A Look Back At Matt Guerrier’s Contract

As I go through the pitching staff for the 2011 Review series, I’m usually writing a few days ahead of what’s being posted, just because it takes so much work to go back through the full season of posts for each player. Though you probably won’t be seeing Matt Guerrier‘s review (grouped with Jonathan Broxton and Blake Hawksworth) until next week, this morning I started writing it, and it’s filled with basically what you’d expect it would be – “not bad, generally decent, wildly overpaid, hate his contract.” No surprises there.

But what I’d forgotten about until I started doing the research was that not only did we dislike the Guerrier contract simply because of the time-tested rule of “multi-year deals to non-elite relievers never, ever work out well” – which remains true - but because other free agent relievers like Grant Balfour, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch ended up signing elsewhere for less years and money, and in most cases they were pitchers we considered better than Guerrier at the time:

All four signed deals that were less in total value than the Dodgers gave to Guerrier earlier this offseason. You can make the argument that all four are better pitchers, too.

No, really.

Guerrier’s the only one who hasn’t managed a FIP below 4 in either of the last two years, and he’s also got the highest tERA (which is similar to FIP, but includes weights based on batted ball types) as well. He’s next to last as far as K/BB ratio goes to Fuentes; however, Fuentes was superior in OPS allowed in 2010 (.607 to .625) and is also absolute murder on lefties, which is exactly the need I was contemplating in my post about lefty relievers.

If you have to sign a reliever, and you hand out the most years and dollars amongst a group of rough comparables, shouldn’t you be confident that you got the best of the group? And if not the “best”, at least not “possibly the worst”?

Now that we’ve got a year of data, we can check back and see how accurate that assumption was. But then, why stop at four names I somewhat randomly chose to compare Guerrier to before the offseason was even over when we can look back upon the entire collection?

In the winter of 2010-11, 32 relievers signed MLB deals that took them to a new team, with the average contract length being 1.6 years for $3.08m per year. (Once I remove Rafael Soriano from that, which I’m going to do because his insane 3/$35m contract is a massive outlier that completely skews the results, almost certainly came down from ownership and not Brian Cashman, and was hated by most smart Yankee fans at the time, those averages drop to 1.59 years and $2.8m per.) Of the remaining 31, only three other than Guerrier received three-year deals (Joaquin Benoit in Detroit, Scott Downs in Anaheim, Jesse Crain in Chicago), and only those three exceeded the $12m total that Guerrier recieved (though Bobby Jenks matched it on a two-year deal in Boston).

For Guerrier’s contract to have made any sort of sense, he’d need to have given a performance that ranked him among the top 10-15% of the 31 relievers from last year we’re looking at. (I will grant this is somewhat unfair because Guerrier still has two more years left to prove himself, but that’s sort of the point; if an equal or superior reliever could have been had on a one- or two-year deal, it makes his deal look even worse.)

So let’s peruse FanGraphs for Guerrier’s ranking among those peers in some of the stats more relevant to relievers, and no, there’s no mention of holds or saves here.

Best: J.J. Putz, 5.08
Worst: Sean Green, 1.17
22nd of 31: Guerrier, 2.00

Swinging Strike %
Best: Benoit, 13.7%
Worst: Arthur Rhodes, 6.2%
4th of 31: Guerrier, 11.8%

Best: Balfour, 89%
Worst: Green, 60%
30th of 31: Guerrier, 67.6%

Best: Putz, 2.54
Worst: Rhodes, 5.90
12th of 31: Guerrier, 3.43

Best: Putz, 2.40
Worst: Jeremy Accardo, 5.82
7th of 31: Guerrier, 3.28

Best: Putz, 3.51
Worst: D.J. Carrasco, -1.16
28th of 31: Guerrier, -0.96

Shutdowns (definition)
Best: Putz, 35
Worst: Green/J.C. Romero, 1
15th of 31: Guerrier, 17

Meltdowns (definition)
Best: Jose Contreras, 1
Worst: Guerrier, 18

As you can see, Guerrier ranks all over the place. He missed a surprising amount of bats for someone without that kind of reputation, which is nice, as was his decent placement in the advanced run metrics. Of course, being one of the worst at LOB% and the absolute worst at “meltdowns” (if you didn’t read the definition, it’s when a reliever makes his team at least 6% more likely to lose) isn’t exactly what you hoped for when spending the money.

And that’s really the entire point, isn’t it? Guerrier had his uses, and he’s deserving of a place in the Dodger bullpen – no one’s arguing that he needs to be dumped or shipped off immediately, that he was some sort of Juan Uribe in the relief corps. But as I continue to struggle with my 2012 plan (which I’m probably on iteration #76 of right now), the backloaded ~$4.7m for Guerrier sticks out, particularly when he’s likely no better than the 4th best reliever in the bullpen.

Considering how many relievers were as successful or moreso than Guerrier for less years, dollars, or both, it’s safe to say that this is one we should all wish we had back, perhaps even more so than we initally felt when he first signed it.  Now let’s just try to not repeat that mistake this year, could we?