UPDATE: Cameron expands on his analysis of multi-year deals for relievers here.
6:09 AM: It always takes a while for teams to turn to the bullpen during the offseason, but when they do, they tend to do it all at once. And it was certainly a big day for relief pitcher signings and rumors yesterday. Matt Guerrier, Kerry Wood and Jesse Crain signed. There’s action on Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel. I’m sure this will continue for a while.
Of particular note: Crain and Guerrier signed three-year deals. As did Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs recently. Three-year deals for relievers seem kind of nuts to me given how up-and-down almost every reliever’s performance tends to be. I hadn’t realized how up-and-down until I saw this tweet from Dave Cameron yesterday:
List of relievers who have signed 3+ year deals since 2006 and been worth the money: Rivera. That’s it. That’s the list.
He means free agent relievers, not necessarily young ones locked up by their teams during arbitration years such as Joakim Soria, but it’s still a pretty startling observation. And even though Cameron doesn’t define “worth the money” in his tweet, it’s hard to come up with a single non-Mariano exception to the observation, even if you’re generous about what “worth” is.
The Jayson Werth deal signaled that baseball’s recent run of relative austerity was over. The fact that setup guys are getting three-year deals like this is pretty darn good supporting evidence.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.