Ryan blows another save. Is a big $$$ Closer contract worth it?
Last season I wrote a comparison article between BJ Ryan and his Baltimore replacement, Chris Ray. And I think that the beginning of the 2007 season is showing a slight parallel between the two once again. Ryan has blown 2 saves and Ray has blown 1. Now granted, Ryan has had some spectacular, multi-run blowups but a blown save is a blown save.
I think these pitchers bring me right back to a point I made last season. It doesn’t really matter about pretty ERA’s, WHIPs, and such. It all boils down to save opportunity conversion rate. And the truthful fact is, the difference in salary between an automatic shutdown closer ($10+ million) & a €œproposed€ second tier closer ($350,000 – $5,000,000) usually works out to a save or two a season (or 3% – 4%). Is this worth an additional 100%+ in salary?
A closer’s ERA is rather inconsequential, so I don’t want to get wrapped up in that battle. I think we’ll see this with Ryan’s ERA for the next few months. Currently he’s sitting at 12.46, with 6 ER over 4.1 IP. To hit a bench mark ERA of 3.00, Ryan will have to pitch 13.2 IP or roughly 12 appearances of scoreless ball. Certainly within his grasp, but if some of it’s in middle relief it won’t be put into the proper context with the average fan. Ryan is currently in the final season of his “cheap money”, and is coming up on the back end loaded portion of his 5 year, $47 million contract.
Oriole pre-arbitration replacement ($350,000) Chris Ray sits with a 5.40 ERA. Nothing great at first glance but all of the runs came in one game, with his 6 other appearances be scoreless affairs. He has one blown save on the season vs 3 conversions.
Now, maybe a comparison with Ray isn’t 100% fair. Every ballclub out their doesn’t have the luxury of promoting a young arm within. One of these teams would be the Cleveland Indians. They signed journeyman closer Joe Borowski (Mop Up Duty Bio) to a free agent contract of $4,250,000 over one season (with a 1 year option for 2008). His ERA isn’t setting the world on fire either, with a 6.23 rate as of April 15th. But he’s 4 for 4 in save opportunities, which is what really matters.
This article or more aptly put, stream of conscience rant is jumbled, I understand, but the point I’m trying to drive home is this:
Throw ERA out the window. Don’t even think about paying more than $6 million for a closer. Pretty K rates and sub 1.00 WHIP’s are easy on the eyes, yet a closers job is ever so simple in theory, which is simply to convert on his save opportunities.
For the record, I think BJ Ryan will be fine. Last season he had a save conversion rate of 89.7% (35 for 39). He’ll have his work cut out for him to duplicate this rate, but he should clock in above 85%. Of course, the cheaper Ray & Borowski should do the same.