Carleton: Have we been underpricing relievers?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on December 16, 2015:

Last year, the must-have item of the Winter Meetings shopping season was a catcher with mad framing skills. In a short period of time, Hank Conger, Ryan Hannigan, Miguel Montero, and everyone who owned a chest protector on the Padres roster changed teams. This year, tastes have changed. Now, the new hip thing that all the cool teams have is a crazy good closer. More to the point, a second crazy good closer to pitch in the role once known as “the eight- inning guy.” It’s not enough to have one shoe any more. You need two.

Since Wade Davis got Wilmer Flores looking in the 12th inning of Game 5, Craig Kimbrel has been traded for a quartet of young prospects. Apparently not satisfied with that, the Red Sox also nabbed Mariners wunderkind set-up man Carson Smith. Not to be outdone, the Phillies got a quintet of kids for their closer, Ken Giles. The Dodgers had agreed to trade for Aroldis Chapman to pair with Kenley Jansen, although allegations of Chapman being involved in a domestic violence incident scuttled the deal. And the Yankees are reportedly dangling Andrew Miller as possible trade bait.

What’s interesting is that while deals for high-end relievers have always happened, the knee-jerk reaction that a smart team should never spend resources to chase something as fleeting as relievers, and especially closers, seems to have been skipped this year. Yes, the save stat is still silly. Yes, all of those relievers will pitch only 65 innings this year, and it’s still hard to trust their numbers in such small sample sizes. Yes, there will be some small number of relievers that put up microscopic ERA numbers in a small sample and will score a huge contract based on that next year.


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Originally published: December 17, 2015. Last Updated: December 17, 2015.