More Relief

Mariano Rivera is perhaps the greatest closer of all time. In 2008, Rivera posted a 2.03 FIP, the best of his career as a closer, while recording 70.2 innings pitched. Given such, you would expect Rivera to be extremely valuable amongst all pitchers, not simply relievers. As it turns out, Rivera’s value was 4.2 wins, or the wins equivalent to James Shields and Aubrey Huff.

Carlos Marmol acted as the Cubs eighth inning presence and was worth all of 1.5 wins. The currently unemployed Garret Anderson was also worth 1.5 wins. Ryan Madson just signed a juicy extension, but in 2008, he was equal to Edwin Jackson and Gregor Blanco. Of the 332 pitchers who completed at least 10 innings in relief, only 4 were valued higher than 3 wins (Rivera, Papelbon, Chamberlain, Fuentes), 17 finished with greater than 2 wins, and 55 with at least one win, leaving 277 relievers worth a win or negative value.

Of course that’s with our innings limit set relatively low, and bumping the threshold up to 50 innings results in 135 qualifiers. From there, we have the following results:

4+ wins: 1 pitchers
3+ wins: 3 pitchers
2+ wins: 14 pitchers
1+ wins: 47 pitchers
0+ wins:115 pitchers
Negative value: 20 pitchers

Or, in percentage form:

4+ wins: 0.74%
3+ wins: 2.22%
2+ wins: 10.4%
1+ wins: 34.8%
0+ wins: 85.2%
Negative value: 14.8%

Yes, you are reading that right; more relievers with 50+ innings had negative value than those who had 2+ wins, or “average” value from starting pitchers and batters. Also somewhat unbelievably, the 14 pitchers worth 2+ wins only averaged six additional innings than the 20 with negative value. Of course, there’s also the matter of which relievers would pitch tons of innings, seemingly either the very best or the worst would be turned to often. This is to say, set-up men and closers and mop-up men.

Stating that middle relievers are overrated is hardly groundbreaking, but I’m going to state it anyways: middle relievers are overrated.

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13 years ago

It’s almost like bullpens in general are overrated. Give me a stud reliever and I’m happy. I’ll invest the rest of my money and talent in position players and starters.

One reason bullpens get too much attention is that given the higher LIs they accumulate, over- and under-performance gets magnified. A 3.50 FIP true-talent bullpen that manages to post a 3.00 ERA is going to be more valuable than just those .50 points of ERA. And a bullpen that underperforms it’s true talent will cost it’s teams more games. That under- and over-performance isn’t due to skill, though, and next year could flip flop in the other direction. There’s a lot of luck involved in a bullpen’s performance and people tend not to separate the skill from the luck very well.