Monday, December 15, 2008

Cleveland's Return on the Gutz Trade

Cleveland made a surprise move before leaving Las Vegas on Thursday, acting as a bridge for the Mariners and Mets to complete a 12 player deal. Part of the trade involved Franklin Gutierrez heading to Seattle, with the Tribe getting reliever Joe Smith from New York and second baseman Luis Valbuena from Seattle.

It was no secret the rebuilding Mariners were shopping closer J.J. Putz and the Mets had been inquiring about every available closer at the Winter Meetings before signing Francisco Rodriguez. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro had been in discussions with Seattle about Putz before, but pulled back once negotiations with Kerry Wood started to yield results. Combine that with Shapiro’s strong relationship with Mets GM Omar Minaya and it’s easy to see where much of the groundwork for Cleveland’s involvement came from. Shapiro admitted the deal came together “remarkably quickly,” often the case when a transaction occurs on the last night of the Winter Meetings at 2:00am.

Obviously the Mets main goal was to further bolster their bullpen, although some might argue that acquiring a second closer to go with Rodriguez’s new contract borders on overkill. Omar Minaya has some guts in trading for Putz and relegating him to the setup role. Putz had explicitly stated before the trade that he wanted to remain a closer, so he couldn’t have been too happy about becoming K-Rod’s sidekick. On the plus side, Putz will get to play for a contender again and may be in line for a big payday in two years depending on his performance.

After compiling a 1.86 ERA and 76 saves the past two seasons, Putz’s 2008 season jumped the track when he suffered a rib injury in April and a hyperextended right elbow in June. Putz’s trademark is the strikeout, backing up his 95 MPH fastball with an 11.04 K/9 average the past three seasons. If Putz makes a 100% recovery from his elbow injury, the Mets could have a ridiculous one-two punch to close out games. Putz’s two remaining contract years ($5 mil and an $8.6 mil club option) make him a pricey setup man, but he could turn out to be a bargain if he returns to form. There have been some questions regarding how sustainable Putz’s peripherals are and the recent injuries only compound the issue. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back from a sub-par 2008.

Seattle got back a slew of young players in the deal, including four major leaguers and three minor leaguers. Below are the 12 players on the move:

New York gets: J.J. Putz (RP), Jeremy Reed (CF), Sean Green (RP)

Seattle gets: Aaron Heilman (RP), Endy Chavez (OF), Jason Vargas (RP), Franklin Gutierrez (OF), Ezequiel Carrera (OF), Mike Carp (1B), Maikel Cleto (RP)

Cleveland gets: Joe Smith (RP), Luis Valbuena (2B)

With the obvious exception of Franklin, I don’t know much about the package of players Seattle received. In general, Mariners fans seem to like the trade, which is probably a good indicator of the value they got back. Since I’d like to focus on how the trade will impact the Tribe, I’ll leave the analysis of Seattle’s return in the hands of baseball guru Dave Cameron at U.S.S. Mariner.

Joe Smith

Year Age Level IP ERA WHIP K/BB K/9 BB/9 AVG ERA+
2006 22 A- 20 0.45 0.65 9.33 12.60 1.35 .151 N/A

AA 13 5.54 1.77 1.09 8.53 7.82 .251 N/A
2007 23 AAA 9 2.00 1.22 1.25 5.00 4.00 .216 N/A

MLB 44.3 3.45 1.55 2.14 9.14 4.26 .277 123
2008 24 MLB 63.3 3.55 1.29 1.68 7.39 4.41 .222 118

Smith is expected to start the season in the Cleveland bullpen and should see a significant workload in 2009. GM Mark Shapiro views Smith as “an important part of the back end of a 'pen," which probably means we’ll see him contribute in the 7th and 8th innings if all goes well. Smith broke in with the Mets in 2007 and has logged two successful Major League seasons. I don’t think I’d call Smith a prospect anymore because he seems to have established himself at the ML level at this point. Most of Smith’s appearances with New York came in the 7th and 8th innings in low leverage situations.

