Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Hunt for Value - Part I: The Story of a Few Undervalued, Underutilized, and Underappreciated Relievers

At this time of year, everyone wants them and everyone's talking about them: Middle relievers. With the deadline fast approaching, the best of the best are trying to shore up weaknesses in preparation for a stretch run. Chances are, if you're a division leader, your starting pitching and position players are pretty good - a team will have tremendous difficulty becoming a strong contender with a serious deficiency in either of the former. It's also likely that you have a relief ace - someone to finish off the other team after your starter has exited. After your starter has left, before your closer enters is a gray area, of sorts. Most teams would love the benefit of effective set-up men, but it's not necessarily a luxury they can afford. The Marlins, the Mets, the Reds, the Cubs, the Giants, the Rangers, and the Athletics are all without effective middle relief. They're all in contention and they're all looking to help bridge the gap between their closer and their starters (or, in the Giants' case, looking to not fall off a precipice in the 7th inning).

Because of the desire for the group of players, I went to task to find some middle relievers that were undervalued and underutilized - but certainly not ineffective. The difficulty is - if you're an effective pitcher, you tend to get many innings and/or you tend to progress through the minors. Finding an underappreciated, effective reliever is not too dissimilar from finding a needle in a haystack or a diamond in the rough. So, without further ado, the unvailing of the Chad Bradford Wanna-bes:

Bobby Seay: Perusing Seay's (pronounced "see") major league record, one wouldn't quite use the words "awe-inspiring." Looking at his minor league record (and this year, as well), however, one doesn't get the impression that Seay is the ugly duckling Tampa Bay treats him like. In fact, here are his aggregate statistics for his last 71.2 innings for the Durham Bulls (Tampa's AAA affiliate):

IP   H/9  BB/9 HR/9 K/9  ERA
71.2 8.04 2.91 0.63 9.80 3.03

There is little to suggest that Seay would be a bad major-league reliever if given the chance. His K-rate is very above-average, his HR-rate is very good, his hits are adequate and his walks are a bit high. Overall, it would seem that Seay would make a fine middle reliever - even on a contender. At 26, Seay is hardly a prospect at this point - he will never become a southpaw of Billy Wagner or Eddie Guardado's caliber. He does have a decent shot at becoming a reliever on par with Steve Kline, however.

So why hasn't it happened thus far for Seay? Part of the problem, it would seem, would be the manner in which the Rays are using him. Looking at his splits over the last three years, Seay has faced an abnormal number of lefties. In those encounters, Seay has been roasted to the tune of .306/.391/.528. Keep in mind, this is a southpaw facing lefties - and he's still getting torched. Luckily for Seay, he's inept against the right (pun intended) hitters. The league is mostly right-handed, with very few lineups sporting more than 3 lefties. If the D-Rays and Piniella used him more effectively and carefully, Seay could be a very effective reliever.

My guess, however, is that Seay isn't this bad against lefties nor this good (.200/.275/.400) against righties. My guess is that he's an above-average reliever, given his minor stellar performance in AAA. We'll never know until he gets more innings, however. See, if Seay gets more innings, the D-Rays may start to see in Seay the secret seed of success. I couldn't help myself. Tune in tomorrow for Part II, in what's shaping up to be a three or four part series. Don't worry, I'm saving the best reliever for last.

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