Come On Back, Jamey Wright

92topps_jameywrightHey, remember Jamey Wright? This is not a rhetorical question. I’m literally asking if you remember that Jamey Wright exists on this planet and once pitched for the Dodgers. In fact, not only did he pitch for the Dodgers, but he was the only reliever to stick on the active roster in 2012 from Opening Day through Game 162.

He’s approximately 75 years old (okay, 39 on Christmas Eve), he’s famously made teams in each of the last nine seasons without a guaranteed contract… and he’s relevant because Ken Rosenthal reports that he’s currently choosing between the Dodgers and the Rays, for whom he pitched in 2013. Wright hasn’t signed with a new team before January since 2004, so my guess is that if he’s choosing between offers this soon and has more than one, it’s a major league deal for once.

Wright is fantastically unexciting, so you’ll be excused if you hope he chooses Tampa Bay. But before you root on that too hard, know these two things:

1) The Dodgers have only three-and-a-half relievers right now…

Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson are locks, and Chris Withrow is pretty close. Paco Rodriguez is too, though I’m more than a little worried by how badly he finished the year. (Hence the half.) I suppose Brandon League is as well, but I try to pretend he doesn’t exist.

And then… what? Scott Elbert will be on the disabled list. Jose Dominguez missed so much time that he could easily start in Triple-A, and Onelki Garcia is so inexperienced. Javy Guerra is still floating around, I guess. When Ned Colletti says things like “three more relievers,” well, you can understand why.

2) …and Wright is better than you think he is.

Again, guys in their late-30s who don’t throw hard and bounce to new teams every year as NRIs are far from flashy. But Wright somehow keeps improving. I mean, his K/9 went from 4.36 (!) in 2010 with Cleveland and Seattle to 6.32 in 2011 with Seattle to 7.18 in 2012 with the Dodgers to 8.36 in 2013 with Tampa…. and he dropped his BB/9 below three for the first time ever last year. His FIP marks the last two years have been 3.39 and 3.13; his ERA the last three years is 3.32.

He’s not throwing harder; if anything, he’s throwing softer than ever. What he’s done is nearly entirely ditch his traditional fastball in favor of a cutter, and incorporating a changeup that he rarely used before:

wright_pitches

Now if it turns out he’d rather be a Ray, that’s fine. I won’t mourn him too much, by which I mean “at all”. But I can’t imagine he’s coming for anything more than a year at under $2m at his age, and he’s showed continued — hell, improved — utility while throwing 60 games or more in five of the last six years. That’s a guy every team could use. It’s especially a guy this team could use, with their bullpen uncertainty. And if he comes in and turns into a pumpkin? Well, then you DFA him, because the cost will be (presumably) so minimal.

You know what? That works for me.

2012 Dodgers in Review #49: RP Jamey Wright

3.72 ERA 3.39 FIP 67.2 IP 7.18 K/9 3.99 BB/9 0.5 fWAR A-

2012 in brief: Veteran retread was surprisingly adequate as only reliever to remain on active roster from wire to wire.

2013 status: Free agent.

******

Hey, did you know that Jamey Wright made the Dodgers on his seventh consecutive season as a non-roster invite? Me neither, because it was something that was never brought up or mentioned about him, ever.

Besides, teams sign dozens of these guys per year, so when Wright landed with the Dodgers in early February, it didn’t merit a whole ton of attention:

Unrelated and obviously far less interesting, the Dodgers have signed 37-year-old veteran Jamey Wright to a minor-league contract and an invite to camp. Wright was a first-round pick of the Rockies way back in 1993; he made his debut in 1996 and was in Dodger Stadium three days later for his second career game against a Dodger lineup that featured Chad Fonville, Mike Blowers, and Greg Gagne. Despite being a soft-tossing righty, he has managed to last for sixteen seasons with eight teams, with two stops apiece in Colorado and Kansas City. Wright got into 60 games for the Mariners last year and actually posted a career-best 3.16 ERA, though the 4.30 FIP doesn’t quite back that up. As far as non-roster guys go, he’s par for the course and fine by me, though I’m not exactly sure I see how he has a prayer to make what looks to be a pretty full roster unless the injuries really pile up in camp.

As it turned out, the Dodgers had signed Wright back in 2009 but the deal was canceled when he failed a physical, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when he did actually earn a roster spot, in no small part due to Blake Hawksworth‘s ongoing health problems. When we learned on March 26 that he’d officially made the roster, we were excited to the point where I couldn’t even analyze it with any seriousness.

