Gus left a comment on the Open Thread that deserves a full response. He wrote:

Sometimes, I come here and feel like I’m from outer space. How can anyone not like the Diaz deal? First, the Mets didn’t have a fallback option nor are there any in free agency. Secondly, since when did elite prime aged closers become a roll of dice? I’m not talking about a run of the mill closer that hasn’t built a track record, I’m talking about about one of the best in the game at his prime. How many of those went down the tubes before say, 34 years of age? I don’t think Kimbrel or his ilks were ever disappointments.

Edwin DiazEdwin Diaz signed a 5/$102 million deal, one that covers his age 29-33 seasons. Since the end of World War II, there have been 943 different relievers who pitched at least a combined 100 innings as a reliever in their age 29-33 seasons. Which reliever totaled the highest fWAR total? It was Hall of Famer Rich Gossage, who amassed 12.6 fWAR in 408.1 IP.

Diaz posted a 3.0 fWAR in his amazing 2022 season. The FG Dollar Values has him season being worth $23.9 million, so they’re essentially valuing a unit of WAR at $8 million. To be “worth” his contract, Diaz has to accumulate 12.75 units of fWAR, something no reliever has done in his age 29-33 seasons since 1946. Here are the top 10 relievers in their age 29-33 seasons

Player IP fWAR
Rich Gossage 408.1 12.6
Joe Nathan 350 12.4
Mariano Rivera 342 11.1
Tom Henke 376 10.9
Doug Jones 357.2 10.7
Rollie Fingers 561 10.7
Trevor Hoffman 354.1 10.5
Lee Smith 394 10.4
Andrew Miller 295 9.8
Dan Quisenberry 615.1 9.7

It’s fun to see the IP totals for those closers from the 20th Century. If Diaz could throw 615.1 innings like Quisenberry did, he’d very likely be worth this contract. And more. Instead, he’s going to throw about half that many. And despite how many innings you throw, there’s a cap on how much value a relief pitcher can give you. And that makes sense. If a reliever was able to give you Quisenberry-type innings and 2022 Diaz-type numbers, he wouldn’t be a reliever – he’d be a starter.

Ignoring the Covid season, in his last five full years, Diaz has combined for 322 IP and a 9.4 fWAR. That includes both his terrific season with the Mariners in 2018 and last year with the Mets. If those were his age 29-33 seasons, that would be tied for the 12th-best mark among all relievers since World War II ended.

But it’s not enough to be worth this contract.

Some people don’t like using fWAR to rate relievers. I’m one of them but that has more to do with the fact that most relievers have a value under 1.0 fWAR and there’s not much separating relievers in WAR who were different in real life. For example, both 2022 Joely Rodriguez and 1986 Jesse Orosco had 0.4 fWAR but there’s not anyone who would prefer Rodriguez in real life. But when your relievers are putting up fWAR numbers like an average or better SP, then my objection falls away.

Diaz has shown us in two different years that he can put up the type of performance needed for this contract to make sense monetarily. But can he do it consistently over a five-year period? He hasn’t done it yet so far in his career. The contract is fine if he puts up four years like 2022. But what if he puts up multiple years like 2019 and 2021, instead? Tell me you’d be happy with two or three years when he puts up a 3.45 ERA and has six blown saves like he did in 2021. To say nothing of his lousy year in 2019.

The bottom line is it’s not my money and I’d rather Diaz be a Met than be on another team. But with all of the holes currently on the roster, my solution would not be to hand out a record-setting deal to a guy who’s only going to pitch around 300-325 innings over five seasons.

Because they don’t pitch many innings, relievers are fickle and they don’t consistently post great numbers. It’s very possible that Diaz is a top-8 closer the entire length of the contract. But it’s just difficult to be worth $20 million when your role is so limited. It takes a year like Diaz had in 2022 (and 2018) to post excess value. And history has told us that no one in the last 75-plus years has been able to do that over a five-year span at this age.

So, it’s not just a matter of “going down the tubes.” It’s also being able to produce how Diaz has done in the last five full years and still being overpaid by 25%.

Some may want to place a dollar value on having a known commodity. That’s the only way this contract adds up. It’s my opinion that paying for intangibles is a losing proposition. If we were able to go back in time before the 2022 season and suggest that Diaz was worth $20 million a year because he was a known commodity and brought intangibles – well, you would have been laughed out of the room.

Funny how those things showed up for Diaz after a great season, his first since 2018.

9 comments on “Edwin Diaz and the production of top-notch closers

  • TexasGusCC

    Brian, I considered his lack of WAR as I was writing that comment, hence my inclusion of the Bernie Williams to Mariano Rivera comp. See, Williams has always had a higher WAR than Mariano and they played for the same team, but one was the first ever unanimous Hall of Famer and it wasn’t the one with the higher WAR. Diaz is in the discussion for MVP of the Mets this past year, but Nimmo isn’t – through Nimmo has the higher WAR!

