2013 Dodgers in Review #36: RP Matt Guerrier

90topps_mattguerrier4.80 ERA / 4.25 FIP  11.1 IP 6.35 K/9 2.38 BB/9 -0/2 WAR (w/LA) (D)

2013 in brief: Got into 34 thoroughly mediocre games before being DFA’d and shipped off to Chicago for Carlos Marmol, which should tell you all you need to know.

2014 status: Free agent.

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You’ll probably remember that when Matt Guerrier signed his three-year deal following the 2010 season, we really, really hated it. You’ll remember that because I’ve referred to it so often that I don’t even need to go find the link for you again, and it basically boiled down to the fact that multi-year deals for non-elite relievers almost never, ever, ever work.

So now that we’re finally free of Guerrier, who missed most of the second year with arm trouble and barely made it through half of the third year, what did that $12 million buy? 110 innings, a 4.24 ERA, and a whole lot of frustration.

I suppose the most you can say for Guerrier this year is that he was mostly anonymous, which is probably what you want from a middle reliever; the more you hear about them, the worse it’s likely to be. In fact, the only time all season I really dedicated a post to him was in late April:

Mattingly immediately came out to replace Rodriguez with Matt Guerrier, and here’s where the problems began. Rodriguez isn’t your typical LOOGY; he’s effective against hitters from either side of the plate. Guerrier, on the other hand… is Matt Guerrier. He’s the guy we’ve been complaining about since the day he was signed. Noreally.

So of course, Guerrier goes out and gives up a two-run blast to Carlos Gomez, giving Milwaukee a 4-2 lead. That was only compounded when Guerrier returned in the eighth and gave up another two-run dinger, this time to Martin Maldonado — and neither was ever in question, because they were crushed. I’ll give Mattingly some amount of understanding for having Guerrier back out in the eighth, because with Ronald Belisario & Brandon League both unavailable and Kenley Jansen serving as the evening’s fill-in closer, his usual eighth inning options were gone. But having him out there in the first place in a close game was a sizable mistake, one that ultimately cost the Dodgers the game.

The funny thing, I suppose, is that Guerrier’s Dodger career ended with six consecutive scoreless outings, striking out five in four innings. But even so, when he was DFA’d in favor of Chris Withrow, it was met with near-universal acclaim, since Withrow was immediately an improvement. That’s probably unfair to Guerrier, but then again, he never did much to make the contract look any better than the mistake it seemed to be on the day it was signed, either.

Guerrier ended up getting traded to the Cubs for Carlos Marmol, who didn’t matter, and $209,700 in international signing cap room, which does. After going to Chicago, he made it into 15 games (before getting hurt and requiring flexor tendon surgery in August) and pitched almost exactly the same, just without homers, and so a shiny 2.13 ERA looks like it’s going to sucker in some other team next year.

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Next! I’m not even sure yet! Another reliever, probably!

Phillies @ Dodgers June 30, 2013: No More Guerrier

Luis Cruz and Matt Guerrier gone in the span of two days? You’re starting to worm your way back onto my Christmas card list, Ned Colletti. Enjoy this abbreviated “at a family function” game thread here, along with a team that has cut suddenly some significant dead weight.

Brewers 6, Dodgers 4: Matt Guerrier Makes Everything Worse

magill_trees_2013-04-27As Matt Magill‘s first major league inning grew interminably to 30 pitches, I think we just hoped that the night wouldn’t turn ugly. I know I did. There was clearly talent there — blowing away Carlos Gomez on a high fastball was nice — but a leadoff walk, a deep flyout to center, an infield single, a stolen base… it just felt like the night was going to be a struggle.

Six innings later, Magill’s night ended with one of the more impressive debuts by a Dodger starter in decades, and it’s not unfair to wonder if Stephen Fife ought to invest in an autobiography of Wally Pipp. (Look it up, kids.) Over 6.2 innings, Magill struck out seven and walked just two — Norichika Aoki twice — becoming the first non-import Dodger starter to go that long in his major league debut since Pedro Astacio tossed a complete game shutout in 1992. (Hiroki Kuroda went seven in 2008, but he of course was not a traditional rookie.)

Magill’s only real trouble came in the third when he allowed two runs, and even then it was due to some extenuating circumstances. With two on and one out, Magill’s own fielding difficulty while attempting to throw to second allowed the bases to be loaded; after a run-scoring hit, a second run came in when Juan Uribe went for the fielder’s choice instead of an arguably simple play at the plate.

All in all, an immensely successful night for the newest Dodger starter, even if he’s likely heading back to Albuquerque sooner than later — perhaps as soon as later tonight or tomorrow morning, if the Dodgers want to reclaim the roster spot he clearly won’t be using for the next few days. (We heard Alex Castellanos did not play in ABQ tonight, though no word on any possible move there.)

