The Bard's Take: Case Closed

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Why the trade to acquire Addison Reed may or may not have been well-advised and why now is the time to move on.

In 2013 the Arizona Diamondbacks far and away led all of baseball in blown saves. Despite the fact that the team eventually went on to win the game in 64.5% of the games with a blown save, the reality of the situation was simple. The hit to team morale and the copious amounts of extra innings that come with 31 blown saves simply do not lead to reasonable expectations of a winning baseball season.

To begin the 2012-13 offseason Kevin Towers traded for beleaguered closer Heath Bell in hopes that he would return to the form he held during his years under Towers in San Diego. That was not to be the case, as Bell led the team in blown saves in 2013 with a total of seven. Given that Bell only filled the role of closer for roughly half the season, those seven blown saves were far too many. In an effort to shore up the back end of the bullpen, Towers began the 2013-14 offseason by packaging David Holmberg with Heath Bell in order to rid the team of the failed Heath Bell Experience and its rather substantial salary obligations.

As I noted in an earlier article, the Diamondbacks entered the 2013 offseason with needs in the rotation, the bullpen and at the plate. Basically, the question facing the Diamondbacks was not, what do they need to improve, but rather, what don't they need to improve in 2014? Unable to land the only big free agent TOR pitcher, and unable to find a suitable trade for one, Kevin Towers faced a situation where he had to come through in the other departments. The acquisition of Mark Trumbo was the choice to address the team's need for power. That acquisition also set the table for Towers to acquire Addison Reed, the budding star closer from the Chicago White Sox to address the team's need at the back end of the bullpen.

Closers are regularly among the most overrated assets in the game of baseball. What's more only teams in serious position to contend have any business in spending much to keep one around. The Chicago White Sox lost 99 games in 2013. Although they expect to be improved in 2014, there aren't really any illusions that they will be a contending team. In such situations, a closer becomes an expensive commodity that the team simply has no need of. Calling closers overrated assets does not do justice to how often they are sought after though. Teams that think themselves on the verge of making the playoffs are almost always looking to find a way to "shorten games". What's more, saves are highly valued in arbitration. So a team that has a pitcher capable of piling up saves that has not yet started earning the big money has a piece that holds trade value. With Addison Reed not reaching arbitration for the first time until 2015, and with 40 saves under his belt in 2013 alone, the White Sox had a very valuable trade piece just waiting to be spent on their rebuild.


The Price:

Gauging the price paid by the Diamondbacks for Reed is not as easy as listing the transaction as Matt Davidson for Addison Reed. Certainly, on the surface, the acquisition of Mark Trumbo made Matt Davidson "expendable" by virtue of Davidson being excess to requirements. In the case of Davidson, the concept of expendable was somewhat strange though.

The acquisition of Mark Trumbo via trade in December of 2013 was motivated by the offensive performance of the previous season's 81-81 team. There is some question as to how much the offense really needed improving. Here is a quick look at the 2013 Diamondback offense and how it fared against the National League (rank) [league average]:

Runs: 685 (5th) [649]
Batting Average: .259 (5th) [.251]
Slugging: .391 (9th) [.389]
OPS: .715 (6th) [.703]
OPS+: 97 (5th) [95]
LOB: 1160 (4th) [1121]

At first glance, it would appear there was very little to complain about in regard to the Diamondbacks' offense as a whole. Looking a bit closer, the Diamondbacks left far too many runners on base though. While having that many runners to leave stranded is nice, the general failure to bring more runners around to score seemed to be a problem. Given that the team is far from one built to manufacture runs via speed and small ball, and given that Paul Goldschmidt was single-handedly responsible for 19.31% of the team's RBI in 2013, it is reasonable to conclude the team needed an infusion of some power.

The players primarily responsible for manning third base and left field in 2013 combined for 147 extra base hits, including 42 home runs. The team was poised to enter 2014 without any reasonable expectations of production from Cody Ross, who was part of that cadre of players responsible for those numbers. They were also set to have a healthy Aaron Hill in the lineup, a key production bat that missed half of 2013 to injury. Then there was Miguel Montero, who while having a stellar 2011 and 2012, had an anemic 2013. Any return to form offensively would be a boost for the 2014 team.

