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  • Terry Ryan's Foolish Gamble

    The TwinsCentric GM Offseason Handbook listed 23 right-handed relievers, sorted in descending order by what we thought they would receive on the open market. The 23rd was Joel Zumaya. He was listed last because of the obvious injury risk he represented.

    But Zumaya wasn't the 23rd one signed. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was aggressive, like he had been all offseason, and Zumaya signed relatively early given his status. That signing was almost universally praised because Zumaya has such terrific upside and because the contract was cheap and not guaranteed. It was lauded as the perfect low-risk signing for a team with a limited offseason budget like the Twins.

    But it was not low risk, and the one person who knew that was Terry Ryan. Ryan knew something that the evaluators and fans did not - Zumaya would be the last reliever the Twins would sign this offseason. He was essentially replacing the departed Joe Nathan. If it didn't work, the backup plan was....

    I'm sure I'll hear this week how there are still plenty of backup plans. In terms of quantity, there are. But not in terms of quality. Every one of them is either a member of last year's shaky corps or a waiver or minor-league pickup. We could bring the TwinsCentric crew into spring training camp if we want to add some quantity. But that isn't going to bolster that backup plan.

    So now the true risk of that move is a lot clearer. When Zumaya's season ended yesterday, the first 21 of the right-handed relievers on TwinsCentric's list already belonged to other major league teams. (By the way, at least a half dozen signed similar low-risk deals as Zumaya's.) Number 22 is Michael Wuertz, a formerly dominant reliever whose velocity has fallen and whose ERA soared to 6.68 last year. He represents a significant risk himself.

    It's forgivable for evaluators to praise the Zumaya signing - they didn't know what Ryan did. But Ryan knew. And he had to know that a reliever who hadn't finished a season healthy since 2006 was a big risk. So now he will have an extra million dollars left to spend and no relievers to spend it on. It was a foolish gamble from the beginning which has unsurprisingly failed.

    This article was originally published in blog: Terry Ryan's Foolish Gamble started by John Bonnes
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. twinkiesfan11's Avatar
      twinkiesfan11 -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      I have zero problem with the Zumaya signing. I'd rather see the Twins "gamble" for someone with a high upside than playing it safe with mediocre signings. And they are down $400K. Good seed money for a kid whose career is pretty much done as a player. Bringing in a mediocre veteran reliever or two would not have made much difference (as a matter of fact thay got 3 of those in camp in Gray, Burton and Bulger, albeit in better terms.)
      I really feel confident that some of the younger pitchers in the camp will step it up and make things happen for the Twins this season...
      Agreed 100%

      I commend Terry Ryan for stepping out of the organization's comfort zone with this signing and really hope this one bad experience doesn't dissuade them from making similar moves in the future.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      John, I must disagree with your use of the term "foolish." It wasn't, it was a calculated risk that could range between a cost of $400,000 if he doesn't make the team (is injured) to $850,000 plus potential for bonuses of nearly another million if he played in 60 games.

      You claim that he should have used that money to sign another reliever, one of the several you have listed. You missed something very important however, that is different than last. Last year they picked up about a half dozen minor league free agents, with only Hughes and James having some major league experience. Hughes failed and James was great at Rochester, although did nothing with the Twins. This year they signed a dozen, most with some major league experience and a few with a lot of experience. Is it unrealistic to expect that one or two will enjoy some success this year? I don't think so.
    1. BeefMaster's Avatar
      BeefMaster -
      I think a few people are misunderstanding what John's saying. Signing Zumaya to a low-risk deal wasn't, in itself, foolish. What was foolish was going into the season with one of the most injury-prone relief pitchers of the last decade as basically the only high-end righthander in the bullpen.

