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Why High Priced Non-Elite Relievers Aren't Worth the Money

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We've heard plenty of times this year about how the Rays need to add a veteran pitcher with closing experience. After Troy Percival's back, arm, and legs gave out along with Jason Isringhausen's arm blowing up, the Rays were left with a rag tag group of pitchers. No current member has held the Rays closer except for Dan Wheeler, who held it ever so briefly in Houston. Not only has the Rays pen not sunk without a true anchor, they've actually been really good. Coming as Thursday afternoon, the Rays were second in bullpen ERA (3.48) and fourth in FIP (3.89). The group also boasts the third best K/BB and fourth best HR/9. Not bad for a group with no names.

Here are the monthly breakdowns...

 

IP

ERA

FIP

K/BB

April

63.1

3.84

4.1

1.81

May

101

4.19

4.6

1.84

June

70

1.67

2.61

3.1

July

66.1

4.21

4.08

2.5

August

14.2

2.45

3.28

2.75

The Rays pen was really never as bad as we thought. Sure, May was not pretty, but it was a far cry from Rays bullpens of the past. The Rays May bullpen also included veteran closer, Troy Percival, who allowed six earned runs in six innings and had a 9.00 ERA/7.57 FIP on the month. Since then, J.P. Howell and Co. have shut down teams more often than not. Every bullpen has a few hiccups along the way, but the Rays have a solid nucleus of guys with no defined titles. " As Dan Wheeler said the Rays don't need defined roles, but everyone has a job and understand that job. "Most of us just kind of understand when we're going to pitch." said Wheeler.

Could the Rays use another one of those non-descript arms like Jason Frasor or Michael Wuertz? Definitely, but the days of paying a veteran reliever a lot of money are likely over for the Rays. Just look at the production they've gotten from the collective group of Jason Isringhausen, Troy Percival, Chad Bradford, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse aka the Rays relievers who are 34 years or older.

  IP ERA FIP Salary
Percival 11.1 6.35 6.86 $4.45
Bradford 4.1 2.08 1.69 $3.50
Isringhausen 8 2.25 4.2 $0.75
Shouse 16.1 5.51 5.95 $1.35
Nelson 40.1 4.02 5.62 $1.30
  79.4 4.042 4.864 $11.35

Thats over $11 million dollars for what equates to be around league average production. If you take away Nelson, who is currently in Durham, the Rays will pay over $10 million dollars in salary to four relievers who have pitched less than 40 innings combined. Percival and Izzy are done for the season. Bradford is on the DL for the second time with no time table of returning (although I'd expect September at the latest) and Shouse is just returning from his injury. Percival's production was just awful even if it was just a small sample size. I think we all know that had he continued it would've only gotten worse. Isringhausen was ok, but was too small of a sample. Bradford and Shouse are still effective when used properly, but we have guys like Lance Cormier and Randy Choate, who have sub 4 FIPs and will make just a little over a million dollars combined.

The signings of Nelson and Shouse were not bad signings because of their length. Both essentially are on one year deals even though the Rays hold Nelson's rights for future seasons and a club option on Shouse for 2010. I'm not saying avoid all veteran relief pitchers, but signing non elite level veteran relievers to anything more than a one year deal is volitle. I'm not telling any of you guys anything new . Getting less production with a greater injury risk for more money just doesn't make sense for any team let alone the Rays. Most "experts" will continue to say the Rays need a closer, and I'm sure on all the offseason "wish lists" there will be "closer" in the box next to the Rays, but it's not necessary.

The Rays almost certainly will once again pass on the big name who have the closer title attached to them inflating their price. Instead, the team should seriously consider locking up J.P. Howell, who is one of the games true young elite relievers, as well as continue to bargain shop for the next Howell, Grant Balfour or Lance Cormier.