Izzy or Isn't He Worth the Cash? – Part One

Not surprisingly, the "Bang for the Buck" delivered by Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen is the worst among baseball's top closers. But, it wasn't much better in 2005 or 2004, either.

I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that the recent struggles of Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen are what led me to resurrect this article now, but like many, I have been nervous about Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen for a long, long time.

In fact, there are some in the Cardinal Nation who even keep track of "shaky saves" along with blown saves to accentuate the point that Izzy belongs squarely in the ranks of second-tier closers, not among the elite, despite his what his considerable compensation should indicate.

I wanted to see what the data would tell me with a bit more structure around the argument, trying to take into account both the good and the bad. Long-time readers with exceptional memories may recall a similar analysis I ran following the 2004 season. I have incorporated that information into this work and updated it for the two seasons since.

To measure the value of closers, I selected what I believe to be the most accepted indicator, the Rolaids Relief Award Standings. For those unfamiliar with it, closers in each league are given points for wins, saves and "tough" saves (entering with tying run on base) while being docked points for losses and blown saves.

I then divided the salaries of the top ten closers in each league by their Rolaids points to get what I called the "Bang Index", short for "bang for the buck". Granted, it is a very simple analysis heavily skewed by salary, but it allows some very interesting conclusions to be drawn.

But first, let's look at Izzy's rankings in some basic stats among these top 20 closers across MLB over the last three years.

Jason Isringhausen – Rankings – MLB Top 20

Rolaids  Saves Tough  Blown ERA* Salary
MLB/NL   Saves Saves   MLB/NL
2006 YTD (top 21) Tie16th/5th 7th T9th 1st 18th 3rd/2nd
2005 T11th/T6th T10th T12th T12th 7th 3rd/2nd
2004 5th/T2nd T3rd 2nd T3rd 12th 4th/2nd

* ERA is not a Rolaids stat

This tends to point out that while Izzy received a fair number of chances, they were not inordinately difficult. This can be confirmed by Tony La Russa's common usage pattern for Izzy, where he is allowed to start the ninth inning with the bases empty.

Clearly, Izzy had not been dominant even prior to 2006, where he has only excelled in blown saves and is close to worst in ERA (which in all fairness is not a Rolaids stat).

One constant is that Izzy has been consistently very well-paid for his work, second to Billy Wagner in the National League in each of the last three seasons. At least Izzy's 2004 results were solid if you overlook ERA and blown saves, but in 2005 and especially in 2006, his results have grown increasingly out of whack with his salary as compared to his peers.

When the "Bang Index" is calculated, in 2004 Izzy had the fifth lowest score among the twenty, and further dropped two places each year to the point where here in 2006, Jason Isringhausen is the worst bang for the buck among the top twenty closers in the game.

The only other consistent name among the bottom five is the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who while being the best in the business, simply seems to be overpaid like Izzy.

Worst Bang for the Buck – Top 20 Closers

Rank 2006 YTD 2005 2004
20 Jason Isringhausen Mariano Rivera John Smoltz
19 Mariano Rivera Billy Wagner Troy Percival
18 Billy Wagner Jason Isringhausen Mariano Rivera
17 Ryan Dempster Eddie Guardado Ugueth Urbina
16 Todd Jones Miguel Batista Jason Isringhausen

Who are the best, you say? This year, the list is headed up by four youngsters and one reclaim from the scrap heap, former Cubs closer Joe Borowski, now with the Florida Marlins.

Best Bang for the Buck – Top 20 Closers

Rank 2006 YTD 2005 2004
1 Bobby Jenks Derrick Turnbow Joe Nathan
2 Jonathan Papelbon Chad Cordero Brad Lidge
3 Joe Borowski Francisco Rodriguez Jorge Julio
4 Chris Ray Brian Fuentes Shingo Takatsu
5 Huston Street Brad Lidge Francisco Cordero

So, what does this all mean?

Simply put, Jason Isringhausen continues to be overpaid for the results returned. With his final season's contract option ready to go onto the books for 2007 at $8 million, this imbalance between salary and results will surely continue next season, given current course and speed.

Should the Cardinals continue to allocate approaching 10% of their team salary budget to this one player out of 25? What are their alternatives?

Those are questions I will probe for subscribers in the second part of this series, where I will analyze some rumored options the Cardinals recently passed up. I will also again suggest dramatic action to change that course – action I first encouraged back in the 2003-2004 off-season.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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