The potential loss of Ross for the 2014 season seemed to open the possibility of playing Martin Prado in left field the majority of the time, and sliding slugging third baseman Matt Davidson in at third. This only made sense. After all, the team had repeatedly (and rightly so) gone out of its way to keep from blocking Matt Davidson's arrival at third. Since the close of the 2010 season, in addition to being a top 100 prospect, Davidson ranked as a top-five third base prospect. To encourage the arrival of that prospect, the Diamondbacks repeatedly looked to temporary solutions at third base for a period of three seasons.

The flip-side to Davidson is that his minor league numbers and his success during his call-up September of 2013 were very pedestrian. While the number were by no means poor, they were hardly anything resembling spectacular. For this reason (with assuredly others) the team did not feel comfortable relying on Davidson to provide the increase in slugging to the lineup that the team was after. This led to the trade of Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton for Mark Trumbo's prolific power and a lottery ticket pitching prospect in A.J. Schugel.

Update: Since the initial draft of this article, Matt Davidson has stormed stumbled out of the gates in AAA Charlotte. With half the season over, Davidson is now batting .195 with 13 home runs. He has struck out 96 times while walking only 25, compiling a very pathetic triple-slash of .195/.272/.665 featuring a 32.29% strikeout rate.


The Return:

From the time Addison Reed came onto the scene in 2011 until he was traded to the Diamondbacks, Reed compiled 69 saves - 29 in 2012 and 40 more in 2013. As a result, Reed has a very strong chance of compiling 100 saves before hitting his first year of arbitration. That first shot at arbitration comes after the 2014 season, only one season after being acquire.

There is little one can do to deny that the Diamondback bullpen was in need of an upgrade. The ineptitude of the bullpen in 2013 is very likely one of the biggest contributors to the team limping across the finish line at 81-81. Simply parting ways with Heath Bell was a good start in the right direction. There were also some concerns about the ability of J.J. Putz to return to form as a closer, and Brad Ziegler, while mostly effective in the role during the second half of 2013 was never ideally suited for being locked into the ninth inning.

In the White Sox Addison Reed, Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks felt that they had found a young pitcher capable of performing in high leverage situations that could help to stabilize the bullpen and alleviate some of the existing worries. The eye-popping 40 saves for a 99 loss Chicago team and name recognition did nothing to hurt Reed's stock as such popularity is almost always easier to sell to the general fan base.

But beyond the shiny stats, what kind of pitcher was he really? Well, that depends on who you ask, but here are the basics, both trivial and more specific


2011*

ERA: 3.68
FIP: 1.93
ERA+: 123
WHIP: 1.50
SO/9: 14.7
BB/9: 1.2
*Reed only pitched in September of 2011, creating a very small sample


2012

ERA: 4.75
FIP: 3.64
ERA+ 90
WHIP: 1.364
SO/9: 8.8
BB/9 2.9
Saves: 29


2013

ERA: 3.79
FIP: 3.17
ERA+: 111
WHIP: 1.107
SO/9: 9.1
BB/9: 2.9
Saves: 40


There are a number of tidbits we can take away from these numbers. But the basics are this: The Diamondbacks acquired a fairly decent strikeout throwing (9.3 K/9) right handed reliever that was marginally above league average (ERA+ 102) but performed with some success in high leverage situations (Reed's 69 saves over the 2012-13 seasons were 7th in all of baseball.)

Closer inspection of the numbers paints a slightly less rosy picture. Used as a "traditional closer" Reed has only pitched in excess of a full inning in a game three times in his career, all of those in the heart of the 2013 season. As such, Reed can be identified as a one-inning pitcher. Given that from 2011-2013 Reed's WHIP is 1.234, this amounts by averages to putting on a runner in every appearance he makes. Now of course, that's not precisely the case, but it does give one reason for pause when considering how many one-run games closers are called in for. Additionally, despite Reed's large number of saves, his ERA ranked 30/32 among relief pitchers with 30 or more saves combined in 2012-13. Here is how Addison Reed fared in that grouping of closers/relievers.