For what it’s worth, Smith’s 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 1.67 K/BB over 63.3 IP made him one of the best options in the Mets’ bullpen for 2008. Historically, Smith has struggled against left handed batters. Lefties compiled a .309 / .427 / .454 line in 23.2 IP versus Smith over his career. Smith is very effective against righties though, posting a .223 / .317 / .326 career line in 84.0 IP. Smith’s struggles against left handed batters are probably in large part due to his sidearm delivery (batters in the left side of the box are able to pick up on his delivery better). Until Smith develops a way to better deal with lefties, he will continue to be limited as a righty-specialist in the late innings.

Smith had a solid K/9 rate of 7.39 in 2008, but his 4.41 BB/9 rate points to occasional control issues (he still managed to throw over 60% of his pitches for strikes). His sidearm style allowed him to induce a ton of groundball outs, with 62.6% of his batted balls going for grounders. Being an extreme groundball pitcher probably helps him stay out of trouble despite a high walk rate. Overall, Smith was an above average reliever in 2008 with a 118 ERA+.

Smith’s trademark is his sidearm delivery and sinking fastball. According to Josh Kalk’s Pitch f/x database, Smith’s fastball has an average speed of 91.19 MPH and was used almost 68% of the time in 2008. His fastball has such a strong bite that Pitch f/x actually classifies it as a sinker. Smith’s secondary pitch is a slider with good movement and an average speed of 82.05 MPH.

Smith takes advantage of his deceptive delivery and extreme pitch movement by pounding right-handers inside with his fastball before pulling the string with the slider outside. He rarely went inside with the slider and used it about 32% of the time overall. The slider is Smith’s go-to pitch in potential strikeout situations where he is ahead in the count. While the slider shows up over 55% of the time in a favorable count, the fastball is utilized over 90% of the time when he’s fallen behind.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video of Smith’s delivery, but his release point tends to fall between four and five feet off the ground (most pitchers have a release point of at least six feet). Smith switched to the sidearm delivery after his college coach recommended it as a way to improve his control. The suggestion worked so well that Smith went from a college baseball walk-on in 2004 to a 3rd round MLB draft pick in 2006. Smith describes how his delivery has evolved in a recent Washington Post interview:

"My delivery now is a little different than the way I threw in college. In college, the delivery was putting a lot more stress on my arm. Now, there's not as much stress on my arm, so I don't feel as sore. I'm still learning how to pitch to big league hitters. I don't think I'll ever stop trying to learn more about how to do this."

Smith has weathered a pretty rapid transition from college ball to the Majors. Considering he is still developing as a pitcher in both his delivery and approach, I think there is a lot of potential for improvement over the next few seasons. Tony Lastoria believes “the key to [Smith] becoming more effective against left-handers and a potential setup man is the development of a changeup.” Hopefully the Tribe can continue to improve Smith’s changeup (he used it sparingly in 2008) and allow him to emerge from his current specialist role.

With the addition of Kerry Wood and Joe Smith and prospects like Adam Miller, Tony Sipp, Jeff Stevens, and John Meloan waiting in the wings, Cleveland’s bullpen is due for a major overhaul in 2009. Given his potential ceiling, previous experience, and dominance against right-handers, Smith is better than your average depth acquisition and could become a significant arm in the pen next season.

Luis Valbuena

Valbuena is considered the centerpiece of Cleveland’s return in this deal. Based on the suddenness of the trade, I had a feeling Valbuena was not meant as the answer to Cleveland’s infield needs. Shapiro confirmed this theory by stating Valbuena “could be a guy who factors into our big league picture, depending on how our offseason concludes. But he's not our infield piece right now." In other words, Valbuena will be starting the season with Buffalo so he can build on the substantial progress he made last season. The fact that Shapiro left the door open for Valbuena to contribute in the Majors in 2009 tells you something about his potential in the eyes of the GM.

