2012 Dodgers in Review #44: RP Todd Coffey Is a Socialism

4.66 ERA 3.61 FIP 19.1 IP 8.38 K/9 3.19 BB/9 fWAR D+

2012 in brief: Veteran was quietly effective in between April knee surgery and July elbow surgery which ended his season.

2013 status: $2.5m club option was declined and he’s unlikely to pitch at all as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, though it may not stop him from attempting to defend America from the unseen threat of forces that threaten capitalism.

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I feel like I’m not even sure how to appropriately grade Coffey here. A 4.66 ERA isn’t great, and neither is missing several weeks in April with knee surgery and then blowing out his arm entirely in early July, limiting his season (and likely Dodger career) to only 19.1 innings over 23 outings. Since he allowed four earned runs in his first three appearances, he fell victim to the usual trap of ERA over small sample sizes, and it didn’t get back below 7 until June. As you can imagine, he was hardly the most popular reliever among fans simply due to that.

And yet… when healthy, Coffey was actually pretty effective. He appeared in 10 June games, and didn’t allow an earned run in any, part of a “15 scoreless outings in 16 games” streak dating back to early May. Of his 23 games, he allowed earned runs in only five, and three of them came in appearances clearly affected by his knee & elbow.

Besides, if we remember when Coffey was surprisingly signed in February, I was pretty pleased with the move:

So a durable, pudgy, entertaining ROOGY for $1.3m? Can’t argue that, even if you can make a pretty convincing argument that he’s a better reliever (younger, better FIP, higher K/BB in 2010-11) than Matt Guerrier, who received 9.2x as much cash last winter over three years.

I’m not entirely sure that another veteran bullpen arm was strictly necessary at this point, but Coffey is useful enough and for the $1.3m he’s getting, you can’t really argue with it. Works for me.

And I think it would have, had he not been injured. Sadly, his Tommy John surgery is likely to keep him out well into next season, and it’s doubtful he suits up as a Dodger again.

But let’s be honest, none of that is why we’re going to remember Todd Coffey, right? I feel like Coffey’s the kind of guy who worries that “Red Dawn” — the original one, not the remake that never happened — was a documentary.

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Next up! Shawn Tolleson makes his debut!

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.

Todd Coffey Sprints to Los Angeles

So here’s a thing that I can guarantee you that you absolutely did not see coming: according to Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers have signed righty reliever Todd Coffey to a one-year, $1.3m deal, with an option for 2013. We’ll talk about what Coffey adds in just a second, but first let’s get to the only reason anyone knows who Todd Coffey is – because he’s a large man famous for sprinting in from the bullpen:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7Bl4E6PG-g]

Got that out of our systems? Good. As for Coffey the pitcher, he’s an eminently usable bullpen piece. 31 last September, he’s a veteran of seven MLB season with the Reds, Brewers, and Nationals, and he’s known more for his durability than anything else, having entered at least 69 games in each of the last three seasons and setting a career high with 81 in 2006. His career 4.17 FIP (which he’s beaten in two of the last three seasons) closely matches his 4.08 ERA, and he’s generally induced more grounders than flyouts over his career. Coffey heavily relies on his slider, throwing it 44.3% of the time in 2011 for Washington, and it’s really the only pitch he throws alongside a fastball that averages 93 miles per hour. He’s struck out about 2.3 times as many as he’s walked over the last two seasons, but most importantly, he’s got a huge platoon split, crushing righties (.540 OPS in 2011, .725 career) while being unusuable against lefties (.867 in 2011, .859 career), which is basically what we call “the Octavio Dotel special”.

So a durable, pudgy, entertaining ROOGY for $1.3m? Can’t argue that, even if you can make a pretty convincing argument that he’s a better reliever (younger, better FIP, higher K/BB in 2010-11) than Matt Guerrier, who received 9.2x as much cash last winter over three years. But that’s neither here nor there at this point; more important is what this does to the complexion of the bullpen. It was just yesterday that I was wondering what would change on a roster that seemed all but complete, and Coffey’s addition would seem to round out the seven-man bullpen. This may mean that the club isn’t convinced that Blake Hawksworth‘s elbow surgery will allow him to be ready to start the season – though it happened early enough in the winter that it really shouldn’t be an issue – but it certainly does complicate matters for Josh Lindblom or any of the non-roster guys who were hoping to have a shot at breaking camp with the club. That’s without even considering the case of Ronald Belisario, who is already in Arizona at the team’s complex, but will have to sit out the first 25 games of the season serving his suspension.

I’m not entirely sure that another veteran bullpen arm was strictly necessary at this point, but Coffey is useful enough and for the $1.3m he’s getting, you can’t really argue with it. Works for me.

Update: Carlos in the comments reminds me that the Dodgers already had a full 40-man roster, so someone’s going to have to go unless there’s another move in the works. The bell tolls for thee, Trent Oeltjen? Ramon Troncoso probably shouldn’t get too comfortable either.