Rk Player ERA SV ER FIP ERA+ Tm BA OBP OPS OPS+
2 Craig Kimbrel 1.11 92 16 1.37 351 ATL .147 .215 .426 20
3 Fernando Rodney 1.91 85 30 2.46 201 TBR .189 .266 .526 49
4 Aroldis Chapman 2.00 76 30 1.98 199 CIN .152 .246 .495 39
5 Greg Holland 2.08 63 31 1.83 199 KCR .203 .278 .570 56
6 Joe Nathan 2.09 80 30 2.52 204 TEX .198 .256 .550 48
7 Kenley Jansen 2.10 53 33 2.18 177 LAD .163 .233 .507 45
8 Mariano Rivera 2.12 49 17 2.92 194 NYY .232 .264 .608 66
9 Sergio Romo 2.18 52 28 2.78 160 SFG .207 .251 .573 67
10 Huston Street 2.35 56 25 3.81 150 SDP .180 .236 .588 70
11 Glen Perkins 2.44 52 36 2.85 168 MIN .210 .266 .600 65
12 Steve Cishek 2.50 49 37 2.85 159 MIA .220 .302 .615 72
13 Casey Janssen 2.55 56 33 2.93 165 TOR .198 .248 .561 52
14 Grant Balfour 2.56 62 39 3.24 151 OAK .182 .264 .550 55
15 J.J. Putz 2.64 38 26 2.94 151 ARI .218 .284 .625 74
16 Jonathan Papelbon 2.67 67 39 2.97 147 PHI .231 .279 .626 75
17 Rafael Soriano 2.68 85 40 3.48 149 NYY-WSN .234 .292 .653 80
18 Jim Johnson 2.72 101 42 3.35 153 BAL .247 .305 .630 73
19 Jason Motte 2.75 42 22 3.12 139 STL .191 .245 .576 61
20 Jason Grilli 2.82 35 34 2.42 131 PIT .210 .278 .617 77
21 Edward Mujica 2.91 39 42 3.68 134 STL-MIA .238 .265 .659 82
22 Jim Henderson 2.98 31 30 3.03 133 MIL .210 .293 .620 73
23 Tyler Clippard 3.07 32 49 3.57 127 WSN .179 .262 .572 60
24 Ernesto Frieri 3.07 60 46 3.65 123 SDP-LAA .186 .287 .623 77
25 Tom Wilhelmsen 3.19 53 49 3.23 119 SEA .207 .295 .589 69
26 Rafael Betancourt 3.23 47 31 3.14 142 COL .241 .288 .660 72
27 Joel Hanrahan 3.49 40 26 5.19 110 PIT-BOS .205 .324 .717 102
28 Chris Perez 3.95 64 49 4.18 97 CLE .242 .308 .748 109
29 Kevin Gregg 4.09 33 48 4.49 100 BAL-CHC .256 .351 .757 109
30 Jose Valverde 4.18 44 41 4.22 102 DET .231 .309 .683 83
31 Addison Reed 4.20 69 59 3.38 100 CHW .238 .298 .671 81
32 John Axford 4.35 35 65 4.20 92 MIL-STL .257 .342 .756 109
33 Heath Bell 4.59 34 66 3.91 86 MIA-ARI .281 .342 .792 120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/28/2014.

This table illustrates just how forgiving the raw save statistic can be. Among closers for 2012-13 Reed had an impressive number of conversions, but managed those conversions in a very ugly and questionably sustainable manner. In fact, Addison Reed was merely league average, and showed signs of being as volatile as anyone in the closer's role.


The Fallout:

This article was originally going to go up at the very beginning of May as something to ponder while trying to forget the atrocity that was the Arizona Diamondbacks in March and April. However, as I was gathering data for the article I found a trend that I wanted to follow-up on before coming to any conclusions. So, I decided I would wait until mid-season and see if the trend held true.

On the surface, the 2014 version of Addison Reed would seem to be doing most things right. Strikeouts are up. Walks are down. Despite the team's abysmal record, Reed is on pace for 36 save this season. That's the good. Here's the bad:

ERA: 4.05
FIP: 4.45
ERA+: 92
HR/9: 2.2
xFIP: 2.99

Once again, Reed's lustre wears thin when examined more closely. Reed's xFIP would seem to indicate that he should probably have better results than he does. The 2.2 HR/9 would seem to back that up. After all, that is far in excess of the NL average of 0.9 HR/9. If anything, one would expect Reed's HR rate to come down when moving from U.S. Cellular Field to Chase Field. But are Reed's inflated home run numbers really an anomaly? There is strong evidence to indicate that his home run rate might not be so surprising after all, and in that case it's only a matter of time before his standard pitching line completely falls to pieces.


2011

Avg FB: 95.50 mph
Avg CU: 84.37 mph
Avg SL: 80.94 mph


2012

Avg FB: 95.24 mph (March) / 94.36 mph (Sept.)
Avg CU: 82.83 (March) / 85.28 (Sept.)
Avg SL: 79.24 (March) / 81.41 (Sept.)


