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Entries in Heath Bell (2)

Monday
May272013

The 2013 Season of Travail for Team USA Pitchers

As I watched R.A. Dickey and Vinnie Pestano get pummeled on Saturday, I could not help but think of the WBC, because both pitched for Team USA.

Look, I am not going to pretend: I don't like the World Baseball Classic. While I think it is good for building up international baseball, it comes at cost, particularly for pitchers who have to alter their training routines to pitch competitively too early in the spring.

Now that we are at the quarter-pole in the season, it is fair to look at the pitchers who participated for Team USA and see how they are doing.

One spoiler alert, while there are some success stories this season, none of the pitchers are doing better as a result of their participation.

The staff

Jeremy Affeldt appeared in three games in the WBC pitching 3.1 innings. Affeldt has appeared in 18 games this season for the Giants, pitching 15.1 innings and while he has a strong 1-1 record and 2.35 ERA, he has walked eight and has a very high rate of 4.7 walks per nine innings.

Heath Bell pitched two innings in two games for Team USA and is 2-0 for Arizona this season, but has a high 4.05 ERA and very high 1.400 WHIP in his 20 IP.

Mitchell Boggs threw 1.1 innings in his two WBC appearances, but has been brutal for the Cardinals this season going 0-2 with a 10.43 ERA and a 2.318 WHIP. He was ineffective as well when he was sent down to Memphis to work on his mechanics. Between the minors and the majors, Boggs has walked 19 in 20 IP.

Ross Detwiler threw four innings in one game for Team USA and is 2-4 with a 2.76 ERA, but he's been injured since he strained his oblique May 15. The Nationals held off on placing him on the DL until Sunday (May 26).

Ryan Vogelsong threw 9.2 innings in two games for Team USA. Before he went on on the DL for the Giants after fracturing his right hand, Vogelsong was struggling for the Giants with a 2-4 record and an abysmal 7.19 ERA and 1.727 WHIP.

Steve Cishek appeared in four WBC games and threw 2.1 innings. For the Marlins this season he's appeared in 20 games throwing 20.1 innings. He has a 1-4 record, 4.87 ERA, 1.475 WHIP, and while he's struck out 19, he's also walked 11 (4.9 BB/9). He was the Marlin closer but with lefties hitting .341 against him, he has been reduced to a role in the closer by committee.

Craig Kimbrel was in four WBC games tossing 3.2 innings. Kimbrel had been untouchable in 2011-12 with 88 saves and 1.61 ERA and 0.866 WHIP. But while he has been outstanding, he has also been human in 2013 with three blown saves, the same as he totaled all last season. Of greater concern is the six extra-base hits he's given up this season after allowing just four last year and eight in 2011.

R.A. Dickey pitched two WBC games and 9.0 innings. Is that the reason for his apocalyptic season, or is it the trade to the AL and pitching in unfamiliar surroundings? Dickey with Toronto already has the same six losses as he had all last season with the Mets, is walking about twice as many batters as last season (2.1 to 4.1/9) and has a WHIP of 1.354. Batters are being more patient with Dickey this season swinging at 43.0% of his pitches as opposed to 50.4% in part because last season 70.6% of his pitches were strikes or in play, compared just 64.6% this season.

David Hernandez appeared twice in the WBC throwing 1.2 innings. So far in 21 games for Arizona, his ERA is up to 3.32 compared to 2.50 last year and his WHIP is up to 1.338 compared to 1.024 last season.

Vinnie Pestano pitched in three games covering two innings for Joe Torre and Team USA and I doubt he would do it again. Last season's 2.57 ERA has ballooned to 5.25 this year and after 3.1 BB/9 last season, the Indians reliever is up to 5.3 which contributes to his 1.417. He's been on the DL once already this season with a sore right elbow (May 1) and looked simply awful Saturday against the Red Sox serving up more meatballs than an Italian chef in Boston's famed North End.

The five survivors

Tim Collins is still striking out batters for the Royals, whiffing 15 in 14.1 IP, after two games and one inning for team USA. Despite his 3.68 ERA, Collins has a 1.091 WHIP and has not allowed any of the 10 runners he's inherited to score.

Gio Gonzalez pitched five innings in his one WBC appearance. I don't think any team would mind having the Gonzalez who held the Reds to one hit over seven innings and the Cubs to two hits in seven scoreless innings. But the Nationals starter also had three April starts in which he gave up seven runs once and five runs twice. He's had a 1.67 in May.

Luke Gregerson tossed two innings in two games for Team USA and despite his 2-2 record for the Padres, he has a brilliant 0.87 ERA and a microscopic 0.677 WHIP in 20.2 IP. He's held batters to a .116 BAA.