You’ll notice the post doesn’t end here with a happy celebration of Magill’s first major league victory. That’s because Matt Guerrier exists. For now, anyway.

After two quick outs in the top of the seventh with the game knotted at two, Don Mattingly came out to lift Magill in favor of Paco Rodriguez with Aoki coming to the plate. I know many would have preferred that Mattingly just left Magill in there, but I didn’t have a huge problem with that; Magill had allowed Aoki to reach twice and was over 100 pitches by that point, so no reason to push your luck with the rookie when you lift him while he can leave with a positive feeling. Besides, Rodriguez is an effective reliever, so, fine.

Aoki dragged a bunt to second, which Skip Schumaker promptly threw away. I’m not sure if even a great throw would have had the speedy Aoki, but the error allowed him to take second base. Mattingly immediately came out to replace Rodriguez with Matt Guerrier, and here’s where the problems began. Rodriguez isn’t your typical LOOGY; he’s effective against hitters from either side of the plate. Guerrier, on the other hand… is Matt Guerrier. He’s the guy we’ve been complaining about since the day he was signed. No, really.

So of course, Guerrier goes out and gives up a two-run blast to Carlos Gomez, giving Milwaukee a 4-2 lead. That was only compounded when Guerrier returned in the eighth and gave up another two-run dinger, this time to Martin Maldonado — and neither was ever in question, because they were crushed. I’ll give Mattingly some amount of understanding for having Guerrier back out in the eighth, because with Ronald Belisario & Brandon League both unavailable and Kenley Jansen serving as the evening’s fill-in closer, his usual eighth inning options were gone. But having him out there in the first place in a close game was a sizable mistake, one that ultimately cost the Dodgers the game.

On offense, the highlights were few and far between for a game that actually had four runs come across. Andre Ethier‘s no-doubt blast in the eighth off John Axford was nice, Matt Kemp had two more hits to get his line up to .271/.326/.365, and even Juan Uribe got on base twice more. (His line of .200/.429/.440 is just perfect in every way.) But Adrian Gonzalez flew out with the tying run on in the ninth, and A.J. Ellis grounded out to shortstop to end the game with the tying and winning runs on — though he did drive in the first run of the game with a single to right.

It’s also worth nothing that Luis Cruz went 0-4 with more pop-outs to bring his line down to an unfathomable .098/.130/.098, along with a booted grounder that charitably was not marked as an error. I imagine we won’t be seeing him again the lineup soon, especially with Hanley Ramirez‘ rehab stint kicking off tonight. One would hope, anyway.

2012 Dodgers in Review #41: RP Matt Guerrier

3.86 ERA 6.31 FIP 14 IP 5.79 K/9 4.50 BB/9 -0.5 fWAR F

2012 in brief: Proved adage that giving long-term contracts to mediocre relievers is never a good idea as he missed nearly the entire season with arm trouble.

2013 status: Signed for $4.75m in what will mercifully be the final year of his contract.

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Well, it’s pretty easy to review a guy who threw only 14 innings around four missed months, isn’t it? Matt Guerrier rarely pitched, and wasn’t all that great when he did. Even when he was out, I can’t say anyone missed him.

In fact, Guerrier was thought of so little around here – other than ongoing questions about how his injury, which was originally thought to keep him out for about two weeks, turned into more than four months – that the only time his name popped up in a significant way was on April 18:

But let’s skip right ahead to the tenth inning, because that’s all anyone is going to want to talk about.

Matt Guerrier came in to pitch, and while I absolutely hate the idea of saving your closer on the road for a lead which may never come, Guerra’s been shaky enough the last two times out that I can’t really say it absolutely positively had to be him in that situation, so, fine. Unfortunately, Guerrier was shaky, walking leadoff hitter Jonathan Lucroy, a mistake which was multiplied by A.J. Ellis sailing a throw into center field when Nyjer Morgan (running for Lucroy) attempted to steal second. With one out (thanks to yet another late-inning bunt fail gift), Guerrier intentionally walked Rickie Weeks in an attempt to set up the double play.

That’s fine, except that then Weeks stole second with little resistance from the Dodgers, eliminating the double play possibility. Guerrier made things even worse by walking George Kottaras, because that brought Ryan Braun to the plate. Say what you will about whether Braun really deserved his 2011 awards, but hey, whenever you can walk a backup catcher to get to the NL MVP in a critical situation, why wouldn’t you?

While it’s probably a little unfair to single out that one moment, it’s what we’ve got, so it’s what we’ll go with. If he’s healthy next year, the contract alone will give him a job, though it’s hard to say he’s more than the fifth-best reliever the team has — at best — even when he’s right. With his velocity down, a year lost to arm woes, and his age-34 season coming up, does Guerrier have enough left to even be mediocre? Still loving that contract, let me tell you.

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Next up! Brandon League gets himself paid!

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.