I think Cleveland’s plan is to start Valbuena in AAA and allow him to build on his break-out season. Valbuena’s offensive numbers surged during his age-22 season, culminating in his Major League debut with Seattle. Below are Valbuena’s peripherals for the last two seasons:

2007 21 AA 505 .313 .378 .304 6.08 0.58 .140
2008 22 AA 277 .384 .483 .378 7.48 0.84 .179

AAA 246 .383 .373 .339 7.68 0.88 .071

MLB 54 .315 .347 .298 4.90 0.36 .102

There are a few positive signs in Valbuena’s minor league performance. He spent the entire 2007 season toiling in AA and only had modest offensive numbers to show for it. He was striking out almost 19% of the time and did not show much patience at the plate. Valbuena took what he learned in 2007 and ran with it, becoming a much more disciplined hitter in the process. By honing his batting eye and showing more patience, Valbuena was able to reduce his strikeouts and collect more walks. Once he started to get on base more, his overall offensive production (represented here by wOBA) improved by .074 points compared to his previous season in AA. Valbuena also started to make better contact with the ball, pushing his ISO up from .140 to .179.

Seattle rewarded Valbuena’s work ethic with a promotion to AAA mid-season. Even though his power numbers took a nosedive in his first exposure to AAA pitching, Valbuena’s OBP held steady while his strikeout and walk rates actually improved. This is the most important trend from Valbuena’s time in the upper-minors. Despite having to adjust to tougher pitching in AAA, his ability to reach base and earn walks continued to improve. Valbuena’s power numbers should bounce back naturally as long as he continues to see the ball well. He may also develop more power in his swing as he ages. Many young players tend to press and go for the long ball, so the opposite trend will occur (OBP and K head south at the expense of a few more extra base hits). Valbuena has done a good job of avoiding this pitfall.

Most Cleveland fans (my self included) haven’t seen Valbuena in the field before, but Jeff at Lookout Landing provides his take on Valbuena’s glove:

“The thing that excited me most about Valbuena, though, was his defense. Don't bother looking at his defensive statistics; given the sample size, they won't tell you anything. Trust your eyes. If you watched Valbuena around second base this past month, you saw him make a lot of plays deep to his right, along with a couple that required him to come charging in towards the plate. I don't recall seeing him go to his left very often, but that's kind of out of his control. What's important is that, in his limited playing time, Valbuena was able to showcase both above-average range and above-average instincts with a pretty good arm. That's big. This team [Seattle] badly needs some better defense going forward, and now that I've seen Valbuena play his position, I'm pretty confident saying that he could play a solid second base in the Majors Leagues right now.”

Sounds good to me.

The adjustments Valbuena made between 2007 and 2008 look like they have a good chance of sticking and probably made him an appealing prospect to the Tribe. It took Valbuena one and a half seasons in AA before he was ready to move up, so one more season in AAA would seem like a logical move here. Unless he really catches fire (or Shapiro fails to land a new infielder), I doubt we’ll see Valbuena in Cleveland until the rosters expand in September. Valbuena could break in with the club by taking over Jamey Carroll’s utility role in the 2010 season.

Bottom Line

I like this trade in theory: dealing from an area of depth (corner outfielders) to fill in two definite needs elsewhere (bullpen and high level infield prospects). As a fan, Gutz was one of my favorite players to watch, but I think it was a smart move to trade him. Cleveland has another wave of quality outfielders who are near-ML ready and there would have been a serious crunch on the 25-man roster at some point. Plus, Gutz's value probably wouldn't have gotten much better than it already was anyway. In a way, Cleveland did Gutz a favor because now he can be a starter in centerfield, taking full advantage of his defensive prowess. I figured Gutz would have gone as part of a package for a bigger return, but I'm satisfied with what we got back for him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gutz to be Traded: Full Updates Coming Soon

Well, I was going to have a piece about Kerry Wood go up tonight. At least until I got severely distracted by a three team deal involving Cleveland, Seattle, and the Mets. Nothing has been finalized yet, but word on the street has Franklin Gutierrez going to Seattle, while Cleveland will receive reliever Joe Smith from New York and 22 year old second baseman Luis Valbuena from Seattle. Here's what the deal looks like as of 11:00pm:

Mets get: pitchers J.J. Putz and Sean Green, outfielder Jeremy Reed

Mariners get: outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez, pitcher Aaron Heilman, first baseman Mike Carp

Indians get: pitcher Joe Smith, second baseman Luis Valbuena

I found this information on beatwriter Anthony Castrovince's blog, which tends to be a pretty reliable source for Tribe transactions.

