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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fixing the Reds' bullpen

John Fay has been predicting that the Reds will target relievers in the free agent market this offseason in an effort to build up the ballclub's pitching, mostly because the market for starters is so dismal. The Reds most certainly need better run prevention, and their bullpen has been terrible since '03 or so. So it makes sense to target relievers, right?

Well, perhaps not. Tom Tango posted this about an article on the San Diego Padres' Kevin Towers by Tom Verducci at
Looks like Kevin Towers and the Padres know what they are doing. Free-agent relievers are incredibly overpaid. You can pick out the teams that have no idea that the replacement level for pitchers as relievers is so high. Orioles last year, and Phillies this year. I’m always shocked when starters are released, and not given a try as a reliever. If they were fighting for a job as the 5th starter (and basically, the 7th best pitcher on the team), doesn’t it make sense that they could fight for the #3 or #4 guy in the bullpen?
I'll have more on valuation of relievers and starters in my next article on player value (sorry for the delay--been distracted with parents visiting, etc). But this argument here is not new. Think about all the ex-starters (and often failed starters) who have found their niche as relievers. Just naming those who have been associated with the Reds in recent years, we have David Weathers, Kent Mercker, Mike Remlinger, Chris Hammond, Josh Hancock, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Franklin... The list of those successfully going the other way is much more limited (Derek Lowe, .... uhhh... wait, I'm sure there's more...Danny Graves? No, that didn't work... hmm...).

Relieving is easier than starting. There are a variety of potential reasons for this, and I'm not sure that we really know the underlying causes. But there have been a good number of studies verifying that the little anecdote-based argument about this actually does correspond to the real differences in value.

Therefore, mining the failed starter ranks--especially those from the superior American League--might be a more efficient way to build up the Reds' bullpen than shelling out 3-4 million dollars at a time on established relievers. Might not get you a Cordero-esque closer, but it seems to be a good way to get some quality middle relief on the cheap.