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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Dave on Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Aberrant Middle Reliever



And you thought I'd be posting about steroids? Fat chance. They're all the ('roid) rage, but I'll lay off them for awhile. I want the smoke (read: subjectivity) to clear before I assert my thoughts. Plus, as is apt to happen whenever a big story hits the press, the authors of Talking Baseball tend to post their reactions when their "turn" comes. Since I expect Mike and/or Jon to discuss steroids in the near future, I'm going to discuss something completely from left field - or, at least, from the mound.

I wouldn't blame you if you missed it, but Damaso Marte signed a nice 3-year, 4.5 million dollar contract. On the surface, there's nothing remarkable about that. Damaso Marte is about to enter his arbitration years, and the ChiSox want to sign him to the more reasonable rate of 1.5/year instead of a potentially increased arbitrated rate. Hey, if I had a "Damaso" on my team, I'd make sure he'd live in relative comfort too. Especially if he was posting solid K/9s and ERAs the past two seasons. It seems he has a career of relative prosperity ahead of him. But for many who have seemingly similar stellar single-seasons, that prosperity is merely fleeting.

In 2002, three pitchers were having career years: J.C. Romero, Buddy Groom, and Chris Hammond. Actually, Romero and Hammond weren't having career years because they're relatively young - but they were experiencing a deluge of luck that occurs but once in a career. What am I talking about? Well, inspect each of those links. Like Kevin Millwood, these guys' reputations have benefitted as a result of one lucky season.

Look at these averages:

Romero:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......6.23......9.83
2002.......1.89......6.89
2003.......5.00......9.43

Groom:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......8.73......8.73
2002.......1.60......6.39
2003.......5.36......11.51

Hammond:
Year........ERA.......H/9
2002.......0.95......6.28
2003.......2.85......9.29

Hammond was so mediocre prior to that sub-1 ERA that he couldn't even hold down a job. Yeah, for those that weren't aware, Hammond now sports the spritely age of 38. Having the "incredible" years boasted by these three isn't very remarkable when you realize that most of their success was based in luck. Hammond even netted a nice contract with the Yankees due to his luck. It's amazing he still had a sub-3 ERA last year - his vastly improved control helped him accomplish that. Still, I question the Beane's decision to acquire Hammond. This guy was out of baseball for three years! Why all this discussion about the one-hit-wonder relievers? Because Rheal Cormier is nothing but one.

As readers of Talking Baseball may know, Rheal Cormier made some headlines last year due to his outstanding work (*cough*LUCK*cough*) as a reliever. No matter how he did it, Rheal produced the 2nd-best Adjusted Runs Prevented by all relievers. That's nothing to sneeze at - what Baseball Prospectus has done here is estimated how many runs each reliever prevented last season. Rheal ranks above some impressive company: Wagner, Foulke, Smoltz, but not Cy Gagne, he leads the field. What's most impressive was how Rheal did it:

Year........ERA.......H/9
2001.......4.21......8.59
2002.......5.25......9.15
2003.......1.70......5.74

If that's not lucky, I don't know what is. To help understand how lucky Rheal was, I should add that Rheal never had a H/9 below 8.5 prior to 2003 - a span covering nine seasons.

The Phillies are expected to strongly contend for the NL crown and with their revamped bullpen, they just may. Both Wagner and Worrell seem like the real deal, and they will give Thome and Company the necessary finishers they lacked last year. But mark my words: Cormier won't assist in helping to finish those games. In fact, he'll be lucky to assist in any meaningful fashion at all.


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