Friday, December 17, 2010

The lesson of Matt Guerrier

Matt Guerrier has a contract with the Los Angles Dodgers. Jesse Crain has a deal in place with the Chicago White Sox. (Crain has a physical to pass before the contract is finalized.)

Matt Guerrier had 93
holds with the Twins,
including an AL-best
33 in 2009.
Guerrier appeared in 74 games last year with a 3.17 ERA. Crain pitched in 71 games with a 3.04 ERA. They provided a lot of games and a lot of big outs for the 2010 Twins -- and the 2009 Twins, the 2008 Twins ... they've been at the core of the Minnesota bullpen, and now they're cashing in with a pair of $12 million contracts.

Which is fine by me. I'll be writing something in future days specifically about Crain and the White Sox, but right now I want to focus on Guerrier and an important principle of constructing a roster that he represents: Relief pitchers are readily created.

Good organizations are confident in their ability to identify unproven pitchers who can fill a bullpen role. Lesser operations throw three-year contracts at $4 million a season at "proven arms" and get burned.

The Twins picked up Guerrier on waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 2003 season. Mull that over a bit; the Pirates -- not a good team -- decided this guy wasn't worth a spot on the 40-man roster. The Twins -- a playoff team, two-times defending division champion --scooped him up and got six full seasons of mostly solid bullpen work. (The second half of 2008, when Ron Gardenhire burned him out, being the exception.)

Guerrier was never the prototypical short reliever. Most bullpen guys have one big pitch. Guerrier has a starter's repertoire -- in 2001 he went 18-4 for the White Sox' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates -- but his velocity was deemed too low to be an effective starter in the majors. He gained velocity as a relief pitcher (which is normal; it's a sprint, not a distance race) and used his command and variety of pitches to get outs.

I call it the Greg McMichael Rule, but it could be renamed for Guerrier: If you get outs, they'll find a role for you. It took a couple years for Guerrier to push his way out of the long relief job -- two years and some failure by people ahead of him in the pecking order, like Juan Rincon and Crain -- but for the past four years Guerrier has been one of Gardenhire's primary seventh and eighth inning options.

Now he's moving on, and the Twins will move on too. The Dodgers will overpay in Guerrier's 30s for what he accomplished in his 20s, and the Twins will seek to replicate with some other unproven hurler what they did with Guerrier.

I like their chances of success more than I like the Dodgers' chances.

No comments:

Post a Comment