Veteran free agents not going to help Marlins pen

With arbitration all but settled for the team, the Marlins’ roster should more or less be set. However, the team’s bullpen is still in flux after the departure of Kiko Calero and Brendan Donnelly, the latter signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. And thus once again begins the yearly griping about the Florida Marlins’ bullpen by fans.

If there’s one thing about having a tiny payroll year in and year out is that it assures that our team will not make ridiculous mistakes like signing Brandon Lyon to $5M a year for three years, for example. With the team’s limited budget, it is often forced to look into trash dump for veteran relievers, and often times this works well for the team. I would prefer if the club decided to just go with some of their younger players in the minors with similar talent, but relief work is often times plagued by the idea that “veteran presence” is necessary. Still, once again this season the Marlins will be digging through the scrap heap for help, and I wonder if the team will find anything better than the marginal guys they have.

The Current Suspects

For ease, I’ll first refer to the guys we do have. Here are their names along with CHONE projected innings pitched and FIP.

Name Proj. IP Proj. FIP
Leo Nunez 54.0 4.26
Dan Meyer 64.0 4.07
Renyel Pinto 60.0 4.45
Burke Badenhop 45.0 3.92
Brian Sanches 57.0 4.10

This is no All-Star group of relievers. The major players are all clustered around a projected 4 ER/9 innings based on FIP, numbers that aren’t all that impressive as relievers. If we were to try and project a WAR value for these players, based on their expected average LI (i.e. the leverage we expect Fredi Gonzalez to give them), we get these projected values.

Name Proj. IP Proj. FIPRA Proj. LI Proj. WAR
Leo Nunez 54.0 4.63 1.7 0.1
Dan Meyer 64.0 4.42 1.2 0.3
Renyel Pinto 60.0 4.84 1.4 0.0
Burke Badenhop 45.0 4.26 1.0 0.3
Brian Sanches 57.0 4.46 1.2 0.2

As mentioned, not a pretty picture. And this doesn’t include the slot that we might have still have to fill.

But what’s the alternative?

It ain’t pretty either. I’ll throw out some free agent relief names still left on the market and you tell me which ones are worth a look.

Name Proj. IP Proj. FIPRA Proj. LI Proj. WAR
Kevin Gregg 67.0 4.63 1.7 0.1
Mike MacDougal 55.0 4.97 1.7 -0.1
Kiko Calero 46.0 4.34 1 0.2
Seth McClung 54.0 5.10 0.9 -0.2
Tyler Walker 47.0 4.66 1.2 0.1
Joe Beimel* 52.0 4.26 1.2 0.3
Tim Wood 49.0 4.74 1.0 0.0
Cristhian Martinez** 49.0 4.46 1.0 0.2

*Beimel is the only lefty listed
**Martinez’ numbers are estimated off of CHONE projections of him as a starter. I knocked off around 0.8 ER/9 from his projected starter FIP on the premise that starters usually lose about 1 ER/9 moving to relief. Innings projection and estimated leverage is the same as Wood’s.

Of course, you might have noticed in that table that two of those guys are not free agents, but rather internal options. The point is not that these internal options are better; I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Wood or Cristhian Martinez were replacement level relievers (though as my soon-to-be new writing colleague on Marlin Maniac will later discuss, Martinez should not be half bad). The point is that among the free agent replacements, especially those like Kevin Gregg or Mike MacDougal who look to make at least $1M a year as “closers” with a capital C,  our internal options are not all that different. Only Joe Beimel appears to be potentially worth chasing, if only because the Marlins only have Renyel Pinto as a left-handed reliever. However, none of these players would be particularly solid additions.

Let’s say the listed bullpen in the prior section was worth 0.8 WAR. An acquisition like Beimel may bump it up to 1 WAR. Any further additions would only improve the pen maybe one or two runs. So are those one or two runs, appropriately leveraged, worth the $1M or so we may have to spend on them? I would say no, and I would hope that you would agree.

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Tags: Leo Nunez Miami Marlins Renyel Pinto

  • Port

    Definitely in agreement with you Michael, and it goes the same for most any major league club: most any internal option is better than spending big money on “bigger” names (bigger only relatively). Really, for any team, you can try and put 6-7 of the best relievers in the bullpen, but because of the small number of innings these guys pitch, production is hard to project. A good bullpen year just sorts of comes together. Here’s hoping this year is that year.

    • Michael Jong


      Absolutely agree. There’s a lot of luck involved in bullpen work, and I’d rather have that luck happen to Cristhian Martinez rather than pay for it to maybe happen to Doug Brocail. Who knows, maybe Leo Nunez, Dan Meyer, and the rest of the ragtag group randomly figures it out and we get the lucky breaks we’ve gotten in the postseason runs of the past.

  • jrhana


    great bullpen analysis-right on the money IMO.