Like I said, this deal is not final yet and the players may not land in the exact places listed above. I just wanted to get something posted tonight, so there ya go.

I'll be taking a closer look at the Kerry Wood signing, this trade, and the free agent infielders in my next few posts, so remember to check back later.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scouting the FA Closers

As you probably know by now, Cleveland is shopping for a closer this off-season. The Tribe is looking to either sign or trade for an established closer, although their budget is not entirely clear. I felt that the best combination of reliability, experience, and value on the free agent market was Trevor Hoffman, which you can read about here. Cleveland supposedly talked with Hoffman, Fuentes, Rodriguez, and Jason Isringhausen. I was originally going to do a list of free agents and trade targets, but I think I’ll just round out the free agents Cleveland has an interest in and pick up on any trade rumors after the winter meetings (in case you were wondering, Matt Capps is at the top of my wish-list on that front).

2.) Kerry Wood

2008 Team: Cubs
Age: 31
Previous Contract: 1 yr / $4.2 mil (2008), plus up to $3.45 mil for performance bonuses

Player SV (%) IP ERA WHIP ERA+ H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
K. Wood 34 (85.0%) 66.1 3.26 1.09 137 7.33 2.44 11.40 4.67

As much as I hyped up Trevor Hoffman earlier, I think I’d be pretty happy if the team went with Kerry Wood instead. Wood is an interesting option considering he has 10 MLB seasons under his belt, but just completed his first as a closer. After logging 174, 213, and 211 innings as a starter from 2001 to 2003, Wood struggled to stay healthy. Between 2004 and 2006, Wood suffered from an array of injuries and underwent surgery on his knee and rotator cuff. The Cubs finally decided to try and conserve Wood's electric arm by converting him to a reliever in 2007. The relief stint got off to a rough start as Wood spent most of the season battling elbow issues (he did not return to Chicago until August). Wood expressed a strong preference to stay in Chicago, taking an incentives based $4.2 million dollar contract after filing for free agency after the 2007 season.

Wood would have been the perfect Shapiro project a year ago; battered by injuries with a high payoff when healthy. Wood's 2008 run as the Cubs closer jump-started the former ace's career and probably put him in line for a hefty raise. Wood officially hit the open market Monday after the Cubs declined to offer him arbitration. The Cubs have made it clear they are moving on without Wood, even though he has offered to take a one year deal to stay with the team. Chicago balked at Wood's supposed $9+ million salary and have already anointed Carlos Marmol as closer.

Wood's value significantly increased after 2008 due to his success as closer and the fact that he was able to stay healthy for the entire season. The only major setback for Wood was in July when he suffered from a blister on his right index finger and was placed on the 15-day DL. Wood isn't exactly a veteran closer, but he is a veteran starter. He has already proven that he has the mentality to handle the closer role and is a seasoned playoff pitcher. His 85.0% save percentage last year was comparable to elite closers like Joe Nathan (86.6%) and B.J. Ryan (88.8%).

Despite owning the lowest save percentage and highest ERA between Fuentes and Rodriguez, I would take Wood if all I had to go by were the numbers. Wood’s ERA was inflated by a few bad outings, particularly in July when he was probably trying to work around a blister on one of his throwing fingers. Other than the three isolated appearances where he gave up three runs and a bad stretch in September where he surrendered 7 runs in 3.1 innings, Wood was very reliable. He may have blown six saves, but three of those came before May 2. After that, all Wood did was rack up consecutive saves.

