After finishing second in American League bullpen ERA in 2011, the Angels are rumored to be interested in relievers for 2012. That ERA is a bit misleading though. The Angels bullpen finished 11th in AL FIP (fielding independent pitching), 12th in AL fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement) and tied for the most blown saves in the AL. Rookie closer Jordan Walden didn’t help the cause by blowing 10 saves to join Cubs closer Carlos Marmol atop that category. Soon to be former Angel, Fernando Rodney helped drag the bullpen’s numbers down with his own special brand of 4.50 ERA and 4.71 FIP pitching. His 7.88 BB/9 ratio was also laughable at best.
The bright spot in the pen was Scott Downs even though his 3.29 FIP suggests he wasn’t as good as his 1.34 ERA. Downs (3 years, $15 million) was part of former General Manager Tony Reagins “big splash” in last year’s Hot Stove League along with reliever Hisanori Takahashi (2 years/$8M).
The Angels have a storied history of signing meltdown riddled relievers to multi-year deals. You may remember such failures as Rodney (2 years, $11M), Brian Fuentes (2 years, $17.5M!) and *shutters* Justin Speier (4 years, $18M). So you’ll have to excuse my lack of enthusiasm about these rumors. I do, for whatever reason, have some faith in new GM Jerry Dipoto though. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the names the Angels might have interest in.
Note: According to the new collective bargaining agreement, compensation rules for free agents are changing. The Type A free agents listed below won’t cost the new team a pick, the former team will get a first round pick ahead of the new team and a supplemental pick. If the Angels were to sign Heath Bell, the Padres would get a first round pick immediately before the Angels. Type B free agents will just earn the former team a sandwich round pick.
Ryan Madson, Phillies (Type A)
The Phils closer had a strong 2011 campaign with a 2.37 ERA, 2.25 FIP and 9.20 K/9. Bill James projects 65.0 innings with a 3.32 ERA and 3.19 FIP. The 31-year-old Madson is arguably the best reliever on the market and would improve any bullpen. However, his 4-year, $44M deal with the Phillies fell through and they ended up signing Jonathan Papelbon for 4-years and $50M.
Verdict: Pass. Madson will end up costing too much and the third and fourth years probably won’t look so hot compared to the price tag.
Heath Bell, Padres (Type A)
A cursory glance at Bell’s 43 saves, 2.44 ERA and 3.23 FIP in 2011 would lead you to believe the 34-year-old had a good season as an effective closer. But as Dave Cameron points out, Petco Park loves to pad Bell’s stats…
Bell is one of the signature beneficiares of how the park plays. In his career, he’s faced 791 batters in San Diego – 10 of them have managed to hit the ball over the wall, one for every 79.1 batters he faced. Away from the friendly confines, he has faced 1,182 batters and allowed 20 home runs, one for every 59.1 batters that have come up to bat against him. His home run prevention has been 34 percent better in San Diego than in all other ballparks, which of course makes perfect sense, given that he’s a right-handed pitcher and fly balls to right field in Petco have almost no chance of reaching the seats.
The park hasn’t just deflated his home run rate either – his career BABIP in San Diego is just .269, but his combined average against on balls in play in all other parks is .334.
Verdict: Pass. Anaheim has a fairly spacious outfield but Bell also saw his K% tumble from 30% to 19.9% in 2011. I certainly have no interest gambling on a rebound away from Petco especially if it will take 3-years and $30M to see how it goes.
Francisco Cordero, Reds (Type B)
The Reds made Cordero a rich man in 2008 signing him to a 4-year deal worth $46M deal but the Reds will buy out his 2012 option. Cordero has seen his K% fall over each of the past five seasons from 33.0% to 15.3% in 2011. His 2.45 ERA in 2011 was aided by an insanely low .214 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) that he can’t be expected to repeat.
Verdict: Pass. I’m starting to sense a theme.
Matt Capps, Twins (Type B)
The Twins might be interested in bringing Capps back to close in 2012 if they can get a reduced price from his $7.15M salary in 2011. His 4.25 ERA and 4.75 FIP in 2011 don’t inspire much confidence going forward.
Verdict: Pass. Capps is also graciously listed at 245 pounds on Fangraphs. He strikes me as the kind of guy who uses mozzarella sticks as a condiment.
Octavio Dotel, Cardinals (Type B)
Despite Dotel’s heroic 10.1 playoff innings in 2011, the 37-year-old remains a righty specialist. He should, under no circumstance, pitch to a left handed hitter. Of the 85 lefties he faced in 2011, he gave up five home runs on 17 hits while walking 10 (plus two IBB) and hitting two.
Verdict: Pass. You don’t have to turn over too many rocks to find a right handed specialist.
Look at that, I wouldn’t recommend signing any of these guys. The price for veteran relievers is silly considering there are usually just as effective options in-house. I mean, relievers have to come from somewhere.