The U Files # 46: Endgame Strategy

In the past few years there has been a remarkable amount of turnover at many positions for the Mets. One thing that had been a constant was the Mets guy to come in to close out a victory, the closer. Armando Benitez held that position, surviving the protests of Mets faithful, until 2003. In this year the Mets turned their philosophy around to no small degree, and among the purges was Benitez. So it is that the Mets have identified this position as a need to be filled.

The sabermetric world does not dispute that an ace out of the bullpen can be quite valuable, however it questions the manner in which modern managers use theirs. It has been the contention of Bill James that a teams' best reliever is best used in the most critical moment of the game, which does not come with nobody on base at the start of the ninth inning. However, losing by manner of blown save is as spectacular way to lose as there is, and the Mets will be loath to invite such losses.

The Mets are well stocked in potential future closers. The mid season trade of Roberto Alomar added LHP Royce Ring to a mix that included Orber Moreno, and Tyler Yates (who was used as a starter in 2003). However, the Mets would like to see any of these options with a solid track record in other bullpen roles before trusting them with the role most in the spotlight.

Established "name" closers available include free agent Keith Foulke, and Billy Koch of the Chicago White Sox via trade. Other free agent options are Eddie Guardado and Tom Gordon. The Cleveland Indians may let go of pitcher Danys Baez due to financial concerns.

There is no doubt that Keith Foulke is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. His ERA, as well as peripheral statistics have consistently placed him among the most dominating relievers. ERA is not the best statistic to apply to relief pitchers because it fails to account well for inherited runners left behind/ inherited. Baseball Prospectus has created statistics that account for these factors, which are posted on their website. Adjusted Runs Prevented, ARP, is calculated by considering the inning, score, and base/out situation a reliever enters the game with, and that he leaves the game with and totaling runs prevented or allowed over all games. Looking to this more advanced statistic, however, does not change the fact that Foulke ranks among the game's best. Foulke has ranked in the top 15 in Prospectus' list of the top 30 ML relievers each of the last five years.

Unfortunately, Foulke is a type A free agent, which means the Mets would have to give up their second round draft pick to sign him. The Mets will likely not be serious contenders in the next three years, and at the age of 30, Foulke would not be a potential long term closer when the Mets are ready to contend.

Koch is coming off a year of 5.77 ERA with the Chicago White Sox, but had established himself as a solid, if not spectacular, relief pitcher in prior years. He accomplished this by allowing twice his career rate of home runs. Koch has worked successfully with new pitching coach Rick Peterson in the past, and the Mets hope would be that Peterson can restore Koch to his former self. The greatest benefit to be found with Koch is that the Mets would not need to give up a draft pick.

Guardado had had the nickname "Everyday Eddie" attached to him because of his durability. He has been the Minnesota Twins closer for the past two years, posting years of 45 and 41 saves, and 13.2 and 11.8 ARP. For reference, 0 ARP is average, and the # 30 reliever in MLB posted 13.2 and 14.1 ARP. As with Foulke, the Mets would be obliged to give up their second round draft pick as compensation.

Tom "Flash" Gordon has been an everyday closer in the past, saving 46 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1998. Gordon was used as a set up man by the White Sox in 2003, accumulating 74 IP and picking up 12 saves, and posting ARP of 17.3. However, this is the peak of his recent history. Gordon missed the entire 2000 season due to injury, and posted middling years of 3.9 and 0.4 ARP in 2001 and 2002. Gordon is 35 years old, and bears a notable risk.

Danys Baez is a Cuban defector who signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians in 1999. He reached the Major Leagues in 2001, pitching 50.1 IP of 2.50 ERA ball. He was used alternately as a starter and a reliever in 2002, posting a 4.41 ERA in 165.1 innings (the park adjusted league average ERA was 4.51). In 2003, he posted an ERA of 3.81 in 75.2 IP. Jacobs Field is not the hitter's paradise it is made out to be; from 2001 through 2003 it posted a park factor of 99 (100 is neutral and higher numbers favor hitters). Shea Stadium posted a park factor of 96 over that span. Baez' 3.81 ERA adjusted to Shea Stadium in the NL is 3.50. Baez posted APR of 3.9. These are acceptable numbers for a middle reliever with the durability Baez displayed in 2003, but not numbers you want from someone who should be your best reliever.

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