Monday, November 28, 2005

An Elite Member Of An Overpaid Profession

I think Blez at A's Nation gets it only partly right when he complains (as many are doing) that the terms offered to BJ Ryan are out of line. He makes two arguments:
1) “last season was B.J. Ryan's first season as a closer,” and
2) “to put him in Rivera and Gagne's neighborhood seems obscene.”

The first point shouldn’t be relevant. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Ryan has put up fantastic numbers for two years, and his ‘breakout’ as an elite closer in the 2005 season was entirely predictable, based on his 2004 results. Everyone went gaga over K-Rod coming into 2005, but Ryan equaled K-Rod pitch for pitch in 2004. To the extent there is extra pressure on the closer, rather than the middle-reliever, Ryan has now proved he can deliver.

As for Ryan being in Rivera/Gagne territory, the numbers already put him there: Over two years, Ryan has delivered 157.33 IP, 222 K, 66 BB, 2.34 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Yes, it’s true: 12.7 K/9, over two seasons. He’s the real thing.

Mariano also pitched 157 innings, but with dramatically fewer strikeouts (146 K). To Rivera’s credit, he’s issued fewer walks (38), and his ERA (1.67) and WHIP (0.97) are better, but we’re talking about the difference between 29 earned runs and 40. The difference in strikeouts is more likely to endure than the gap in earned runs. As for Gagne, injuries limited him to 13 mediocre innings last year.

To sum up my counterpoint:
1) Ryan has proven over two seasons that he’s a superior reliever, and
2) Ryan is pitching at the same level as the elite relievers, and should seek to be compensated on that basis.

Having said that, I agree with Blez that the Blue Jays are paying Ryan too much. That’s not because Ryan’s talent isn’t up to par, it’s because compensation for relievers is wildly out of line with their relative contribution to team success.

When you’re on the mound for less than 5% of your team’s innings in a year, it’s preposterous to pay $9.4 million, regardless of how good those innings are. If an entire staff was compensated at that level, the pitching payroll would require $200 million. More to the point, $9.4 million is about 20% of the Jays $50 million payroll. Even with the payroll increasing, this is a Delgado-like signing: it puts enormous pressure on the team to get high value for money performance from nearly every other position.

For $9 million, the Jays would do better to add a top-end starter or batter to the equation. Either would make a bigger contribution to the team’s success than an elite reliever. Count me among the fans of BJ Ryan, and among those who are baffled by Ricciardi’s participation in the inflated market for elite relievers.


At 4:26 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Billy Wagner just signed for similar money (more per year, actually), though money doesn't seem to be an issue for the Mets this off-season.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger David Arnott said...

Don't know if you've read the Hardball Times analysis of the Ryan deal, but that guy came to the conclusion that Ryan is likely to perform well enough to justify the money. The writer brings up something very important to take into account when signing relievers: all innings are NOT created equal. There are varying degrees of leverage, so, actually, the ninth inning with a 0-0 tie is more valuable than the first inning with a 0-0 tie. If one believes that their actual record will more closely resemble their Pythagorean record this upcoming year, due to Ryan's presence, they'll definitely be in the wild card race, if not in the thick of a division race with aging Red Sox and Yankees squads.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

It's a good article, and I think it asks the right questions. I suppose years of being disappointed by the Jays leads me to be suspicious that there will be a lot of crucial 9th innings for Ryan to make a difference in. But if there's a method to the madness, then I'm all for it. As I said, I think quite highly of Ryan, I'm just suspicious about the limited role of relievers (my use of 'reliever' rather than 'closer' is also indicative of my suspicion that the guy who pitches in a close 9th inning is so much more important than the set-up man in the 8th).


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