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billy-wagners-overall-worth | July | 2010 Articles

2010 Archives

Billy Wagner's Overall Worth

Written by Joe Lucia on .

How good is Wagner in relation to the rest of the closers in the National League? With Braves closer Billy Wagner's exclusion from the NL All-Star team (as of this writing at least...who knows which players will get hurt this weekend to possibly give Wagner a slot on the team), many fans are up in arms, claiming that he got screwed and that he's the best closer in the league, and so on and so forth. Well...is he really, or are Braves fans just being angry? Lets take a deeper look at things. This is a list of each National League team's closer (currently, at least...thus the lack of Trevor Hoffman for the Brewers, and Huston Street for the Rockies), and some of the more important stats to look at when analyzing pitchers. The second column of the table indicates how many saves the pitchers have, if you're into that kind of things. Saves really tell you nothing about how well a pitcher pitches...a closer could enter the game with a 3 run lead and allow 4 baserunners and 2 runs in his inning of work, and still pick up the save. Is a 4.00 WHIP and 18.00 ERA worthy of getting a save? Apparently so. Anyway, this is how the table is sorted, in descending order. You see that Wagner is in a tie for 7th among closers in saves...right in the middle of the pack. His lower total can be attributed to the Braves 9 game losing streak in April, which deprived him of any opportunities to close out the game. The third column represents the pitcher's ERA...again, if you're into that kind of thing. Wagner's mark of 1.27 is far and away the lowest of the group. ERA is becoming an outdated stat, yet its still widely used, due to the (relative) ease of use in comparison to something like FIP or xFIP...but then again, I actually find it easier to calculate FIP. Regardless, Wagner's low ERA is the major argument used by his apologists in quoting his All-Star candidacy, which is a flawed argument. ERA doesn't take defense into account. If a team has an outfield of 3 Adam Dunns, that team will allow more runs than an outfield of 3 Ichiro Suzukis, regardless of how well the pitcher pitches. The fourth column represents the FIP of the pitchers. FIP is one of my favorite stats, that I spend a lot of time playing with. Yes, I"m aware that makes me a total goober, but ignore that for the minute. The raw formula for FIP is {[(13 * HR) + (3 * BB) - (2 * K)] / IP} + 3.20. The 3.20 is a factor that puts FIP on a scale like ERA in order to use it as a comparison point, and varies by year and by league...but 3.20 gives you a good raw idea of the FIP. Wagner's FIP, while very low at 2.23, only ranks 6th among the closers, due in part to his 3 homers allowed on the season...not too high overall, but high in comparison to his fellow relievers on this list. The fifth column mentions a stat that is gaining some traction in the sabermetric community, that being xFIP. xFIP is calculated nearly the same as FIP, but the home run rate is neutralized. This allows for some wiggle room in the stat and eliminates fluke rates caused by varying factors not under a pitcher's control, such as weather. xFIP agrees with Wagner a little more, and pushes him all the way up to second in the closer rankings, behind only Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers. The reason for Wagner's dramatic rise in the rankings is because of abnormally low homer rates that are associated with the men that were ahead of him in the FIP rankings. Sixth column is an easy one, K/9. All that means is strikeouts per 9 innings...thats a stat I quote on here a lot, so it shouldn't need a primer. Regardless, its strikeouts / innings pitched. See? Nothing complicated. Wagner's 14.01 K rate ranks second, behind only the absurd figure posted by Carlos Marmol. How in the hell he strikes out 17 guys per 9, I have no idea. Its something I've never quite seen before. Seventh column...another easy one BB/9. This is, you guessed it, walks per 9 innings. Its calculated the same way as K/9. Wagner ranks 7th in this category. Pinpoint control has never really been Billy's strong suit. The final column...another easy one. K:BB refers to the pitcher's strikeout to walk ratio. As all ratios work, it compares one number to another, in this case being strikeouts to walks...take total strikeouts (or strikeout rate), divide them by the number of walks (or walk rate), and you're golden. Wagner's K:BB ranks third, behind only Broxton (again! Grrr) and shockingly, the oft-injured Phillie Brad Lidge. Seeing Lidge ranking that high in the category shocked me, but then again, he always has struck out a lot of men. So what does all this mean? Was Wagner really a terrible snub on the team? Lets take a look at the relievers selected for the team. Only 3 closers made the team, which is laughable when you consider that 2 setup men made the team. The 3 closers were Jonathan Broxton, a more than deserving choice, Matt Capps, who was the Pirates lone representative, and Brian Wilson of the Giants, who made it because...well, I really can't tell you why, considering Wagner has better stats in every category except the all-important (note: extreme sarcasm) saves, and a slight deficit in FIP. And then there are the 2 middle relievers, who have absolutely no reason for being on the team. Why in the hell would you pick TWO middle relievers over 2 starters or 2 dominant relievers? It doesn't make sense to me. Speaking of snubs, I believe Heath Bell of the Padres was a bigger snub than Wagner on the initial roster, but he was given a slot this week after the injury to Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. Wagner has a definite solid case for being an All-Star, and yes, he was a pretty blatant snub. I will give NL manager Charlie Manuel kudos however, for not choosing NL saves leader Francisco Cordero, who has pretty bad peripherals despite leading the league in saves. Thats a plus. Capps is a nice little feel good story, but he's not one of the best pitchers in the league. He's not even one of the best players on his team, so the argument for taking him to represent the Nationals is a weak one. Yes Braves fans, you should be pretty pissed off that your stud closer is not an All-Star. But on the bright side, he gets 3 days off now. Theres a bonus.
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