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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Ugueth Urtain Urbina

It's not often that I will have the chance to write about a man whose initials are all the letter U so I have decided to seize the opportunity. In the past I think I've been a little unfair with my criticism of Ugueth Urbina. Today I am going to set that right today by taking a step back and trying to look at him from a reasonably objective perspective. Urbina may never again put together a season that rivals his breakout performance in 1998 but since then he's consistently been a solid reliever in both leagues. These are his numbers since the 2000 season:

.................G..........IP..........SV..........BS..........ERA..........ERA+
2000.........13........13.1.........8............2...........4.05..........115
2001.........64........66.2........24...........4...........3.65..........126
2002.........61........60.0........40...........6...........3.00..........148
2003.........72........77.0........32...........6...........2.81..........160

Urbina missed almost all of the 2000 season because of injury but since then he has been a fairly effective pitcher. He's accumulated almost 100 saves over his last three full seasons while blowing just 16 and his ERA has been well below league average. His ERA has been consistently getting better and further away from the league average. In terms of results there has not been anything wrong with the way Urbina has pitched the last few years but the problem is that there are a few disturbing trends in his statistics.

While saves and ERA are good ways to compare a pitcher's effectiveness in a certain season they possess no real implications about his the future. The number of saves and blown saves a closer accumulates depends partially on his performance and partially on the situations that he is placed in by his team. A pitcher's strikeouts and walks are statistics for which he alone can be credited. Let's take a look at Urbina's recent strikeout rates:

..................K/9IP..........K/BB
2000..........14.85..........4.40
2001..........12.02..........3.71
2002..........10.65..........3.55
2003...........9.12...........2.52

Bad news here, Urbina has shown a dramatic decline in both his strikeouts per 9IP and strikeouts per walk. A declining strikeout rate is never a good thing for a pitcher and it is made worse when the decline in strikeouts is not accompanied by a reduction in the number walks the pitcher issues. This decline probably means that Urbina's stuff has worsened over the last few years and that batters are putting the bat on the ball more often. To make matters worse, when batters do put the ball in play against Urbina they're hitting it in the air now too. Here's his declining ground-ball to fly-ball ratio:

.................GB/FB
2000...........1.00
2001...........0.83
2002...........0.51
2003...........0.37
Career.........0.78

It would seem that Urbina is ripe for a dramatic drop-off in his performance. So why was he so good this year if he's declining so much? A combination of luck and what is still above average (though quickly diminishing) ability.

I spent so much time today looking into Urbina's numbers because I found it rather odd that he would so adamantly be demanding so much money as a free agent this off-season. Is his service worth the $7+ million a year over 2 or 3 seasons he's currently demanding? Absolutely not. While still an effective reliever his declining numbers do not promote much confidence in his long term stability. At this point a multi-year deal is almost out of the question for him and even if he does back down and sign a one-year deal it will probably be well shy of the $7+ million he desires.

Also working against Urbina are the current market conditions. Keith Foulke, arguably the best reliever in the American League in 2003, signed with the Red Sox in December for $7 million a year over 3 years. Apparently Ugueth Urbina feels he should be making top-tier closer money. For humor's sake, here is a comparison of their 2003 numbers:

2003............G..........IP..........W..........L..........SV..........ERA
Urbina..........72.......77.0........3...........4..........32..........2.81
Foulke..........72.......86.2........9...........1..........43..........2.08

One step further, a look at their last 3 years combined:

...................G..........IP.........W..........L..........SV..........ERA
Urbina........197......203.2.......6..........12.........96..........3.14
Foulke........209......245.1......15.........14.........96..........2.42

Assuming Foulke is being paid close to market value by the Red Sox, Ugueth Urbina clearly does not deserve to receive a contract close to Foulke's in value. No doubt teams in need of a reliever have taken a look at Urbina this off-season. Unfortunately for Urbina these front offices have decided that he is not worth the risk after accounting for his declining strikeouts and "stuff." Numbers aside, a straight fastball and a mediocre slider are fairly easy to spot. The Red Sox after the 2002 season were so much against resigning Urbina that instead of overpaying him they decided that they were better off with a "bullpen-by-committee." While an ill-fated decision, it was proof that Urbina overvalues himself. If he keeps up his demand for a multi-year deal worth $7+ million per year he may be waiting for it to come for a very long time.


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