Wood’s H/9 rate was slightly higher than K-Rod and Fuentes, but Wood’s outstanding combination of a 2.44 BB/9 rate and 11.40 K/9 rate really puts him ahead of the competition. Even though he gave up more hits, Wood had the best WHIP, K/BB ratio, and HR/9 rate of the three. Wood’s combination of strikeouts and precision place him ahead of pack in terms of overall pitching ability and I feel that his numbers are fairly sustainable. Several stats seem likely to regress based strictly on Wood’s career totals, although I’m not sure it’s fair to directly compare his time as a starter to that as a reliever. If you consider Wood’s ability as a starter and remove all the pitfalls of starting (late inning fatigue, loss of focus, multiple ABs per batter, etc.) it seems very reasonable to think that Wood would see a significant improvement in performance if all of his effort were distilled down to just one or two innings per outing.

If Wood can stay healthy this season, there’s a strong chance he’ll be a lights-out closer.

While I'm not sure about the exact amount, I think his price per year will fall between Fuentes and Hoffman. I don't see him giving other teams the option of a one year deal like he offered to Chicago (that was motivated more by his own desire to stay in Chicago than anything else). If I were Wood's agent I would advise him to seek a three to four year deal given that this is his first real venture as a free agent and his history of injury. The 31 year old Wood may not have another shot at a big, multi-year contract depending on how his body holds up. It's not clear how heavily teams are weighing Wood's prior injuries (no pun intended), but if other GMs hesitate to sign him to three or four years Cleveland may step in with the next best thing.

Considering how important it is that Cleveland's closer be a consistent presence (read, healthy) this season, I'm not sure Wood is the best choice for Cleveland. Still, K-Rod has been deflecting rumors about the condition of his arm this off-season, while Trevor Hoffman is 41 years old. It’s tough to tell where Cleveland would rank Wood in terms of injury risk (you can bet someone is poring over his latest physical and 2008 tapes though). Personally, I think I’d take a chance on Wood if he could be had for a reasonable contract.

I could see Cleveland offering a two year guaranteed contract at $6-8 million per year, plus a team option, with another $2-3 million in incentives based on appearances and DL stints. Again, the market will likely dictate whether Wood ends up considering anything less than three years at $9-10 million per. Texas is rumored to be pretty high on Wood and has a history of burning money in free agency, so expect some stiff competition to drown out concerns about Wood's past injuries.

3.) Brian Fuentes

2008 Team: Colorado
Age: 33
Previous Contract: 1 yr / $5.05 mil (2008)

Player SV (%) IP ERA WHIP ERA+ H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
B. Fuentes 30 (88.2%) 62.2 2.73 1.10 168 6.75 3.16 11.78 3.73

Fuentes appears to be the Mets’ primary target right now. Based on Fuentes' scheduled meeting with the Mets in Vegas and how desperate New York is for a closer to replace the ailing Billy Wagner, I'd say Fuentes will be off the market before the Winter Meetings conclude. While Cleveland did express an interest in Fuentes, I don't see them getting into a bidding war with the Mets (never a good idea).

Fuentes managed to have the best season of his career in 2008 despite logging over half his innings in the Major’s third best hitters park (Coors Field). Below are his home/away splits for the past three seasons:

Brian Fuentes 2008 Season Splits

Home 2006 34.2 3.63 1.21 .410 4.44

2007 31.1 1.72 0.83 .292 3.00

2008 33.1 3.51 1.29 .357 4.80

Away 2006 30.2 3.23 1.11 .324 1.94

2007 30.0 4.50 1.43 .350 2.13

2008 29.1 1.84 0.89 .210 3.40

Finding success in Colorado as a pitcher is no easy task. You either face a thin-aired, slugger’s paradise at home or a foreign, hostile environment on the road. I guess it’s not that surprising that Fuentes’ home and away splits tend to fluctuate each year. I expected his ERA and SLGA to heavily favor his time at Coors, but if you take the past three seasons as a whole, there seems to be a rough equilibrium. In 2006, Fuentes posted similar numbers at home (3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) and away (3.23 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). In 2007, he dominated batters at home (1.72 ERA, 0.83 WHIP), but got roughed up to the tune of a 4.50 ERA and 1.43 WHIP on the road. In his walk year, the splits reversed: stellar away (1.84 ERA, 0.89 WHIP), significantly less so at home (3.51 ERA, 1.29 WHIP).