Wright very nearly made an emergency Opening Day start when Clayton Kershaw came down with the flu — which, thank whatever deity you believe in for “very nearly”, because that’s not a reality I’m prepared to live in — but he didn’t make a very favorable impression on us in his second outing, on April 7:

That came an inning earlier than usual tonight, where after breezing through four scoreless, Capuano gave up a single and three walks, leaving the bases loaded for Jamey Wright. Wright – doing Jamey Wright things, don’t you know – then proceeded to walk each of the next two on eight straight balls, forcing home two runs, before being relieved himself; Scott Elbert allowed another run on a wild pitch and yet another on an Orlando Hudson single, during which the inning mercifully came to an end when catcher Nick Hundley was thrown out attempting to score.

Still, Wright was surprisingly effective though April, not allowing a hit in his first six appearances, including a high point on April 19 when he struck out Rickie WeeksNyjer Morgan, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez & Corey Hart in succession.

Despite our expectations that Wright would get replaced at nearly any second, the constant flux in the bullpen made it so that he was never really in as much danger of losing his job as you’d think. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case if Matt Guerrier & Kenley Jansen & Scott Elbert & Javy Guerra all hadn’t hit the disabled list, and if Ronald Belisario hadn’t missed the first month, and if Josh Lindblom hadn’t been traded, but all those things did happen, so he managed to skate by.

That’s not quite the same thing as being good, of course, because he did allow two or more earned runs a surprising nine times, which along with allowing more than a hit per inning and a high 4.0/9 walk rate isn’t exactly ideal. Still, he did post a career-high strikeout rate and simply managed to stay healthy and not awful all season, which is a lot more valuable than it sounds — especially for a guy making the minimum.

So here’s to you, Jamey, for being Ned Colletti’s token non-roster guy who contributes of 2012. Now let’s hope we never see you in Dodger blue again.

******

Next up! Finally, we’re done with player reviews: it’s Ronald Belisario!!

Dodger Bullpen on a Budget Among the Best in Baseball

Despite Kenley Jansen‘s homer trouble this week, the Dodger bullpen has been very good this year, depending on how you gauge such things. (Total sidebar for a moment – remember when Jansen blew his first save chance in April and every fool with an internet connection exploded in a fury of “herr durr derp he doesn’t have the heart to pitch the ninth inning?” Now we’re seeing articles about whether he can handle non-save situations because he’s been so good in the ninth. I hate this planet sometimes.)

Back to the bullpen as a whole, there’s more than a few ways to look at their success. They have the third-most shutdowns; they’re tied for the sixth-fewest meltdowns. By straight ERA, they’re 10th; by FIP, they’re tied for 12th, though it should be noted that the difference between the Giants in fifth at 3.45 and the Rays in 14th at 3.67 is so miniscule as to be barely noteworthy. They’re eighth in OPS against at .657; they have the third-highest strikeout rate, thanks in large part to Jansen. Really, the only area where they’re not doing all that well is in walk rate, where they have the sixth-highest mark in the game, though that’s a group-wide affliction, since only Josh Lindblom can say he has a walk rate lower than three per nine.

No matter how you choose to value a bullpen, the Dodger relief corps ranks between solid and excellent. Here’s my favorite part, though: the seven members of the bullpen who have pitched seven innings or more this year are doing so for a combined salary of less than Juan Uribe is receiving to be injured and awful in 2012. Only Todd Coffey (who has been very effective since his return from injury, even if his season stats don’t reflect it) makes even a million; only he and Jamey Wright make more than $500,000. Jansen, Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, & Ronald Belisario each make between $480k and $492k. (Before anyone complains that arguably the two least valuable members of the bullpen make the most money and that this makes Ned Colletti an idiot, please go check out the veteran pay scale in this sport.)

For the grand total of something like $4.4m, the Dodgers have put together a very effective bullpen, and assuming Shawn Tolleson sticks around long enough in Guerra’s absence to make a contribution, we’ll be able to say this is an eight-man group making less than $5m. That’s about $1.5m less than James Loney is making this year. It’s slightly more than Juan Rivera alone is getting. It’s roughly one-third the dead money owed to Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, & Juan Pierre in deferred payouts just for this season. It’s not a whole hell of a lot of money, is the point, just in case you hadn’t quite had that drilled into your skull yet.

If you’re dying to point out that I’ve neglected to include Matt Guerrier, making $4.75m this year as part of a 3/$12m contract, well, that’s sort of the point. Guerrier was adequate at best last year before missing most of this year with arm woes, but the lack of return we’re seeing on that contract is just further illustrating the point that big multi-year deals for non-elite relievers are almost never ever a good idea – a point that was made many times, here and elsewhere, before Guerrier ever threw his first pitch.