  • aramgh

    Atlhough I agree with most things you write, I have to disagree here. I think the best way for a lower revenue team to assemble a bullpen is to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Guys like Calero last year and Nelson the year before shows that there is potential upside to signing low-level arms for the pen. The projections for the two I just mentioned were certainly not very optimistic. Personally, I would love to try to get guys like Jose Veras, Seth McClung, Chad Bradford, and Joaquin Benoit in camp on minor league invitations or even minimum big league contracts if we had to give them out. It wasn’t too long ago that these guys had some value and theres no reason not to give yourself as many options as possible when it comes down to something as unpredictable as the pen.

    • Michael Jong


      First off, welcome to the MM comments section! I’m glad we’re usually in agreement.

      The way I see it, I agree that having more options isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On a minor league deal and a Spring Training invite, I’ll take a veteran to see how well he does. I don’t mind digging through the scrap heap for bullpen help. What I do mind is going after a MacDougal or even a McClung or someone like that on a major league deal that will basically guarantee him time on the roster. For something as unpredictable as the pen, we might as well go with internal options in that case.

      Basically, we shouldn’t be dropping extra payroll on guys who aren’t likely to be marginally better. Even spending $800K and a major league deal would be a poor method of spending. And if it came to that choice, I’d go with Martinez or Wood over a McClung, MacDouglal, Gregg, or Walker on a major league offer. I think what you’re referring to is more like what the team did with Meyer last year, grab him at essentially no cost. At that point, we probably agree.

  • jrhana


    I can’t resist adding my two cents here that I agree with you that both Martinez and Wood have the potential to be quite serviceable middle relief pitchers. I would say both of them showed some character last year being called up suddenly from the minors and thrown into tense games. Both showed good backbone with the ability to come back a few days after a rough outing and pitch well.

    Of course, Beinfast will be combing the scrap heaps for another Kiko Calero.

    Glad to see you paying attention to middle relief. Much ignored but for a fan in the ballpark with a tense game on the line, for a few moments the middle reliever with the ball in his hand is the most important guy in the world.

    The 2004 and 2005 seasons were ruined by awful middle relief pitching.

    • Michael Jong


      I think as most fans know, middle relief is important because important situations happen all the time, not just in the ninth. I think these sorts of things could be dealt with if managers were more intelligent about bullpen use. Like, it’s OK to pitch your “closer” in the 7th with 2 on and 1 out in a tie game, for example. It’s an important situation, and if you think it’s the most important, you should go ahead and use your best guy. Too many times that situation happens and all of a sudden, your manager has saved your best reliever for a future situation that never happened because your “7th inning guy” gave up two runs.

      Managers already don’t do much. And the few things they do have an impact on, especially bullpen leveraging, they fail at almost universally. The late innings are always frustrating as fans. I just don’t get as frustrated at the mediocre relievers who turn up and fail in these situations as much as I get mad at the managers who put them there in the first place.

  • jrhana


    Great comments (as always). A few other thoughts.

    A manager also needs to bear in mind how easy it is wear out his bullpen. I don’t know if I am the only one that remembers the 2007 bullpen, but we had 7 guys throwing pretty well. They brought them all back in 2008 and one by one they just fell apart-victims of overuse.

    I remember in Girardi’s year they brought up Tankersly and he was lights out for a while. But as everybody else in the bullpen was terrible, Girardi overused him. I remember he had Tank pitch four games in a row and Tank has never been the same since.

    One other thing is that in some ways the closer has an easier job than the middle reliever. The closer generally knows when he is coming in ahead of time and has plenty of time to prepare himself. Also the closer generally starts the game with nobody on base.

    The middle reliever is often thrown in the game with little notice and time to prepare with men on base. I think there are some effective closers who simply don’t seem to function when they come in with men on base. They used to say that about Billy Wagner. In other words not all great closers are also great middle relievers.

    Yes the most important influence of the manager could well be how he manages his bullpen which could be why so many managers are ex-catchers. I would give Freddi a B on his bullpen management. I thought Griardi deserved a D minus.

    I am ordering The Book:

    Can’t wait to get started.

    • Michael Jong


      I’m glad to hear that you’ve ordered The Book. Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin do some excellent research based on solid principles that, at times, goes against traditional belief. I’m still running through all of the chapters myself.

      There’s an excellent chapter in The Book regarding leveraging of relievers. It’s very well written by Tango I believe and deals with the current usage patterns and how they may be improved. Some things that managers do right now are well off in terms of maximizing efficiency, and I think one of those things is the strict usage of “closers’ in the ninth inning rather than using them when necessary. There’s also another discussion on wear-and-tear that suggests that relievers can probably work more than most managers give them credit for, though I’ve yet to read through all of that section’s work.

      I hope you enjoy the Book, it’s an excellent read.