Even Fuentes’ slugging against (SLGA) follows this pattern, although you’d expect opposing batters to consistently collect more extra base hits against him at Coors Field than in most other stadiums.

Fuentes’ overall performance as Colorado’s closer has been pretty solid, averaging 62.8 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 155 ERA+ over the past three seasons (his 78.7 save percentage represents some really shaky stretches in ’06 and ’07 though). The main thing I was curious about was if Fuentes would see a significant improvement in performance once he got away from Coors Field. Based on a rough analysis of his splits, I don’t think he’ll see any major improvements in the future, at least not due to a change of address. I don’t see Fuentes’ value slipping very much, but his 2008 season will probably go down as a career year for him.

Again, as long as his contract remains reasonable (unlikely) then Fuentes will provide an experienced, quality arm, but probably won’t meet the Mets’ expectations as closer based on his inability to dominate in high leverage situations on a consistent basis (career 80.0 SV%)

4.) Francisco Rodriguez

2008 Team: Anaheim
Age: 26
Previous Contract: 1 yr / $10 mil (2008)

Player SV (%) IP ERA WHIP ERA+ H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
F. Rodriguez 62 (89.8%) 68.1 2.24 1.29 198 7.11 4.48 10.14 2.26

I’m probably going to get torched for ranking Rodriguez near the bottom...oh well (not that my made-up “ranking” system ever meant anything).

The market seems to have cooled on Rodriguez and his record 62 saves. At one point, Rodriguez was seeking Mariano Rivera money (you know, 1.40 ERA, .66 WHIP, 39 saves for the umpteenth time in his career…that Rivera), or around $15 million a year on a long term contract. Amazingly, no one appears to have taken the bait and the hype surrounding Rodriguez is dim heading into the Winter Meetings.

Except for a 2.24 ERA and 62 saves, Rodriguez was only average in a direct comparison to Wood, Fuentes, and Hoffman. Rodriguez actually had the worst WHIP and K/BB ratio, which doesn’t make sense when paired with his sparkling ERA. At first glance, it looks like Rodriguez had quite a bit of luck on his side to allow so many baserunners with minimal damage. Let’s peel back another layer here:

2008 Closer FIPs

B. Fuentes: 2.24
K. Wood: 2.32
F. Rodriguez: 3.22
T. Hoffman: 3.99

Rodriguez’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full point higher than Wood and Fuentes, which suggests he was getting a significant boost from his team’s defense and other factors beside his performance on the mound. Would Rodriguez be able to duplicate his 89.8 save percentage without improving his WHIP and BB/9 rate next season? Probably not.

Speaking of walks, 2008 marks the second consecutive season Rodriguez has seen his BB/9, H/9, and HR/9 rates rise, while his K/9 rate dropped. The rising walk rates and apparent decline in control may be a sign of some early wear and tear in Rodriguez’s throwing arm. Regardless of why these issues are popping up for the 26 year old flamethrower, allowing an exponential amount of baserunners and taters each year is going to catch up with him at some point (probably sooner than later if his K rate fails to rebound).

Another issue that may be causing reluctance amongst GMs is Rodriguez’s declining velocity. I wouldn’t have thought to look it up before (the kid throws hard), but Rodriguez has lost at least a MPH off his fastball every year since 2006. Rodriguez threw his heater 56% of the time with an average speed of 94.8 MPH. In 2008, he had cut back on his fastball usage by 5.3% and had an average speed of 91.9 MPH. The same can be said of his slider, which lost 4.6 MPH since 2006. To compensate, Rodriguez threw nearly twice as many changeups in 2008 as he had in the past.