But don’t take my word for it; we have data to rely on. Over the last two offseasons, (2010-11 & 2011-12), 18 relievers have signed free agent deals that total at least $5m or more. The results haven’t been pretty. Six of them – Guerrier, Mariano Rivera, Jose Contreras, Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, & Bobby Jenks – have suffered major injuries which have cost them most or all of a season. Three more – Kevin Gregg, Brian Fuentes, & Heath Bell – have to be considered busts, at least so far; while Grant Balfour may not fall into the “bust” category, he’s already lost his closer’s job this year, and in New York, Frank Francisco is carrying a 5.57 ERA, though it’s not totally deserved. (The table I linked is slightly misleading for the five guys who signed before 2012, since it includes their generally good work in 2011 as well, so Bell doesn’t look as bad as he really has been as a Marlin.) Some of the others have been inoffensive if not game-changing, but the only guys on that list who can really say they’re really making a difference for their new teams are J.J. Putz, Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Joaquin Benoit, & Jonathan Papelbon, and even in Papelbon’s case, you can easily question whether an aging team with huge problems on offense and a manager who doesn’t know how to run a bullpen should really have spent $50m on a closer. This proves either that you should only import free agent relievers with names that start with “J”, or that the rate of success on big-money bullpen arms is dreadfully inefficient.

Now, that’s not to say that you should only ever rely on cheap homegrown relievers, because I’ll be the first to admit that building a bullpen around a converted catcher, a flaky drug user on his third organization after multiple suspensions, a guy who walked 7.3/9 at age 24 in Double-A, and two veteran afterthoughts isn’t exactly a repeatable business model. But after all we’ve learned over the years, we should know that relievers are infamous for their volatility, and it’s more than possible to build an effective, efficient bullpen around young arms supplemented with a few low-cost (i.e., one year for less than $5m, many of whom are succeeding this year) veterans, with a lucky NRI invite here and there – an area which Colletti has shown to be surprisingly effective in.

Better yet for the Dodgers, there’s more where that came from. As we’ve talked about several times, they have a multitude of young power starters in the minors. Some – perhaps Ethan Martin, or Chris Withrow – aren’t going to pan out as starters, just like Lindblom & Elbert didn’t, and that opens up a path to potentially being successful out of the bullpen. So far, the Dodger relievers have been very good for a very reasonable price. Let’s hope that any thoughts of big spending to supplement them in the future keeps the past in mind.

Jamey Wright, Los Angeles Dodger

As we’ve expected basically from the beginning of camp, Ned Colletti has informed Jamey Wright that he’ll be heading north (well, slightly just above due west, actually) with the team. That’s fantastically interesting to those who put a great deal of stock into Wright’s 3.16 ERA last year (as opposed to his 4.30 FIP), and quite a bit less so to anyone hoping to see Josh Lindblom or John Grabow (who opted out of his deal today) make the club. With Matt Guerrier & Ted Lilly each at least somewhat questionable for Opening Day, that at least opens the door for Lindblom to break camp as well.

This is the point where you’d usually want to delve into Wright’s attributes, figure out how he might fit into the bullpen, etc. But you know what? It’s not really worth it. Been there, done that, seen Jeff Weaver, lived through Lance Cormier, etc. Wright is what he is, which is an extremely experienced (read: old) righty bullpen arm who is neither great nor atrocious, and someone who probably shouldn’t get too comfortable in Los Angeles considering that Ronald Belisario and Blake Hawksworth are each due back within the first month of the season.

So in lieu of spending time trying to analyze Wright, let’s get to know him with some fun, mildly interesting facts:

* He’s tied for 24th on the all-time list of hit batters, with 142.

* He’s been released or DFA’d in camp or the middle of a season seven times – by the Mariners, Brewers, & Rangers in 2003, the Cubs & Royals in 2004, and by the Indians & Athletics in 2010.

* When Wright was selected by the Rockies with the final pick of the first round in 1993, the Colorado franchise had all of 53 games all-time under their belt. They were 15-38 at the time.

* Wright’s debut came on July 3, 1996. At least four of the other participants in that game – Eric Young, Bruce Ruffin, Dante Bichette, and Shawon Dunston – have sons who are currently playing professional baseball.

* Wright has had 596 teammates over the years. By comparison, Clayton Kershaw has had 113.

* Over the last ten seasons combined, Wright has been worth 1.3 rWAR.

* While a member of the Mariners, Wright allowed four earned runs to Toronto on August 21 of last season. It was the only game from July 29 on in which he allowed an earned run; over his final 19 games of the season, including the Toronto game, he held opponents to a .216/.330/.273 line.