Derek Holland pitched in one game (5 IP) in the WBC. For the Rangers this season he is 4-2 with a strong 2.97 ERA and 1.155 WHIP. He had a very strong game against the Mariners on Saturday after having given up eight runs in 10.1 IP over his prior two starts. he finished May 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA despite a 1.375 WHIP.

Glen Perkins tossed two innings in his two WBC appearances and the Twins reliever seems to have come out fine. His ERA is up (3.24 compared to 2.56) but after averaging 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings last season, he's up to 14.0 this season. Perkins has nine saves in 10 attempts and if someone makes an offer that the Twins can't refuse, the lefty could be traded to a contender at the deadline.

The bottom line

When the time comes for the WBC again, unless you are an unemployed pitcher looking to resurrect your career, I suggest doing what any smart pitcher would do in a tie game in the 9th inning and less than two outs with runners on second and third and Miguel Cabrera coming to the plate: offer an intentional pass.

Friday
Dec022011

Bell Takes His Talents to South Beach

The Miami Marlins have a brand-spankin' new stadium, a bleep-prone manager and unis that are straight out of BASEketball. The team long associated with penny-pinching has been connected to every big-ticket free agent from Pujols to Reyes to Wilson, and now the Fish have bagged their first All-Star by signing Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million deal that reportedly has a $9 million vesting option for 2015. The move all but guarantees that the Marlins non-tender The Closer Formerly Known as Leo Nunez, Juan Oviedo.

While Miami apparently has plenty of cash to spend, Bell's name value may well exceed his talent level at this point. Bell, of course, has benefitted from pitching his home games in a venue with slightly less generous dimensions than Yellowstone. Simply put, mistakes that lead to runs in other parks die innocuously in Petco's vast outfield. Petco has a multi-year park factor of 93, according to Baseball-Reference, and Bell has a career .263 batting average on balls in play at home compared to a .300 BABIP on the road.

B-R's Play Index Tool has a feature that allows you to estimate a pitcher's ERA in other major league parks, as well as a neutral park (100 park factor). Here's how Bell's actual ERAs over the past three seasons compare to his estimated ERAs in a neutral pitching environment:

2009: 2.71 actual ERA, 3.32 ERA in neutral park

2010: 1.93 actual ERA, 2.32 ERA in neutral park

2011: 2.44 actual ERA, 2.85 ERA in neutral park

In a neutral park, Bell's ERA would have been between four-tenths and six-tenths of a run higher. We don't know how Miami's new stadium will play, but there's little chance it's as cozy and forgiving as Petco.

Aside from park factors, there's also the issue of Bell's significant dip in strikeouts last season. The beefy righty whiffed 28.4 percent of the batters he faced in 2009 and 30 percent in 2010, but just 19.9 percent in 2011. That was well below the 23.4 percent average for relievers this past year. Bell walked a few less hitters (8.2 BB%, compared to 9.8% in 2010 and 8.6% in 2009), but not enough to offset the decline in Ks.

There are two main reasons for Bell's lower-octane 2011. He introduced a sinker with a few more inches of tail and less vertical break than his four-seamer. The sinker, thrown about 15 percent of the time, got fewer swings and misses than his four-seamer (15.6 percent, compared to 19.2 percent for the four-seamer). And it didn't really compensate by getting lots of ground balls, either, with a 48 GB% well under the 58-59% average for relievers.

Bell's curveball got considerably fewer whiffs, too. Batters missed the low-80s breaker 28.9% in 2009 and 43.4% in 2010, but only 26.2% in 2011 (30-31% average for relievers). Opponents rarely made contact when Bell spotted his curve at the knees in '09 and '10, and they swung through some higher curves as well...

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Bell's curveball, 2009-2010

But they connected much more often on low breaking stuff in 2011, and just about never missed higher curveballs...

Opponent contact rate by pitch location vs. Bell's curveball, 2011

Bell is a big name, and he's got three consecutive seasons of 40+ saves under his belt. But he's also 34 years old, coming off a season with a troublingly low K rate and, while I don't have a copy of the contract, I'm pretty sure there's no stipulation that allows him to take Petco with him. The Hardball Times' Oliver projects Bell to be worth around 4 Wins Above Replacement over the next three years, meaning Miami would be paying $6.5 million to $7 million per win. And that's not including the vesting option, which would likely make the math worse by paying a premium to a 37-year-old Bell.

Considering that the Marlins could have gotten something like 80-90% of Bell's production with a lesser commitment in dollars and years by signing someone like Frank Francisco or Octavio Dotel, this doesn't look like a smart allocation of the club's expanded resources. Bell gets fancy cars, a big bank account, celebrity friends, maybe even a Playmate of the Year, but Miami won't get that many more W's because of this signing.