Normally, a 26 year old whose fastball is his bread and butter wouldn’t have to compensate for lost velocity by mixing in a new pitch. It’s not the combination of the pitches so much as the timing (plus the declining K/BB rate). If I were talking to K-Rod’s agent about a long-term deal, that would be a major point of concern for me.

So why am I digging into Rodriguez when there are plenty of other flawed closers on the market? Well, I felt that Rodriguez was severely overrated in 2008 (Cy Young, are you kidding me?) and find it interesting how his breaking the saves record seemed to overshadow a few red flags (like the persistent drop in velocity). Anaheim has never been afraid to spend to retain a player. You have to wonder, what did they see that caused them to pass on Rodriguez?

Basically, I feel sorry for the team that signs Rodriguez to a four or five year deal because I think they’ll be lucky to get two good years out of him. Then again, maybe the abundance of closers and lack of spare change will see some GMs (not to name anybo-Sabean) show a bit of restraint this off-season.

No matter how scouts are interpreting the above trends, Rodriguez is one of the most important free agents this winter (Sabathia and Teixeira are the others), since he will set the precedent for every reliever’s contract after him.

And no, I don’t think Cleveland will make him a serious offer.

5.) Jason Isringhausen

2008 Team: St. Louis
Age: 35
Previous Contract: 3 yrs / $25.75 mil (2005-07), plus $8 mil club option (2008)

Player SV (%) IP ERA WHIP ERA+ H/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB
Isringhausen 12 (41.67%) 42.2 5.70 1.64 78 10.12 4.64 7.59 1.64

After seeing his name on the list of pitchers Cleveland is talking to, I was forced to take a closer look at Izzy. Overall, I think a return to form is a definite possibility for Isringhausen. I wouldn’t bet the bullpen on it, but certainly possible. That said, I hope Shapiro views Isringhausen as a sort of last resort (including trades) in case the market goes totally nuts or something.

Isringhausen is currently rehabbing from September elbow surgery to repair a torn tendon in his throwing arm. He should be 100% healthy by the time Spring Training arrives. The veteran closer will have plenty of motivation after suffering through his worst season since 1999 when he was traded from the Mets to the Athletics mid-season. His 2008 campaign was derailed by a series of injuries including a hand laceration (kids, don't punch a tv after you blow a save; water coolers are a much cheaper alternative), knee strain, tendonitis, and the torn tendon. To add insult to injury, Izzy had his closer status revoked (twice). Isringhausen probably would have retired if he had reached his goal of 300 saves last season (he needs seven more).

I'm convinced Isringhausen's ugly season can be blamed solely on his injuries and he could be a fairly productive closer in 2009. The trouble is, most of Isringhausen's past struggles were caused by injury issues. He got off to a terrible start in 2006 as well. After an erratic season, he finally succumbed to a hip injury in early September and was left off the Cardinal's post season roster (Adam Wainwright closed out the World Series victory). A newly repaired Isringhausen went on to have a career year in 2007, posting a 2.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 32 saves (93.7%) in 65.1 IP. Over his age 31-34 seasons (2004-2007), Isringhausen averaged 64.4 IP, 162 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP, 2.07 K/BB ratio, and an 84.8 save percentage (a couple good seasons, one great one, and one with a major injury, seems about right). At worst, Isringhausen is a top 15 closer (actually, at worst he's a top 15 closer on the DL) and at best he's a top 5. Which Izzy is going to show up in 2009? No idea.

Isringhausen is kind of like a watered down Kerry Wood (minus the filthy K rate): when he's healthy he can be very productive, but the risk of injury tends to run high. However, if I had to choose one injury prone closer over another, Wood is the obvious choice. One benefit of signing Isringhausen is that he'll probably have one of the friendliest free agent contracts of 2009. After expressing his desire to pitch again Isringhausen described his next contract as an "incentive-based thing." Izzy would make sense as a depth signing, but not as the full-time closer. Since he has clearly stated he wants to close, Isringhausen won't be signing with Cleveland.

All contract information was taken from Cot's Baseball Contracts.