Boston’s Bullpen Bargains

by Sully on December 19, 2010

in AL East,MLB Beyond the Sox,Red Sox

NY Daily News Photo

The Red Sox announced yesterday that they had agreed to terms with Rhode Island native and former Tampa Bay Ray, Dan Wheeler. Wheeler becomes the third relief pitcher Boston has inked to a Major League deal this offseason, all of a sudden rendering a debilitating team weakness a potential strength. Even more to the credit of Boston’s baseball ops personnel, the deals reached with Wheeler, Bobby Jenks and Matt Albers compare favorably with deals handed to relievers by other MLB teams. And they might not be done.

Wheeler agreed to a one year deal with $3 million guaranteed and a vesting option that triggers $3 million for 2012 if he makes 65 appearances. Earlier this week the Yankees agreed to pay $9 million over two seasons for Pedro Feliciano. If Wheeler and Feliciano will have different roles, they shouldn’t be markedly so. They both have had their share of struggles against opposite-handed batters. You might even call Feliciano a LOOGY. Wheeler was good against lefties in 2008, struggled badly in 2009, and was ok again in 2010 in very limited action against them. From 2008 to 2010, righties hit .329/.428/.479 against Feliciano. Over that same time period, lefties hit .230/.294/.482 against Wheeler. Here are some more numbers.

  IP K/BB ERA+
Wheeler 172.0 3.06 132
Feliciano 175.1 2.23 119


Wheeler’s advantage in ERA+ is owed mostly to his superior “ability” to turn batted balls into outs. Maybe you don’t view that as very predictive and under ordinary circumstances I might agree. But check out how their BABIP’s stack up over the last three years.

  2008 2009 2010
Wheeler .202 .203 .243
Feliciano .332 .289 .350


Perhaps because of his pitch repertoire, Wheeler has an ability to induce batted ball outs more consistently than others. And just as he did in St. Pete, he will be tossing in front of another stellar defense in Boston. I don’t necessarily have strong feelings one way or the other on who the better pitcher is between Wheeler and Feliciano, but the mere notion that it’s a tough call would seem to indicate that the Red Sox netted themselves a relative bargain.

Wheeler’s not the only relative bargain, either. Have a look at how Bobby Jenks stacks up to Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, two relievers awarded $13 and $12 million respectively. Jenks signed for two years and $12 million.

’08-’10 Age IP K/BB ERA+
Jenks 30 167.2 2.90 129
Crain 29 182.1 1.99 115
Guerrier 32 223.2 1.97 119


There’s talk in mainstream circles that Jenks had an off year in 2010. Nick Cafardo even implies that Jenks is some sort of reclamation project in his Notes column from today’s Globe.

The acquisition of free agent Bobby Jenks has given rise to speculation that Papelbon could be moved, with Daniel Bard ready to take over. Of course, that leaves you with Jenks as a setup man after three consecutive subpar seasons. Nothing says that Papelbon, or Jenks for that matter, won’t stop the downward spiral.

Don’t pay this thinking any mind. Jenks set career bests in FIP and xFIP and had one of the most prolific seasons of his career striking batters out in 2010. That’s some “downward spiral,” huh? Marc had the money paragraph here on the Beacon accounting for the spike in Jenks’s ERA in 2010:

The focus on defense matters, as Jenks’ issues with BABIP were not so much his doing. The White Sox allowed a .310 BABIP on flyballs for Jenks last year, whereas the league average is a paltry .137. Flyballs are supposed to be the best thing to give up in terms of having a low BABIP, and the Sox more than doubled the average in Jenks’ 55 innings. Whether that was a fluke due to the sample, or the White Sox outfielders not getting to balls they should have doesn’t matter so much–what does matter is that 2010 is now behind Jenks, and chances are good there will not be a repeat of that bogus flyball BABIP.

How you want to rank the six relievers mentioned in this post is up to you, but here’s why the Red Sox deserve a lot of credit. Crain, Guerrier and Feliciano are guaranteed to make a combined $34 million thanks to the contracts they’ve signed this offseason. The Red Sox trio of Jenks, Wheeler and Albers are guaranteed less than $16 million. And although it’s just one measure, here they are, listed with their 2010 SIERA and contract guarantee:

  2010 SIERA Contract Guarantee
Feliciano 3.77 $9 million
Wheeler 3.86 $3 million*
Jenks 2.75 $12 million
Crain 3.85 $13 million
Guerrier 4.60 $12 million
Albers 4.41 $875,000


*Wheeler’s vesting options could push the contract total to as high as $6.5 million.

Straight up, I think I would take Boston’s trio ahead of the other three, and the Red Sox will pay less than half the money.

Boston may have stretched themselves on Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, but that’s where you want to stretch: for the very best players. Overpaying mediocrity is where teams get into trouble. I am not sure how they’ve managed to do it, but in an offseason where one reliever after another has been handed a contract way out of whack with the player’s value, Boston has remained disciplined despite intense pressure to address an area in desperate need of attention. The result is an overhauled pen at a sensible cost that should represent a vast improvement over last year’s relief corps.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matt December 19, 2010 at 11:53 am

There is a thread over at Sons of Sam Horn on whether or not this is the Red Sox best off season ever. The fact that its even being debated shows Theo Epstein and the rest of the FO have done some amazing work.

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