Addison Reed had an excellent season last year — even better than it appeared, maybe. His 3.79 ERA was nothing to be ashamed about, but his 3.17 FIP suggests he was better than that. As an extreme fly ball pitcher, Reed’s story will always be about his home run to fly ball ratio, which, until this season, had been lower than league average. But was that luck?

Over his career (including 7.1 innings in 2011), Reed sports a HR/FB ratio of 9.7%. That’s better but not much better than the league average rate. Here’s how Reed’s HR/FB has stacked up:

HR FB rates Reed

The “total” line is a bit misleading — it includes Reed’s tiny 2011 sample. But the point is that in Reed’s last two seasons, he was better than league average in avoiding home runs on his fly balls. So much so, in fact, that despite giving up 6 HR already this season (matching his totals from 2012 and 2013), his overall rate is under league average.

Like BABIP, HR/FB doesn’t appear to be a skill for a pitcher unless it is. There are outlier cases. Sometimes it can be avoiding the barrel of the bat more than the average pitcher, which is a skill Bronson Arroyo appears to have. Sometimes it’s an extreme ground ball pitcher who makes a batter miss high with a swing more than average, like Brad Ziegler. And there is at least one example of an extreme fly ball pitcher who has managed to keep his HR/FB under league average: Matt Cain.

From his first year in the league (2005) through the 2012 season, Cain posted HR/FB rates no higher than 8.4%, managing an amazing 3.7% rate in 2011. This apparent skill might be attributed to his extreme fly ball tendencies — if a batter is consistently getting under the ball while aiming for line drives, it stands to reason that hitters were also getting too far under the ball more frequently for Cain than for other pitchers (in other words, more pop flies, even if most went to outfielders).

Minimizing the benefit of this HR/FB rate for Cain is the high rate of fly balls themselves; even in a good year with a lowish HR/FB (8.4%), Cain’s HR/9 rate was 0.86, good but not necessarily great. The same phenomenon has been at work for Reed:

Reed HR per 9

It says a lot about how small our samples are that Reed’s rate could balloon so much with just a quarter-season’s performance. Still, although it might have looked in 2013 like Reed had a Cain-like skill of depressing HR/FB enough to keep his overall HR rate low… Addison Reed is not Matt Cain. Not even Matt Cain is Matt Cain anymore.

If Reed’s HR/FB is not reliably or substantially under league average, then we’re just back to fly balls. And Addison Reed gives up a lot of fly balls; his 45.4% FB% was 17th-highest among 125 relievers last year with 50+ IP (others ahead of him on that list: Oliver Perez, David Hernandez, Josh Collmenter).

Are fly ball-prone relievers good candidates for a closing job? There may be a lurking variable here in that a high FB% tends to mean one isn’t as good of a pitcher. But of the 35 pitchers with at least 10 saves last season, just Ernesto Frieri and Huston Street had a higher GB% than Reed (given an even distribution, we’d expect about 5 pitchers to have a higher FB%, not 2). Frieri had a HR/9 of 1.44 — not good. Street had a HR/9 of 1.91 — horrendous.

High FB% generally means more home runs. Is it possible that Reed just had a lucky season last year? If so, is a somewhat HR-heavy batted ball profile a good fit for the closer role?

Let’s say you had two really good relief pitchers. They both had the same FIP, their projections looked identical, etc. Except that Pitcher A was likely to give up more hits than Pitcher B, and Pitcher B was likely to have a higher proportion of the hits he gave up be home runs. Out of context and with no reference to the leverage of the situations in which they’re used, they’re equal. But who’s your closer, Pitcher A or Pitcher B? After running some numbers, it looks to me like Pitcher A is the slightly better choice, but the difference is negligible.

But if Addison Reed’s HR/FB was misleading last season, the answer to that question isn’t especially relevant. An increase in HR/FB wouldn’t mean he’d give up less hits overall; he’d give up more hits overall, and the hits would be the especially damaging kind. Reed was a decent pitcher last year, better, it would seem, than his ERA. But if you normalize his HR/FB ratio for that season, you get his xFIP of 3.77. That’s not terrible. But it’s not that good, either.

The question of whether Reed should close, then, becomes a question of comparing him to the alternatives (although there is also the financial question, which was part of the reason my favored closer was J.J. Putz, as Jeff also explained).

Josh Collmenter

It may be that Collmenter is too valuable a long reliever to put in short relief, although I don’t think he’s necessarily long for the rotation. The only reason to install Collmenter over Reed is financial, probably — the D-backs signed Collmenter to a breathtakingly club-friendly deal, while Reed will see his salaries rise through arbitration. I include him in this list in part because Collmenter’s batted ball profile is amazingly similar to Reed’s:

batted ball rates Collmenter Reed

I’ve included Brad Ziegler and Putz primarily for comparison’s sake. The similarities between Collmenter and Reed from last season’s statistics are remarkable, though, and with respect to whether Collmenter would be a better option than Reed in the closer’s role — I think both arguments could be made, which says something.