2013

Avg FB: 94.98 mph (March) / 93.27 mph (Sept.)
Avg CU: 85.57 (March) / 85.44 (Sept.)
Avg SL: 84.60 (March) / 81.64 (Sept.)


2014

Avg FB: 93.97 mph (March) / 93.12 mph (June)
Avg CU: 0.00 mph (March) / 86.36 (June)
Avg SL: 84.43 (March) / 86.21 (June)


For whatever reason, Addison Reed abandoned his changeup entirely in March and April and did not return to it until May. This turned Reed into a two-pitch pitcher. While that is entirely common among late-inning relievers, it certainly did not do Reed any favours. It should be noted that Reed still only throws the changeup on the rarest of occasions, so including it in the discussion at all is merely a matter of being complete .

Now before the nay-sayers get up in arms, I am well aware that velocity is not the end-all and be-all of a pitcher's resume. In fact, Reed is currently experiencing a career-high K/9 of 10.3. What's disturbing is how the velocities have varied over time since Reed made his debut. His fastball has taken a steady decline in average velocity while his changeup and slider have increased in velocity. What started out as a devastating velocity split in 2011 and early 2012 has declined into a barely perceptible one at the mid-season mark in 2014. This sort of trend would suggest Reed is laboring more through his pitches.

The changeup and slider are now coming in at essentially the same velocity and both are coming in at less than seven mph separation from his average fastball. While the specific number varies almost every analyst would agree that changeups need at least 8-10 mph of separation from the fastball to be effective. With such small velocity separation from the fastball, Reed's slider also does not work as effectively as an off-speed pitch, but is rather more of a "hard slider". Reed's release point for his slider visibly differs from the release point of his fastball as well, making it easier (relatively speaking) to identify.

Lastly we come to where the velocity changes have really become problematic. As the average velocity of Reed's fastball has decreased, and the average velocity of his "off speed" pitch has increased to come closer to his fastball, the movement on his pitches has suffered. His fastball, which is slowing, has become straighter and flatter, while his slider is now breaking less. In essence while being a two-pitch pitcher, Reed's offerings are becoming less and less distinguishable from each other. This makes it easier for hitters to make good contact. Making good contact is key to driving the ball out of the yard.

Among Relievers with more than 10.0 innings pitched on the season, Addison Reed's average velocity now ranks 106th.  Throwing a below average fastball that is flat and straight from the right side, while playing home games at Chase Field may very well suggest that Reed's home run problems may not be the anomaly they first appeared.


The Take:

The #72 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America was traded for a league average right-handed reliever - this despite having the likes of Evan Marshall, Kevin Munson, Jake Barrett, Matt Stites, and Jimmie Sherfy all in the system and making strong pushes for promotions. By most accounts, this would be a gross overpay. That was my stance at the time of the trade, and it is still my opinion now. I'm of the firm opinion that if a team is going to move a top 100 prospect, the return should be a needle-mover, but this is baseball and nothing is ever that simple.

If the Arizona Diamondbacks had turned out to be a competitive team in 2014, most people would be happy to have a closer that was shutting the door on the opposition at an 85.7 % success rate, especially if all he cost this year was a struggling third base prospect now well on his way to dropping out of all top 100 lists. But the fact is, the Diamondbacks are not contenders this year. Nor are they likely to be next year either.

Reed will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next season. If the second half is anything like the first, Reed will have 100 saves by the time arbitration rolls around. The arbitration process tends to reward the raw save number and save percentage number much like it rewards hitters for hitting home runs, regardless of peripheral numbers. If Reed has 100 saves and an 80+% success rate, a conservative estimate would be that Reed cold make about $5 million in 2015. Since arbitration is largely based on precedent, it is possible that Reed could see upwards of $7 million for 2015. That's far too much for a mid-market team to be paying for a reliever/closer in a season where the realistic expectations are likely to be for the team to be a .500 ball club.

One need look no farther than the 2013-14 off-season to see that there are still plenty of teams that covet the raw save statistic. Reed is currently tied for 11th in MLB in saves all while playing for a horrible Arizona team. Despite a drastic increase in Reed's salary starting in 2015, being first-time arbitration eligible means there are still three years of team control to be had. These things should make Reed a coveted commodity at the approaching trade deadline. The time for Arizona  to move on from Reed is at hand, before the salary gets out of control, or the disturbing peripherals finally impact Reed's overall trade value.

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