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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Tuesday, March 30, 2004

How Much is a Cy Young Worth?

Eric Gagne won the NL Cy Young Award last year. He's had the two best relief seasons in the history of the game these last two years. Does this make him a first round pick in fantasy drafts? Does his dominance even make him a second or third round pick? I tend to think that it doesn't just because of the low number of innings that he will throw in relation to starting pitchers. Yesterday, Dave posted a transcript of a round-table session between the Talking Baseball writers after our own fantasy baseball draft. One of the questions asked was, "What was the worst pick of the draft?" My answer was Eric Gagne in the second round. Here's what one of the other managers said about that analysis:

"I feel like your views on RP completely slanted your bashing of Gagne as a pick. Compared to most other leagues, Gagne in the second round is a steal. Now just because you are disgusted with closers doesn't mean Gagne (or other closers selected early) is bad. Speaking of Gagne specifically, he had a magnificent ERA, WHIP, and K/9 (better than R. Johnson in fact, 137 K's), not to mention saves. I know this is kind of a long rant for Gagne, but I am very adamant about my opinion, and I didn't even pick him.

However, I will say that if I would have known all of your thoughts on this matter before the draft, I would not have taken Smoltz so early seeing how you probably would have let him slip more.

What this brings me to, is the reason that closers taken early seem like bad picks to you is due to the simple fact that many of you refuse to take them early on. I know that seems obvious, but what I am trying to say is that this does necessarily constitute a bad pick (esp. worst pick of the draft). I do not think you can fault a person for taking a closer early on, not to mention the best closer, if they don't know your intentions before.

In conclusion, a pick can be made bad through the decisions of the other league members, and not the individual decision at the time of the pick by the drafter, which is what I feel should be the basis of a truly good or bad pick. Also, if you take into account the fact that Gagne, Foulke, Smoltz, and Wagner were all gone after the first 4 rounds, I think that makes the Gagne pick a good one.

~Brandon"
For any of this to make sense I'll first explain why in general I think that closers aren't worth drafting. The primary deterant is the inclusion of holds as a statistic in our league. Holds are essentially "reliever saves." They are a completely different category that saves but their aquisition is not exclusive to a team's closer as are saves. Only one save can be dealt out per game but multiple holds can be given out. They're more common and as a result they are less valuable and easier to aquire. Why spend precious draft picks on closers when so many good relievers will be available in later rounds? There is a calculated risk in ignoring saves though, basically when I decide to do that I am saying that the benefit of an extra pick in each of the early, middle, and late rounds will make the rest of my team better overall that would the points I could get from saves. As for the intentions, I believe I was the only manager who did not select any closers at all.

Alright, Gagne does put together better numbers than every other relief pitcher in the major leagues. He is the best closer, period. There is no dispute about that, but there is a question of how much the best closer is really worth in relation to a higher tiered starting pitcher. Gagne's primary impact is only in two statistical areas, saves (obviously) and strikeouts. Gagne should get a large number of save opportunities again this year (because of LA's nonexistent offense and reasonably good pitching) and like last year he will close out almost all of those saves. It's a safe bet.

Gagne
.........IP.....SV.....K.....ERA.....WHIP
2002....82.1....52....114....1.97......86
2003....82.1....55....137....1.20......69
Here it comes. Gagne's ERA and WHIP look great on paper (not many pitchers sport a sub-1.00 WHIP let alone one of .69). The problem is that those numbers won't have much impact when thrown over just 82 innings. I combined some of Gagne's statistics with those of a pair of starting pitchers that were picked shortly afterwards to prove how little effect those 82 innings will have. Remember, these numbers aren't factored against an entire fantasy rotation, but just ONE starter (and likely the best one that a team could have after taking Gagne in the first few rounds).

First, Mike Mussina and Gagne. The new pitcher will be called, "Gagsina."

............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
Gagne......82.1....37....20.....11.....137....1.20......69
Mussina...214.2...192....40.....81.....195....3.40....1.08
---------------------------------------------------------
Gagsina...297.0...229....60.....92.....332....2.79......97
Second, Tim Hudson and Gagne. I'm not creative at all so the new pitcher's name is, "Gagson."

............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
Gagne......82.1....37....20.....11.....137....1.20......69
Hudson....240.0....197...61.....72.....162....2.70....1.07
----------------------------------------------------------
Gagson....322.1....234...81.....83.....299....2.32......98
If they perform at the exact same level as in 2003 (unlikely) then Gagne's 2003 combined with a great starter's 2003 effectively creates a super-pitcher. This isn't an anonymous super-pitcher, he actually has a name, Randy Johnson. Those numbers look a lot like some vintage Randy Johnson statistics. The kind that he accumulated before last year's injury-fest. Before 2003, Randy was putting together years like the following on a regular basis.

Randy Johnson
............IP.....H.....BB.....ER.....SO.....ERA.....WHIP
2001......249.2...181....71.....69.....372....2.49....1.01
2002......260.0...125....71.....67.....334....2.32....1.03
Maybe the most surprising thing here is that Randy was arguably better than our mutant "Gagsina" or "Gagson." I guess more than proving my point this just reaffirms how dominant Randy was before last season. Too bad he's a huge injury risk now.

The conclusion I've come to is that the best possible closer (Gagne) and another very good starter combine to form one "excellent" pitcher. The problem is that two a of team's top four or five picks are going to have to be burned in order to build the stats that could be provided (to a marginally lesser degree) by a first or second round ace starter. A Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, or Mark Prior (unhurt) would all be superior picks to Gagne because they will provide more bang for the buck. Similar numbers can be gained with just one ace if he's one of the best or if a team decides to draft two top tier aces. For example, drafting Schilling and Hudson would produce a much greater benefit because the two of them could pitch a combined 450 innings.

How much better is Gagne than the other top-tier closers? I'm talking about John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner and Keith Foulke. If they're healthy they should all save 40+ games with great ERAs, WHIPs, and K-rates. How about taking a closer who isn't as desireable as these top-tier guys?

Guardado
.........IP.....SV.....K.....ERA.....WHIP
2002....67.2....45.....70....2.93....1.05
2003....65.1....41.....60....2.89......98
Guardado is a little less of an ERA god than some of the closers out there and he puts up fewer strikeouts but the difference is negligable because of his relative innings pitched. Honestly, as long as the ERA and WHIP are at or below the team average then a reliever is more than helping out. In our draft he went in the 8th round. Seven rounds of starters and position players who produce more numbers in more statistical categories went by before Guardado was taken. While he won't be confused with Gagne he is still an extremely effective and productive closer. Why not grab a few starters earlier and take every day Eddie long after the closer rush has begun?


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