Brad Ziegler

Then there’s Ziegler, who, as is clear from the above table, is an extreme ground ball pitcher. It’s also the case that FIP (and therefore xFIP) will always be unfair to Ziegler, because of his success with double plays; yes, Ziegler puts runners on more often than the best relievers in baseball, but he also does a much better than average job of cleaning up his own messes. ERA can be misleadingly low for relievers who are often installed mid-inning, especially if they’re often installed with runners on base, as is Ziegler. Ultimately, he’s probably a better option than Reed at closer. But Ziegler may be worth an extra half win in value just from being deployed in DP opportunities at a reasonable rate every season, and that may be worth more than moving Reed.

J.J. Putz

Being on the DL doesn’t help with one’s candidacy. But in addition to being the better financial option, Putz is also a very good reliever in his own right. There’s also the fact that he’s closed more:

If there’s an x-factor that makes some guys perform better when the chips are down, I have no evidence about it either way.  I’m slightly more inclined to think that there are some guys who perform worse in save situations (paging Octavio Dotel) — that just makes more sense to me.  But it’s not like Putz caves under pressure.  In terms of closing experience, the only reason to prefer Reed over Putz is if you prefer recent closing experience.  We already established that their 2014 abilities might be on similar levels, though, so maybe overall experience matters more… and Putz has 189 career saves to Reed’s 69.

Maybe the best reason to not use Putz as the closer when he’s healthy is that he won’t always be healthy. If it’s “Putz when he’s able” and “Reed when he’s not,” the closer role will change hands fairly frequently. I don’t know that that matters, but I can’t say that it doesn’t.

Randall Delgado or Trevor Cahill

Since moving out of the rotation, Delgado’s stuff has played up at least a little bit; not having to throw the sinker at all seems to have helped. In a small sample of just 13.2 innings, Delgado’s batting average against has been excellent (.173, down from .444 in his short 2014 stint as a starter). He’s walked more than his fair share of hitters (7), but he’s also struck out quite a few (19). Sounds like a reasonable option to me if he’s not needed as a long reliever. And, hey, it might help Towers save face on the Justin Upton trade, for which the D-backs’ returns seem to be diminishing.

The story for Trevor Cahill is similar. Since getting dumped from the rotation and installed in the bullpen, Cahill has a very decent 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings. His batting average against has also dropped (.192, instead of .333 as a starter). He hasn’t had as much of an issue with the walks (5), but he’s had almost as much success in strikeouts (19). The performances of Delgado and Cahill in the bullpen are very small samples, but this is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Jake Barrett or Matt Stites

Premature? Well, yes. Barrett split last season between High A Visalia (1.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and AA Mobile (0.36 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and looked great. His ZiPS projection for Major League Equivalent stats before the season started, though, called for a roughly average performance: 4.02 ERA and FIP. That’s good enough to contribute at the major league level, but not in the closer’s role, even in a pinch. And Barrett’s performance so far this season at Mobile leaves something to be desired (3.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in just 12 innings).

Matt Stites’s story is not much different, although he was recently promoted to Reno. The preseason ZiPS projection for Major League Equivalent stats was a 4.31 ERA and 4.25 FIP — below average for a major league reliever. He’s had 5 ER in 16 total innings so far in the minors this season, which is good (2.81 ERA). But it’s a little too early to increase expectations beyond those ZiPS projections.

. . .

For more on how the major-league pitchers are doing versus their projections, check out Jeff’s post from yesterday.

Gun to my head, I’d try Trevor Cahill in the closer’s role right now to see if it worked. If it turned out that he thrived on the pressure and the ball continued to move all over the place, we might have the second coming of Derek Lowe (well, of his closer days in Boston). But there’s no alternative to Addison Reed who’s clearly a better option, it seems.


10 Responses to Is Addison Reed Too Homer-Prone to Be a Closer?

  1. Puneet says:

    So when you talk about ideally having a young bullpen with flexibility, would that involve promoting Barrett or Stites and sending them down if they fail? What would be the ideal situation here, finances aside?

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Yeah, I guess that is kind of a pet issue for me, that young bullpens aren’t just cheaper, but more likely to be better, since you can mix and match, and since veterans like Heath Bell end up pitching through rough patches in the majors.

      I think that’s mostly a reason to not sign veteran relievers in free agency and to think twice about re-signing relievers in their walk years, though. The ideal situation would have been to not sign deals like the Perez deal. Now that they’re signed, though, there’s not much that the thing you’re referring to can do here. Most of the point is that once you sign a veteran, they’re on the active roster or the DL, or you have to release (or trade?) them. Once those guys are signed, the prudent move is to give the veteran guys a lot of leash, since you can keep the minor league assets, but can’t keep the veterans if you replace them with minor league assets.

