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Arizona Diamondbacks on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot: Heath Bell

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I doubt many in Arizona remember Bell’s time here fondly. Not even Heath himself.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Mets

The 2020 Hall of Fame ballot is out, and this year, there are quite a few players with Arizona connections who have been added to the list. There probably isn’t much chance of any of them making it - odds are, most will be “one and done”, but let’s just review their chances, along with their time for the Diamondbacks.

Heath Bell in Arizona

Bell arrived in an odd trade at the end of the 2012 season, before the World Series had even started. It was, in effect, a three-team trade, broken into two chunks. Firstly, Arizona got Cliff Pennington and infielder Yordy Cabrera from the Athletics, in exchange for Chris Young and $500K in cash considerations. But they then immediately turned around and flipped Cabrera to the Marlins, for Heath Bell and further cash considerations. Bell had just finished the first year of a three-year, $27 million deal with Miami, and had not been very good. He lost his job as closer by the All-Star break, and had an ERA north of five, which is why the Marlins agreed to pay $8m towards the remaining $21m due Bell.

It likely says a great deal that Pennington ended up being the best player involved in the deal. He put up 3.5 bWAR over three seasons with the Diamondbacks, good value for his $8.3 million total salary. Young was below replacement level in his year playing for Oakland, just worth 1.7 bWAR over the remaining six seasons of his career. Cabrera is likely the most interesting, despite not having made it above Double-A, seven years later. For there’s still some hope for him, the infielder having reinvented himself as a pitcher after blowing out his elbow, He has apparently reached as high as 102 mph on the mound, and put up a 3.96 ERA over 61.1 innings for the Dodgers’ AA affiliate this year.

This was an interesting move, coming the same day the team exercised their option for 2013 on J.J. Putz, who had accumulated 77 saves over the previous two seasons with Arizona, while putting up an ERA+ of 162. It was the second time GM Kevin Towers had dealt for the reliever, having previously acquired Bell in November 2006, when KT was in charge of the San Diego Padres. On this later occasion Towers said, “Adding another veteran arm to our bullpen should serve to shorten the game for us as we now have several relievers with closing experience to get the ball to J.J. Putz.” And Bell duly became the set-up man for Putz when the season opened.

However, J.J. struggled, blowing four saves in April while throwing with inconsistent velocity, then hitting the disabled list in early May with an elbow strain. Bell took over, and things initially went reasonably well. In the first month after replacing Putz, Heath had a 1.59 ERA, closing nine saves in ten chances. But the Heath Bell Experience, complete with sprinting from the bullpen to the mound, became a bit of a nightmare. He allowed runs in five consecutive outings, and just as in Miami, Bell was pulled from the closer’s job before the All-Star break. Kirk Gibson eventually gave the job to Brad Ziegler, who subsequently proved to be one of the best in the role that Diamondbacks’ fans have ever seen.

Heathl pitched well enough down the stretch, with a second-half ERA of 3.56, and a K:BB of 33:5 in 30.1 innings. But it was clear Gibson and the D-backs had lost confidence in him, and once the season was over, it came as no great surprise when he was shipped out in December. It was in another three-team deal, as he went back to Florida, this time to the Rays. At least the D-backs didn’t have to give up much: pitcher David Holmberg (who went to the Reds) was below replacement level for them, and the salary relief sent to Tampa with Bell was only $500K. Though the prospects they obtained in exchange (Justin Choate and Todd Glaesmann) never amounted to anything either.

Bell didn’t exactly speak warmly of his time here, though it’s not clear if the main culprit was Gibson, pitching coach Charles Nagy or catcher Miguel Montero. His comments suggest perhaps the last-named, and as Trevor Bauer will tell you (probably in a rap), Montero can be a bit prickly. “We didn’t really see eye to eye after awhile. I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream... I like to go in and out, use both sides of the plate. I felt like they wanted me to go in a lot more. My style was more away, but I was trying to do their style. It was just tough. When the catcher and the pitcher really don’t see eye to eye it’s hard to go out there and have a really good game. They wanted me to pitch in a way I’d never pitched before.”

Hall of Fame chances

In the extremely unlikely event of Bell making it into Cooperstown, there’s no doubt whose hat he will be wearing. It’ll be that of the Padres, for whom he experienced far and away his greatest success. As mentioned above, it was Towers who brought him over from the Mets, and after two seasons with an ERA+ of 144, he was anointed the heir apparent as Padres closer to one of the all-time greats, Trevor Hoffman. Filling in for a man now in the Hall of Fame himself is a tough gig, but from 2009-11, there were few better relievers than Bell. He made three consecutive All-Star teams (most famously, this entrance in 2011), saved ten more games over that time than anyone else, and threw 202.1 innings with an ERA+ of 157.

That’s not bad going, especially for a man who was a 69th-round draft pick [that’s no mis-print. That year, 1997, the draft eventually went ninety-two rounds, though everyone bar the Rays gave up after the seventieth]. However, there’s a bit of a gap between “not bad going” and “worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.” The latter requires more than three good seasons, and overall, Bell’s numbers don’t seem to have what it takes. His career ERA+ was a mere 112, and he only notched 36 saves across the rest of his 11-season career outside his trio of dominant campaigns. That leaves him sitting 74th on the all-time list - seventeen places behind J.J. Putz.

Given no reliever has been inducted with fewer than Bruce Sutter’s 300 [I’m discounting, for obvious reasons. John Smoltz], Bell shouldn’t exactly spend his holiday season preparing a speech. In fact, it’ll be a matter for some celebration if he even receives a single vote. Literally. For Bell told Sirius XM earlier this month, “If I get one vote, I’m throwing a party.” We’ll find out next month whether he’ll have to call the caterers.

Poll

Will Heath Bell need to throw a party?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Streamers ahoy!
    (9 votes)
  • 87%
    No cake for Heath!
    (61 votes)
70 votes total Vote Now