time).  Persuaded to implement a cutter (88-mph, 19.5%) in 2008, rather than his curveball, Brocail had a resurrection of sorts as a striking out pitching - averaging 8.39 in 2008 up from 5.05 in 2007.  He throws 68.7 innings and has a 64/21 K/BB ratio with a 3.83 FIP. Like Rhodes before him, Brocail's performance is greatly inflated by the Elias Ratings and he winds up a Type A free agent, netting your organization two compensatory draft picks. 
Left-Handed Set-Up | LHP | Tim Byrdak | 2 WSAB | $400K
Byrdak was signed as the cheap version of the left-handed 7th or 8th inning guy but wound up being interchangeable with Rhodes.  There was no reason for acquiring Byrdak besides his historically solid statistical evidence that he was effective against left-handed batters (.206/.297/.379 in 359 plate appearances versus left-handed batters on his career).  He throws 55.3 innings for you with a 47/29 K/BB ratio and a 5.46 FIP which would have been much better had your manager listen to your specific instructions to NOT LET HIM FACE RIGHT-HANDED BATTERS.  Allowed to face 138 right-handed batters, Byrdak is smoked.  He has a 17/20 K/BB ratio and opponents hit .289/.397/.614 off of him.  Almost like an alternate universe, left-handed opponents hit .135/.222/.247 with a 30/9 K/BB ratio. 
Closer | RHP | Kerry Wood | 6 WSAB | $4.2 M
With your current position, you have the advantage of going out on limbs.  Mark Prior spurned your attempts at signing in the hopes of a comeback season, but you were able to convince Wood that this was the location for him to rekindle his career as a closer.  He does this with velocity (94-mph) on his fastball that he hasn't seen since 2005.  Wood throws 66.3 innings with a phenomenal 84/18 K/BB ratio and a 2.32 FIP.  Though you would like him to return to close for you in 2009, his market value just skyrocketed and he will net you two more draft picks for being awarded Type A status. 
You commit 17.9% of your payroll to your bullpen and for good measure:  Your starting rotation is filled with unanswered questions that one area of your staff should have stability.  This core contributes 357.6 innings and 24 Win Share Above Bench for $8.95 million (not to mention five draft picks once their contract expired).  You now have $8.78 million leftover to sign six bench players.