A good reliever is hard to find

Posted By on January 9, 2009 6:56 pm

Catching up on some stuff from earlier in the offseason (read: stuff that collected in my mind before I had anyplace to blog it), I found it pretty unusual that the Giants would chose to grab middle relievers with their first two free agent signings, getting Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affeldt.

To me, middle relievers are the most unpredictable animals out there. I call it the LaTroy Hawkins Syndrome.

It’s really quite logical. Anyone who is a middle reliever is, by definition, not good enough to be a starter or a closer. They aren’t consistent. Magnifying things, they don’t pitch that many innings, so a bad stretch of 10 outings can blow up a whole season. Hawkins is the posterboy for this. Remember when he was with the Twins in early part of the decade? He was nails. Then he got the Cubs and fell apart, went to the Giants and fell apart some more, and eventually revived his career by helping the Rockies to the World Series in 2007. Last year he went to the Yankees and was terrible, then to the Astros and was awesome again.

So I decided to do a little research. I wanted to know how many middle relievers (which I defined as pitchers who worked 80 percent of their games in relief, pitching at least 50 innings, and recording fewer than five saves) had ERAs of 3.50 or better for three years in a row. Since 2000, there are just 10.br /br /Paul Shuey (4 seasons), Luis Ayala, Matt Guerrier, Chris Hammond, Kerry Lightenberg, Scott Linebrink, Juan Rincon, Russ Springer, Paul Quantrill and Tim Worrell.

Springer is the only guy in baseball who has done in the last three seasons.

Back to Affeldt and Howry. Howry is an interesting case because he actually did have four consecutive good seasons, but he got filtered out of my list above because he was a closer for a while with the ’07 Cubs. His ERAs the past five seasons have been 2.74, 2.47, 3.17, 3.32 and — wait for it — 5.35 last year. See what I mean? LaTroy Hawkins.

Affeldt’s past three seasons have gone 6.20, 3.51, 3.33. He’ll be bucking the trend if he manages to turn in a third good season.

So, what, you ask, is the point to all of this? The point is that Affeld and Howry might both be very good this year, but they also might be awful. Six months from now you might be covering your eyes every time one of them comes in to pitch, and showering them with Benitez-like boos.

Middle relievers are like a box of chocolates…

(Wow, that’d be a great spot for a Tyler Walker joke, huh?)


2 Responses to “A good reliever is hard to find”

  1. Dave says:

    Jeff, yes the middle relievers are definitely a crap shoot, and I have no idea how Howry and Affeldt will do this year…but Giants fans already are used to covering their eyes and showering boos to the “relief” pitchers of last year, so hopefully these guys are better than Benitez, Walker, Chulk, Hennessey, Taschner etc. OOps, we’re still stuck with Taschner.

  2. [...] was his third consecutive solid season, which you remember from this post. He’s the only middle reliever in the majors to have posted an ERA of 3.50 or better in 50 or [...]

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