    I don’t think WAR is a good barometer of comparing pitchers to hitters, and certainly not closers which has said to be the hardest job in the game. Many baseball people have said that the last three outs are the hardest to get, but WAR just treats them like they’re Strat-O-Matic cards where pressure is removed and everything depends on chance.

    As I have written before, Mark Twain has often written: “There are lies, damned lies, and stats”. Why could we not trust our own eyes to make a decision on value after watching over 140 games a year for years and years, and we wait for the statisticians to tell us how to think? Diaz was great, he is the best in his position, problem solved for five years, hopefully…. How do we know that if we take that money and throw it at a position player (who is expected to produce a higher WAR) that he won’t flop and the non-elite close won’t blow nine or ten games a year? We don’t, but we make a judgment based on each player’s performance.

    • Brian Joura

      And as Bob Dylan said — “All he believes are his eyes and his eyes, they just tell him lies.”

      There’s just no way that people using only the eye test can accurately rate hundreds upon hundreds of players, year after year after year. Humans have selective memories. They’ll remember the times that Wilmer Flores came up with a big hit and gloss over all the times he failed in the clutch.

      Finally, as Lord Kelvin said — “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”

      • TexasGusCC

        So, you didn’t like my quote. How about the first two paragraphs?

        • Brian Joura

          The fact that there wasn’t a unanimous choice to the HOF before Rivera speaks a million times more to the idiocy and gatekeeping tendency of certain voters than anything special about Mariano.

          You’re allowed to have an opinion. You just have to recognize that it’s among the possibilities that your opinion is divorced from reality.

  • T.J.

    As I posted earlier, my gut reaction was both happiness that Mr. Sugar is returning, while the financial side of me thought the monetary commitment was nuts. Still, I lean towards Gus on this signing. None of us have a crystal ball and know how Edwin will perform next year, no less five seasons. His filthy stuff could well vanish, or just diminish to the point that he his much more hittable. Yes, closers perform in small portions relative to other contributors. But…Cohen retained his guy, at his peak both performance and age wise, at very close to market prices relative to what the top free agent closers have be paid in recent seasons. This is a guy who wanted to stay, and this is a guy who has shown he can do it in NYC. Even more impressively, this is a guy that first showed he couldn’t do it in NYC, and turned it around completely. Yes, he may fail, but he won’t melt, and for me that is not an intangible. Also, deals need to be taken in context with various factors…this is a 101 win team, despite the holes/free agents they have enough of a core to be a divisional competitor in 2023, and we haven’t seen what remains on the hole filling. I suspect a final roster that will be consider playoff worth with a strong chance to win the NL East despite a loaded Braves team and a Philly team that got to the WS and yet could improve. I’m glad we have the closer returning for that challenge.

  • Paulc

    If Diaz has 5 years like he had in 2022, then his fWAR is 15 – tops on the list. And his bWAR is 3.2. Unlikely, but possible. That’s a lot of money for 300-350 innings, but Cohen can afford it. While the closer role is vastly overrated, I like the deal since it won’t affect signing other free agents given Cohen’s budget (or, more accurately, lack of one).

    Off topic, after reading the writer interviews, am I one of the few readers who lives within an hour’s drive of Citifield?

    • Brian Joura

      I don’t mean to be harsh but there’s no way on God’s green earth that Diaz is going to have five consecutive years like he did in 2022. There’s being optimistic and there’s looking at things thru rose-colored glasses. And then insert 20 Grand Canyons and you get close to the gulf between those scenarios and believing there’s a chance that something that’s never been done before in MLB history will be done.

      And it’s not like this would be just inching by the previous record. Five years like 2022 would demolish the current record. It would make the difference between 1 and 2 on the all-time list for this age group larger than the current difference between 1 and 8.

      I know, I know – records are broken all of the time. But this is like the single-season record for doubles (Earl Webb, 67 in 1931) rather than the single-season record for strikeouts (Mark Reynolds, 223 in 2009) which has been broken four times this century.

      None of us know what’s going to happen. The best we can do is look at the odds and act accordingly. And the odds here are astronomical.

  • Metsense

    Jansen had a 5/$80m contract from 2017-2021 and in 2021 earned $20m from the Dodgers.
    Chapman had a 5/$85m contract from the Yankees.
    The qualifying offer is $19.7 this year.
    The Mets needed a top-notch closer to achieve their goal of getting to the World Series.
    The market for a top-notch closer, in their prime years, is 5 years and $20m plus.
    Diaz fits the profile.
    It isn’t a value contract but it is in line with the market.
    Under the circumstances it is a necessary and fair contract.

    • Name

      I know i’m late to the party and this is just semantics, but after factoring in the deferred money, Edwin’s deal is akin to around a 5/90 contract had it been structured in a typical baseball backloaded style, which means it’s actually very close from a npv perspective to the deal Chapman signed (which was even and not backloaded) and not quite the “record breaker” as reported.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here