* Before his debut, there had never been a major leaguer with the name “Jamey”. The only other player with that name, Jamey Carroll, played for the Dodgers as well.

******

Totally unrelated, this from Ken Gurnick:

The Dodgers, missing in action on the international bonus scene in recent years, have agreed to sign 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Bryan Munoz from the Dominican Republic for a reported $300,000 bonus, pending a physical exam.

The signing will mark a re-entry by the Dodgers into a Dominican market they once owned. They ranked last in Major League Baseball last year in money spent on international signings. The Dodgers outbid the Rangers, Twins, Tigers and D-backs for Munoz.

I hadn’t heard of Munoz before today, and neither had you. That’s not the point, because even if he’s successful, he’s not someone you’d see in a big-league uniform until something like 2017 at the earliest. It’s just that after years of watching the McCourt regime neglect the international scouting arena, seeing them make any kind of splash there (even if it’s a relatively small one) is a nice sign. As Gurnick notes, it’s the largest bonus given to a Dominican player by the Dodgers since Joel Guzman back in 2001.

Dodgers Finally Get Their (Old, Old) Men

Photo via Jon SooHoo's wonderful blog, http://dodgersphotog.mlblogs.com/

Via Ken Gurnick, we’ve learned that for the Dodgers, signing Aaron Harang and Jamey Wright this winter was actually the culmination of years of interest on the club’s part.

Harang:

In their third year of trying, the Dodgers finally landed starting pitcher Aaron Harang, who is expected to help plug an innings hole created by the departure of Hiroki Kuroda.

The Dodgers made a run at Harang at the 2009 Trade Deadline, again that offseason and yet again in the spring of 2010 before finally signing the free agent in December for two years and $12 million.

“It made it more enticing, knowing it wasn’t something just spontaneous, like, ‘Let’s just go after this guy,’” Harang said. “It’s been in the back of my mind that they’ve wanted me a while. That made it an easier decision, knowing people want you and have been working at something for multiple years.”

Wright:

This year’s Jeff Weaver. Wright pitched in relief for Seattle last year, appearing in 60 games with a career-best 3.16 ERA. A one-time innings-eating starter, Wright has pitched in relief exclusively since 2008. He had a deal worked out with the Dodgers for 2009 but failed a physical, a curious result considering he’s been a workhorse ever since.

That 3.16 ERA for Wright was of course accompanied by a 4.30 FIP, so let’s not get too excited about it; still, the usual “he’s an NRI so I don’t really care that much” caveats do apply. While we don’t know the terms of Wright’s scuttled potential deal back in 2009 – which, honestly, came as news to me – I do wonder if having successfully signed “this year’s Jeff Weaver” at the time may have prevented the arrival of the actual Jeff Weaver, who joined the team on February 9, 2009 after an atrocious 2008 spent entirely in the minors.

Back to Harang, we had heard rumors about the club potentially having interest in him in the 2009-10 offseason, as they desperately looked for a place to dump Juan Pierre before finally shipping him off to Chicago for John Ely and Jon Link. I don’t generally mind the idea of a big, innings-eating type to take up space in the back of the rotation, but it still kills me when I see things like this:

Harang, 33, is coming off a rebound season, going 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA for San Diego.

Uh-huh.

Harang, 2009
162.1 IP, 7.87 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 4.14 FIP, 90.7 avg FB MPH

Harang, 2011
170.2 IP, 6.54 K/9, 3.06 BB/9, 4.17 FIP, 89.8 avg FB MPH

If it seems like Harang was better at 31 in 2009 than he was at 33 in 2011, well, I wouldn’t have much to argue with you on there. So what’s the big difference? Ah yes: 6-14, 4.21, vs 14-6, 3.64. It’s amazing what superficial stats (and Petco Park) still count for these days, and along with the dubious “number-crunching” that apparently contributed to the Chris Capuano deal, it’s fair to enter the season with a real amount of concern over the two older, injury-prone veteran imports who are only effective in larger parks like Dodger Stadium, CitiField, and Petco. Throw in Ted Lilly, yet another older flyball pitcher, and I’m starting to wonder if I need to look up what the team’s all-time record for biggest disparity in wins at home against on the road is. (I also can’t say that it helps that the Dodgers gave Harang $12m over two years after the Padres, who saw him up close all year, passed on their more reasonable $5m for one year option.)

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the excess of nearly-ready starting pitchers the Dodgers have, guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Allen Webster, Chris Reed, and more. The more you look at the starting rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, the more you wonder if that kind of depth this year is less of a luxury, and more of a necessity.