Wagner close to rejoining Mets' bullpen

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Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News reports that Billy Wagner is expected to return from the disabled list and rejoin the Mets’ bullpen Sunday, assuming that his final minor-league rehab outing goes smoothly Friday at high Single-A. Wagner is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last September and has thrown five scoreless innings with six strikeouts and zero walks during his rehab stint.
Wagner is making $10.5 million this season, but because the Mets are all but guaranteed to buy out the final year of his contract for $1 million rather than exercise their $8 million team option for 2010 the 38-year-old will likely be auditioning for a new team. In fact, there’s some speculation that the Mets could look to pass Wagner through waivers and trade him before the end of the month.
While in Washington, D.C. last month for the annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention, my dorks friends and I had a debate about the greatest left-handed relief pitcher in baseball history while eating sushi one afternoon. Lots of names were tossed into the mix and compelling cases were made for a handful of guys, but at the end of the day the consensus was that Wagner reigns supreme.
If that strikes you as unlikely you’re not alone, but it turns out that the vast majority of elite relievers throughout baseball history are right-handed, whether because of random chance, platoon effects, or teams being less likely to convert an effective southpaw to the bullpen. Whatever the case, here are the top adjusted ERA+ marks from left-handers who totaled at least 600 career innings and worked primarily as relievers:

                        IP     ERA+
BILLY WAGNER           818     180
John Franco           1246     137
John Hiller           1242     134
Steve Howe             606     129
Sparky Lyle           1390     127
Jesse Orosco          1295     125
Gary Lavelle          1085     125
Steve Kline            682     124
Ron Perranoski        1175     123
Randy Myers            885     122

No one even comes close to Wagner on a per-inning basis, but perhaps a decent argument could be made for guys like John Franco, John Hiller, Sparky Lyle, and Jesse Orosco based on their throwing significantly more innings. Still, it would be tough not to pick Wagner, who checks in with a 180 ERA+ while the rest of the top 10 are bunched between 122 and 137, ranks sixth all-time in saves, and has six All-Star appearances. Now we’ll see if he can add to that resume.

Must-Click Link: Sherri Nichols, Sabermetic Pioneer

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If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.

While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.

The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.

A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.

A great read and a great history lesson.