Ryan Madson and the Free Agent Closer Class of 2011-12

Please give a warm welcome to a new writer for Crashburn Alley, Paul Boye. Paul has written for Phillies Nation, worked as a video scout for Baseball Info Solutions, and spent time in the player development and video departments of a Major League team. You can follow him on Twitter @Phrontiersman and from now on will be able to get his highly-respected thoughts on the Phillies right here.

– Bill Baer

The emergence of Ryan Madson as a near-elite reliever has been both a welcome surprise and a key component of the Phillies’ recent success. You’re no stranger to this site singing the praises of Madson, and for good reason.

But with Mad Dog’s impending free agency looming, and the price tag elephant in the room seemingly growing larger with every multi-strikeout save, it’s worth wondering just where Madson fits in with some of the other top relievers set to be free agents this winter.

Among those relievers are names like Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez, four hurlers who have spent the bulk of the last three seasons in the ninth inning. For better of for worse, these guys will all be signed to close games and earn saves, just as Madson seems primed to be.

Just as with Jayson Werth last season, speculation and curiosity abounds as to just how much Madson stands to make on the open market. It’s all but guaranteed he won’t be signing an extension this summer – credit that to Scott Boras or whomever you like – and any sort of hometown discount also seems unlikely at this point.

Bad news for Phils fans, but (potentially) great news for Madson. What’s more, Madson’s numbers since the start of the 2009 season match up quite favorably with the top names of the impending free agent class: the aforementioned Bell, Broxton, Papelbon and K-Rod. Just how favorably may even surprise you.

To put it visually, here are some abridged leaderboards. These are leaders among those who have relieved in at least 80 percent of their appearances since the start of 2009 with at least 120 innings pitched.

Strikeouts/9 IP

3. Broxton – 11.74
10. Papelbon – 10.51
13. Bell – 10.10
14. Rodriguez – 9.99
16. Madson – 9.90

Walks/9 IP

18. Madson – 2.48
41. Papelbon – 3.19
43. Bell – 3.26
75. Broxton – 3.93
t-86. Rodriguez – 4.24

Strikeout/Walk Ratio

8. Madson – 4.00
17. Papelbon – 3.30
21. Bell – 3.10
25. Broxton – 2.98
49. Rodriguez – 2.36

If you subtract intentional walks, Madson’s ration becomes even more impressive, and improves by a lot more than the others.

Strikeout/uIBB Ratio

Madson – 5.21 (+1.21)
Papelbon – 3.69 (+0.39)
Broxton – 3.40 (+0.42)
Bell – 3.32 (+0.22)
Rodriguez – 2.87 (+0.51)

And, finally, WAR (B-R)

5. Bell – 5.6
9. Papelbon – 4.4
13. Madson – 4.2
t-26. Rodriguez – 3.2
t-65. Broxton – 1.4

Madson’s early-season run of dominance has put him on the map, but this has been going on for a while now. Madson’s recent performance has put him in prime position to make a big wad of money in the coming years – especially with the reliever contracts doled out in recent years – but whether that money will come from the Phillies’ pockets remains to be seen.

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15 comments

  1. bob iezzi

    June 09, 2011 07:31 AM

    isn’t it a shame how an athelete plays so much better when a new contract is being considered. as good as madson has been his track record as a saver over the long haul mean the phillies will not resign him. particularly since his wife does not like philly.

  2. Richard

    June 09, 2011 07:39 AM

    Madson pitched just as well prior to 2011, with no contract in the offing.

  3. Richard Hershberger

    June 09, 2011 08:30 AM

    People tended to focus on a couple of blown saves and conclude that he didn’t have what it takes. Since the Phillies have been pretty much forced to put him in the closer role this year, that talk has subsided. But it explains silliness like the suggestion that he has upped his game for his contract year. (Confession: I briefly flirted with the notion myself that he wasn’t closer material. But this site, and the realization that I was basing this on a tiny sample size, brought me to my senses.)

