Tuesday, March 23, 2010


OK, so I've done some pretty cursory analysis trying to figure out why closers get paid so much.  They only pitch one inning a game, some barely reaching 70 innings pitched in any given year.  Let's take former Astros' closer, current Tiger closer Jose Valverde.  Jose is a good pitcher, without a doubt.  Last year, he went 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA, gave up 5 HR, walked 22, and struck out 56.  His (Walk + Hits) / IP was a respectable 1.13, and his ERA+ was 180 (which is very good).

So, Joe, why is there a problem here?  For some reason, it bugs me that Jose put up those numbers and made $8,000,000 in 2009 (while I probably made $10,000 in 6 months working for a baseball team), WHILE ONLY APPEARING IN 52 GAMES, PITCHING 54 INNINGS, AND THROWING 887 PITCHES.  If you're trying to calculate, that's $153,846 per appearance, $148,148 per inning, and $9,019 per pitch.  Maybe his dollar per inning would be a little less if the Astros had been in a higher number of closer games. He spent 4 days on the DL in April, all 31 days of May, and 13 days in June for a total of 48 days and a rough estimate of 40 games for the entire 2010 season.

The average salary for current expected MLB closers is a little over $5,000,000, but when you factor in the 26.7% of closers who were supposed to start this season as a closer but are currently on the DL, that number jumps to almost $6,000,000.  If you were curious, Mariano Rivera is obviously the highest paid closer (and rightfully so) at $15,000,000 for 2010.  The Reds are paying Francisco Cordero $12,000,000 to pitch this year, and he accumulated 66.2 IP last year.  Those numbers just seem insane for someone who might contribute 5 innings a week.  You have Joe Mauer, on the other hand, who signed an extension with the Twins for somewhere around $24.5 million to play every day.  Assuming he plays 130 games and each inning in every game, he will make approximately $188,462 per game and $20,940 per inning. Let's compare that last number to the $148,148 Jose made per inning last year. Does something seem off to you?  It does to me, too.

Maybe closers have some innate character trait that enables them to drown out the crowd like Kevin Costner in "For the Love of the Game." But they are still a situational pitcher.  They go in, on the majority of occasions, ONLY when their team has a small lead going into the ninth inning.  The 26.7% of relief pitchers that are STARTING their season on the DL is further evidence of an unbelievable market price for such a replaceable position.  I think it's virtually guaranteed that every closer will end up hitting the DL at some point during the season.  Why would you pay someone that much for such little output and expected injury time?

Maybe this problem is beyond me.  If I had it my way, I would keep rotating my best minor league closers into the MLB role at the $400,000 league minimum for two or three years, then use them as trade bait in July if it didn't seem we would be in contention.  I think you could take some franchises teetering on a playoff birth to the cleaners for a young, proven closer and pick up some nice pieces along the way for your own playoff run.  Plus you can spend that extra $5,500,000 on a certifiable stud you might not have thought you could afford, or spread it over various tiers of relief pitchers to strengthen the bullpen.

Anyway, enough with this rant.  I need more statistics to back my theory up, and rest assured I will be hitting www.baseball-reference.com and FanGraphs.com for some Sabermetric stats to enhance its validity.  Baseball fans, I would appreciate any commentary.

For now, MLB GMs, consider yourself criticized.

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