      As Seth said, though, it may have been that Zumaya was considered a "bonus" and not relied upon as a core member of the bullpen... I suppose in that case you'd qualify the situation more as questionable roster construction rather than a "foolish risk".
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      The issue is not just the $400,000 that is going out the window but the additional $500,000 we will have to pay one of our in house guys to fill the spot bringing us to almost $1 million. There are a lot of better options on the free agent market for a million that I would have preferred like Chad Qualls or Todd Coffey rather then the 16 pitches from Zumaya and a full season of the Manship at Target Field.
    1. Cris E's Avatar
      Cris E -
      But, if you're down to your last $10, just about out of gas, you spend the $10 the $10 on gas that can get you to work, not on 10 lotto tickets. That was the situation Ryan faced,

      That's not a good comp because 800K will only buy you about a thimbleful of gas. The signing of Z was total lottery ticket and didn't affect any real plans. Who were they going to get for that money that is likely to be better than Ontiveros or Bulger or whomever?

      Certainty costs money, and as mentioned by a lot of people above, there were structural holes in the bullpen and Ryan had to make a choice. Perkins should be solid. Capps only really sucked when he was hurt in the middle of the year. After that there's the herd from last year and the lotto tickets like Wheeler and Coffey and Zumaya and whatnot. My guess is he looked at everyone on the market, his bullpen budget, the guys on his roster, and didn't see much that projected better than what he had. Not much certainty can be bought for what he spent, so he just sat on the cash.

      Ryan seems to be betting that Capps isn't the mid-season guy that pitched thru pain, but could be a solid closer if given normal rest. But if the rest of the pen is no good he won't be getting that rest again and he's likely to hit the same sort of rough patch. If there was $13m for Nathan then there should probably have been something more available for the seventh inning, and that's where the second guessing should come in. The Zumaya signing was a symptom of the bad decision, not the problem.
    1. tobynotjason's Avatar
      tobynotjason -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Bonnes View Post
      First, WAR is a terrible metric with which to measure relievers. It completely ignores the context of the innings in which they work.
      You always say this. But WAR absolutely does give relievers credit for half their leverage premium (since the chain of relievers would move up one slot, the closer hardly deserves credit for every tick of leverage). That is the opposite of "completely ignor[ing] the context of the innings in which they work."

      I think the actual reason WAR strikes you as "wrong" is because you underestimate the quality of replacement level relief pitching.

      WAR assumes different FIP/ERA performances for starters and relievers. If the pitcher on the mound for "Team A With Average Offense" always performed to the level of MLB replacement relief pitching, Team A would have a W% of .470, which ain't too shabby at all. Once you consider that as the baseline, it makes a lot more sense. (Remember, this is relief quality pitching pitching AS A RELIEVER. The exact same guy pitching as a starter would like pitch to a level below STARTING pitcher replacement level, which is pegged at a .380 winning percentage.)

      BTW, this is not unrelated to your overestimation of Carl Pavano for 7 innings vs. Scott Baker for 6 innings. You assume replacement level is worse than it is and accordingly value mediocre innings more. (A cynical individual might lay the blame for this at the doorstep of the Twins' F.O., given the sub-replacement players they've actually signed to fill out the back end over the past few seasons.)
    1. tobynotjason's Avatar
      tobynotjason -
      But yeah: the risk wasn't Zumaya. The risk was Zumaya and bupkis.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobynotjason View Post
      But yeah: the risk wasn't Zumaya. The risk was Zumaya and bupkis.
      If I remember correctly, the 2004 bullpen was comprised by a couple of leftovers (Romero, Rincon) and a bunch of bupkis (for the non-Yiddish speaking folks out there, it means "nobodies"), like Roa, Fultz, Guerrier and Nathan and a couple of young kids like Balfour, Crain who stepped it up. This can happen this season as well...
    1. tobynotjason's Avatar
      tobynotjason -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      If I remember correctly, the 2004 bullpen was comprised by a couple of leftovers (Romero, Rincon) and a bunch of bupkis (for the non-Yiddish speaking folks out there, it means "nobodies"), like Roa, Fultz, Guerrier and Nathan and a couple of young kids like Balfour, Crain who stepped it up. This can happen this season as well...
      It means nothing, nadda, zilch. Which in this case means "nobody", I guess.

      I'd love it if Waldrop, Guerra, etc. could make it work in MLB. I wouldn't bet on it, but I'd love it. I don't think that's a very sound strategy if you're not in rebuild.
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