  4. Jeff T

    June 09, 2011 08:48 AM

    I say let him walk. Boras will want a long term deal worth $$$$$$ and history shows how well long term contracts for relievers usually work out. That fact coupled with the talent we have in AAA and AA, means bullpen is the one area we should be ok with if we fill from within and let the Baezs, Romero’s and Contrerases walk. For a team that claims to have hit their salary ceiling, the bullpen seems like one area that we can get quality on the cheap. Plus, the possibilty of the draft picks (CBA willing) is another plus.

  5. Grapost

    June 09, 2011 09:09 AM

    History has shown that very few players who get huge free agent contracts EVER perform at a high level after their signing, especially pitchers. The Madson situation will be exactly the same. But teams are in a ‘damned if the do, damned if they don’t” situation.

  6. Josh

    June 09, 2011 09:14 AM

    Mostly agree with Jeff T. No Baez, Lidge, or Romero. Sign Madsen and let Stutes, Bastardo, and Zagurski set up. Kendrick has really pitched pretty well as a long reliever..

  7. Richard

    June 09, 2011 09:33 AM

    actually, what history has shown is that few free agents who sign with new teams perform at levels commensurate with their contracts…. top free agents that sign with their existing team have performed better. Matt Swartz did some work on this at Baseball Prospectus last year.

  8. bje79

    June 09, 2011 10:54 AM

    I have confidence Ruben will get the job done and re-sign Madson. I’m not sure what the alternatives are at this moment. They’ll likely buy out Lidge. I guess they could go w/ Contreras, but that seems kind of risky given his advanced age. And the other top options (Bell?) would probably cost just as much, right?

    @Josh – “Kendrick has really pitched pretty well as a long reliever..”

    Really?

    In 20.1 IP as a reliever, Kendrick has K’d 7 guys (3.1 K/9)

    As a reliever, Kendrick has 11 BBs to 7 Ks (to be fair 5 were IBB, but still).

    KK is also allowing a career high in FB% this year.

    What KK has been is extraordinary lucky. 6.8% HR/FB (11.6% career avg) and a .239 BABIP in relief appearances (.290 career avg).

    So, basically a relief pitcher who doesn’t strike anyone out or induce ground balls…

  9. Css228

    June 09, 2011 11:23 AM

    Bye bye Ryan

  10. Sundar

    June 09, 2011 11:44 AM

    I think it’s pretty obvious that he’ll get Brad Lidge’s money; that is, if Madson’s performance continues throughout the season.

  11. COAL HAMLETS

    June 09, 2011 12:10 PM

    I think the Phillies will offer Madson a similiar deal to what they gave Lidge, only worth more money to keep up with whatever other top Relievers are getting these days.

  12. Josh G

    June 09, 2011 12:12 PM

    1st, welcome to the new author. Thanks for the article.

    I look at these numbers and think Madson is going to be the 3rd most expensive reliever this offseason. You have to give credit to the similarly elite numbers Papelbon and Bell have put up over the past 3 years. The major difference is they accrued saves. Saves are not a saber stat, but they are worth money in the baseball contract world.

  13. Jack

    June 09, 2011 12:25 PM

    New author means more articles and analysis? I can only hope! Although my job probably isn’t too thrilled. Great first offering. It will be sad to see Mad Dog not only because he’s so nasty but also because he’s one of ours. But we have to get a better left fielder. Left fielders play maybe 1300 innings per year. Relievers pitch 80. No doubt where the dough should go.

  14. Jeff T

    June 09, 2011 02:29 PM

    @Richard — fascinating, I will have to look that up.

    My premise on not resigning Madson is rooted in the fact that being a closer is not discernable skill set. That, in theory any good reliver could be a good closer if given save oppurtunities. If true, then it seems to be ideal to have a balanced bullpen of the likes or Bastardo, Stutes, Mathison et al. in 2012. The “closer” so to speak could be based on K/9. I know that Charley manages his bullpen in a very traditional/archaic manner, but so enlightened buulpen usage is a pipe dream, but its nice to dream. My point is why pay 12+ for a closer when that money could go to fill other holes?

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