Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 N.L. Relievers

We all know that relievers take it on the chin in 5x5. In the National League last year, they took it on the chin even more.

Ten Most Expensive N.L. Relievers 2008
1Billy Wagner
2Takashi Saito
3Jose Valverde
4 (tie)
Francisco Cordero

Manny Corpas
Trevor Hoffman
Rafael Soriano
Matt Capps
Brad Lidge
10Jason Isringhausen


If you had been given the opportunity to walk into one of the expert league auctions, you could have easily bought two closers for $40 or less. This would have been harder to do in the American League, where six closers went for $20 or more.

This conservative outlook isn't explained by each respective group's 2007 performance. The N.L. crop of relievers earned $30 per pitcher in 2007 to the $31 earned per pitcher in the A.L. However, the return on the N.L. pitchers justifies the market's extreme caution; the A.L. group earned $9 more per pitcher, and Joe Borowski was the only true bust. N.L. owners who bought Corpas, Soriano, or Izzy wound up throwing good auction dollars into a sinkhole. At least Putz's owners in the A.L. got back something for their troubles.

The predictions by Alex Patton and Sports Weekly don't explain the market's reticence at all. Patton's making his calls for 4x4, so he's obviously going to go higher on these guys. But SW is making its predictions for 5x5, and is only $1 cheaper per pitcher in this format. SW even wrests Hoffman and Soriano away from Patton in a hypothetical three-way pricing battle. I'm sure that some owners were probably dumping saves in all of the expert leagues, but for the prices to be this low means that owners had a low baseline in mind for these guys.

How did that work out?

It worked out very well in the Sportsline leagues. The winner in the A.L. (Eric Mack of Sportsline) paid $28 for Jon Papelbon and $24 for Francisco Rodriguez. The N.L. winner (Patton and Company's own John
Toczdlowski) bought Takashi Saito at $21 and Francisco Cordero at $19. Getting two closers for $40 was a huge component to Toz's victory.

In Tout Wars N.L., Mike Lombardo of Wise Guy Baseball bought Brad Lidge at $19 and Tony Pena (whoops) at $8. In the A.L., Sam Walker of Fantasyland fame bought Todd Jones for $14. So the impact here was muted, though a cheap Lidge certainly helped.

On the top relievers, there's typically a $15 difference on their 5x5 versus their 4x4 earnings. So maybe the 5x5 leagues are being too generous in both leagues. I don't know.

What I do know is that getting 52 saves for $40 (like Toz did) still gives you an advantage.

In the A.L., it didn't pay to dip into this next group.

Next Ten (11-20) Most Expensive N.L. Relievers 2008
11Chad Cordero
12Eric Gagne
13Kevin Gregg
Brian Wilson
15 (tie)
Jonathan Broxton

Carlos Marmol
Tony Pena
Heath Bell
Brandon Lyon
20Kerry Wood


This proved to be a much better place to speculate than in the A.L. While B.J. Ryan was the only $20+ pitcher in that group, here Wood, Gregg, Wilson, and Marmol all accomplished that feat.

Patton and SW were also more generous when it came to these pitchers as well. Since the N.L. has 16 closers versus 14 in the A.L., that makes sense. Six of these 10 pitchers were expected to close entering the season, versus only five (thanks to the Joba Chamberlain speculation) in the A.L.

With that in mind, the market is especially wimpy here. They're even wimpier when you consider that they went relatively nuts for middle relievers like Broxton and Bell.

With less money getting spent on the first two batches of pitchers, you would expect that there would be some more spirited fights for the next group of relievers.

Next Ten (21-30) Most Expensive N.L. Relievers 2008
21Bob Howry
22Carlos Villanueva
23 (tie)
Aaron Heilman

Anthony Reyes
Brian Fuentes
Tom Gordon
Jon Rauch
28 (tie)
David Riske

Derrick Turnbow
30Luis Ayala


To some degree, there are. But a $3 average salary isn't much compared to the $2 spent on the same pitchers in the A.L.

And the N.L. tout leagues are just as hep to the fact that strong earnings from middle relievers in 2007 doesn't mean you should aggressively spend in 2008. More often than not, they're right too. Heilman, Howry and Riske may have earned double digits in 2007, but the market and the touts come up far short of those numbers.

The market and the touts are guessing at closers-in-waiting here more than they're chasing good ERA/WHIP/strikeout numbers. The hope with Riske and Turnbow was that they'd step in if/when Gagne failed. Bad guesses, but I'm sure that was the thinking here.

At the bottom, the market decides that it's tapped.

Next Ten (31-40) Most Expensive N.L. Relievers 2008
31Jon Lieber
32Matt Lindstrom

33 (tie)
Juan Cruz

Jason Hirsh


Peter Moylan


Chad Qualls

Russ Springer

Michael Wuertz

39 (tie)
Cla Meredith

Taylor Tankersley


Patton can't or won't find $1 for Moylan, and it turns out that he's right not to allocate that $1. Once again, despite solid earnings in '07, the market knows the score here. Only Qualls is a big winner (just like J.P. Howell was in the A.L.). There aren't any absolute bombs here, but when you spend $1 on a reliever and get Cla Meredith, you can't help but feel cheated.

One thing that is worth pointing out is that these guys are worth owning. Even in 5x5.

Rafael Betancourt was a Top 10 reliever in 5x5 in 2007, earning $13 across ERA/WHIP in this format. Marmol was probably his N.L. equivalent in 2008, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.927 WHIP in 87 1/3 IP. While he might not have earned $13 in 5x5, I'd venture a guess that he still put up some stronger results in these categories in 5x5 than your average starting pitcher.

That's where both the touts and Sports Weekly miss the boat.

I can't read the minds of the expert league participants. But I can see the comments posted in the March 19 edition of Sports Weekly and time and time again it dismisses pitchers if they: a) won't get saves and b) can't strike guys out.

Russ Springer: One of the more effective relievers last year, but doesn't get many strikeouts.
Aaron Cook: More value in 4x4 league, because he lacks a strikeout pitch.
Greg Maddux: Never had spectacular fantasy numbers, but you can count on him.

This last comment made me fall out of my chair.

In 1994, Maddux earned $72 in 4x4 while "only" earning $58 in 5x5.

Obviously, Marmol didn't have that kind of impact. But he definitely had an impact.

Something to keep in mind when deciding how to use those last pitching slots in 5x5.

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