Toronto Baseball Guys
Monday, July 20, 2009
  Lessons Learned From B.J. Ryan
The final damage on B.J. Ryan's 5-year/$47.2 million contract: one great year, one good year, one year lost to injury and, of course, this year, which has seen Ryan's release after compiling a 6.53 ERA over 25 games.

So, that's $23.6 million per good season. In case that strikes you as somewhat pricey, you're right.

Here are the top 10 relief seasons during J.P. Ricciardi's tenure as general manager, by Adjusted ERA - that's ERA adjusted for the pitcher's home park, where 100 is league average (minimum 50 innings pitched).


Player ERA+ IP Year G H ER BB SO ERA $
(millions)
1 B.J. Ryan 333 72.1 2006 65 42 11 20 86 1.37 4
2 Scott Downs 239 70.2 2008 66 54 14 27 57 1.78 2.25
3 Jeremy Accardo 209 67.1 2007 64 51 16 24 57 2.14 0.392
4 Scott Downs 206 58 2007 81 47 14 24 57 2.17 1.025
5 Casey Janssen 190 72.2 2007 70 67 19 20 39 2.35 0.3852
6 Jesse Carlson 190 60 2008 69 41 15 21 55 2.25 0.39
7 Justin Speier 173 66.2 2005 65 48 19 15 56 2.56 1.9
8 Justin Speier 153 51.1 2006 58 47 17 21 55 2.98 2.25
9 Jason Kershner 149 54 2003 40 43 19 15 32 3.17 0.315
10 Brian Tallet 148 56.1 2008 51 52 18 22 47 2.88 0.64



What's striking here is that 1) half of these seasons cost the major league minimum, or slightly above, and 2) There are eight different names on this list.

If you extend this to the top 20 seasons, you add Ryan's other good year, and names such as Aquilino Lopez, Jason Frasor, Scot Schoeneweis, Felix Heredia and Cliff Politte. This means that over just seven seasons, Ricciardi was able to find 13 different pitchers who pitched a full season of relief at least 20% better than league average.

Thus, there was really no excuse to open the vault to bring in a "proven" closer. The irony is that Ricciardi already knows this - he let Justin Speier leave for bigger money in Los Angeles after the 2006 season. Enter Accardo, Downs and Janssen, and Speier wasn't missed in the least. Relievers are everywhere - they can be failed starters, such as Downs and Tallet, or one Dennis Eckersley, or young flamethrowers like League and Accardo, or minor league journeyman like Carlson.

The fact that so many different names populate the list is also instructive, because while it's relatively easy to find an effective reliever, it's much tougher to find relievers who can repeat that level of effectiveness. Jesse Carlson is finding that out in 2009, Jason Kershner crashed to earth in 2004, and then there's Brandon League, human roller coaster. Expecting Ryan to reel off five years of dominance was always a dicey proposition.

It can be argued that the signing had deeper significance than simply adding a top flight reliever, that it "sent a message" that the Jays were serious about winning, or announced to the baseball world that they were players in the free agent market. All of which sounds good in the off season, but the only message worth sending is on the field, by winning 90-95 games and earning a playoff spot. That's a lot harder to do when you spend almost $50 million dollars for 155 innings pitched.
 
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