      If we had a choice between plugging in Barrett and expecting a 4.00 ERA and signing another reliever who’s still a free agent and who would also be expected to put up a 4.00 ERA — I’d say go Barrett every time. It seems like the sink or swim approach sometimes works really well with pitchers. If so, there was no reason to wait to bring him up. If it didn’t work… then just send him back down, and maybe try someone else. If there’s a good chance they’ll bring Barrett up by the end of the year anyway, then it doesn’t matter how many times they option him in a given year.

      Mostly, I just want fewer Oliver Perezes signed. Having 5-6 bullpen spots locked up with veterans at market rates is begging for disaster. I’m not saying it should be 6 rookies, though, either — sometimes you can snag a Brad Ziegler at rates that are below market enough to make it work well.

      Thanks for letting me ramble more on a topic I like, Puneet!

      • Puneet says:

        That makes a lot of sense! I think we’re really seeing a lot of movement among “closers” (aside from someone like Mariano Rivera), so it’s clear that smart teams are realizing that flexibility and lack of financial investment in “the guy” make sense. It just bothers the hell out of me when a team commits to someone just because they paid a lot of money. Granted, aside from Ziegler (and a very small sample on Evan Marshall), all of our relievers have had some ups and downs.

        What do you see from Evan Marshall so far?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Reed, appears to have the intangibles for the role. That said,.93 whip on road, 1.6 at home. .370 babip at home, compared to .300 career. Its hard pitching here no doubt, especially in April/May. too early to write him off, he may develop, since he has the intangibles, and closer stuff. This is why too, where Towers thought process of getting Cahill for Parker wasn’t that bad of an idea at the time. Parker wouldn’t of had the success here in arizona, as he does in Oak, if you apply the same data and splits. I’d like Cahill to go back to starting too, his demeanor since he’s been mopping up, has changed a lot. He never got hit before, now that he got hit, and failed, and guys have worked him, to survive he’s adjusted to attacking hitters now. that’s my pimp for Cahill, back to Reed, I was more disappointed in Miggy for not recognizing in the Frandesn at bat, i put that homer on Miggy. but hey, this is all process sometimes.

  3. anomenom says:

    Nice to see you guys get some pub on mlbtraderumor. Things are fluid now, Addison I think will be fine, as room for error on fastballs in Chase is zero, especially when guys are backlegging like franderson. Addison has the intangibles. If the team continues to keep winning, which that may with LaRussa over the shoulder. You guys are proficient, so here’s my comments on your posts.

    Here’s where LaRussa is going to clean things up. Miggy is responsible for a couple of the homers along with Harkey and Addison. Can’t have pinch hitters going up in the 9th sitting on fastballs especially in Chase. Miggy, Harkey, and Reed will be accountable. Fun’s over for all, no longer is anyone safe. Expect to changes in how Miggy is accountable to pitch calling.
    Cahill yes he could close, but he also might be back to starting. If there’s a guy Duncan can turn into an Ace, its Cahill. This Cahill relieving, is the Cahill that should of been all along, would of liked to have seen us get Suzuki, a bad ass pitcher handler, who brought the best out in Cahill. Cahill though may not be as soft as perceived though.
    Delgado is not ready to close yet, a year in the role he’s in now, should show us what we have.
    Perez, a guy about to find out now, that no matter how he performs, immaturity won’t tolerated, another guy Duncan could turn into a number two.
    don’t have enough time not going over to Towers moves reversed..
    Look for more Chavez, hint Prado’s been a disaster, and with a hall of fame type player in Chavy, look for him to play more. Can’t wait for Prado to answer to Larussa why he tried hitting the ball up the middle in a double play situation.
    trumbo, tough call when he comes back. This maybe a contending team by mid June. It has depth, grit and now accountability. gibson gets to manage now, he actually does okay at that but has probably been hamstrung, won’t be any my guys now. Towers has put together a good roster, a contending one, now they have to perform.

  4. […] closers at Snake Pit. Agree with him throughout. On Friday, I wrote that it seemed like there was no obvious alternative to Addison Reed. McLennan’s final point is that there are better places to spend money than […]

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  6. […] pitching to a 4.15 ERA (4.57 FIP), and his always troubling HR/FB rate has ballooned to 18.2%. We asked the question earlier in the season if Reed is too homer-prone to be a closer, and the answer seems to […]

  7. […] Davidson, someone whom I was never particularly high on. If flipped, the signing of Reed, which we initially didn’t love, could have been genius. If someone were to take him off of the Diamondbacks’ hands at this […]

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