illustration by Samara Pearlstein
We finally have a developing market! Closers for the win! Let loose the celebratory doves and so on.
K-Rod has gone to the Mets, and Kerry Wood looks like he’ll be getting into bed with the Racist Logos.
The Tigers have not signed a closer yet, but as we all are sadly, painfully aware, the bullpen is an area of DESPERATE NEED for these cats, and the Tigers have accordingly had their paws in discussions about Brian Fuentes, Joe Beimel, possibly Chad Cordero, and JJ Putz. The Putz talks have been pretty active, thus: this post.
As with Jack Wilson, let’s go through and look at this with the clarifying power of bold font.
–What does JJ Putz have to offer us?
–What would JJ Putz cost?
–Is JJ Putz worth that cost? and if not, why not?
–Isn’t ‘putz’ an actual word?
What does JJ Putz have to offer us?
Putz is a power pitcher. He mostly throws a fastball in the 95 mph range (he throws it anywhere from 78-67% of the time, according to Fangraphs), mixing in a mid-80s splitter and a slider with similar velocity, which would probably strain his arm if he was starting but is fine for a closer. He’ll be 32 years old in 2009.
Here comes some boring stuff!
In 2008 Putz posted an ERA of 3.88 and a WHIP of 1.60. He threw 10.88 K/9 and had a 2.00 K/BB ratio. Just for comparison, look at what Jonathan Papelbon, a dude we can probably all agree is an elite closer, did last year: 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.00 K/9, 9.63 K/BB. Pretty big difference, right?
Thing is, Putz’s ’08 numbers were very atypical. I know that an ERA of 3.88 seems kind of great because we’ve gotten horribly used to whatever bloated numbers Fernando’s going to put up, but in 2006 Putz had a 2.30 ERA, and in 2007 his ERA was 1.38. His WHIPs in those two years were 0.92 and 0.70. His K/9s were 11.95 and 10.30, and his K/BBs were 8.00 and 6.31. Those are numbers that easily rival Papelbon’s.
The problem, of course, was injury. Two different injuries, to be exact: in early April Putz landed on the DL with inflammation of the cartilage around his ribs, and he hit the 15-day DL again in June with a hyperextended elbow (which was then aggravated in rehab through a comedy-of-errors-esque miscommunication with the team).
His K/9 numbers have been fairly consistent, so even in his down year he was throwing strikes. His K/BB ratio was way outta whack in 2008, though, meaning that Putz was walking many more batters than he usually did. Putz was DL’d on April 2, so by the time he came back he had effectively lost most of April and was playing pitching rhythm catch-up for much of the first half. His timing was all shot to cat poo. It’s even possible that this contributed to the elbow injury that came later; it’s certain that it was a major factor in his unusually high walk rate.
IN SHORT: When healthy, Putz is one of the elite closers in the AL. When in the midst of an injury-dinged season, he walks a lot of dudes and is still not really worse than, say, Fernando Rodney.
Putz is also a Michigan native who grew up in Trenton and went on to become a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE. So at least one tiny part of my brain loves him unconditionally. I feel it’s only fair to mention that.
What would JJ Putz cost?
This is all pure rumor, of course, but the names Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce are being tossed around quite a bit. The most bruited-about seem to be a ‘Jeff Larish plus unnamed pitching prospect X’ rumor, a ‘Matt Joyce plus unnamed pitching prospect X’ rumor, and a ‘Jeff Larish plus Matt Joyce plus maybe unnamed pitching prospect X’ rumor. I would sincerely, SINCERELY hope that that last rumor is unrealistic crazypants.
Putz is set to make $5.5 million in ’09, with either a $9.1 million club option for 2010 or a $1 million buyout. (sauce) There is basically no way in hell that the Mariners would throw in any money, so if you were even tempted to think along those lines, get that nonsense out of your brain. Set in the context of all the money the Tigers did NOT spend on their new catcher or shortstop, though, this is almost a non-issue.
Is JJ Putz worth that cost? and if not, why not?
This really depends on which particular ‘cost’ we’re talking about. Is JJ Putz worth Jeff Larish plus unnamed pitching prospect X plus the at least $6.5 million he’d be owed? I would say YES. Easily.
He had a, for him, very down year. He had injuries. The cartilage inflammation thing skeeves me out a bit because it, like most inflammation injuries, is a repetitive stress injury, and by their very nature those injuries tend to recur. The particular cartilaginous bits we’re talking about with Putz are the ones where the ribs articulate with the breastbone in the center of the chest; a pitcher could get inflammation here either because of back motion (pulling his arm far back near the top part of his delivery) or front motion (pulling his arm sharply across his body as part of his followthrough).
So, yeah, it’s a delivery issue, and I don’t like that, especially for power pitchers (hello, Rich Harden; hello, Kyle Farnsworth).
Buuuuuuuuut, this was not an issue with the arm itself– not the shoulder, not the elbow, not the bicep. It was also not an oblique strain. While there’s potential for recurrence, there is a lot LESS potential for recurrence than most other pitching injuries in the same injury class (i.e. repetitive stress-induced inflammation). The hyperextended elbow I am willing to treat more like a freak injury, especially if his wonky timing from the rib thing contributed to it.
The point is that, although an injury risk is definite and present, he’s still easily worth Larish + pitching prospect + the money, given the seriousness of the Tigers’ need.
If the trade involves Matt Joyce, however, I am much, MUCH less sure that it’s a good deal for the Tigers. Larish has power, but he is 26 years old and his ‘natural’ position is first base– insofar as he has a position, because despite the training the Tigers have tried to give him at third, he is still probably most and best of all a DH. Joyce, on the other paw, has power, is 24 years old, and plays outfield.
Joyce is a LOT more valuable than Larish, and I’m not just saying that because of the kitten and his burgeoning superheroic tendencies. Powerhouse seafarin’ blog USS Mariner agrees and goes into a little more depth.
A JJ Putz who had not suffered from those injuries is probably well worth a package including Joyce, especially to a team whose current closing situation hinges upon Fernando Rodney staying healthy (not especially likely) and pitching well (not especially likely), and/or Joel Zumaya getting and staying healthy (not especially likely) and having matured somewhat (I’m not holding my breath). But the injuries are canon, so just say no to moving Matt Joyce.
Isn’t ‘putz’ an actual word?
Yes it is. According to my Dictionary Widget, it is “a stupid or worthless person”, or vulgar slang for, uh, male anatomy. However, I think putz-the-noun is usually pronounced with the same kind of very short U as the U in the word “butts”, as in “of all third baseman butts, Brandon Inge’s is the finest.”
JJ Putz’s name is pronounced with a slightly longer U, like the one in “puts”, as in “it puts the lotion on its skin”. I have heard lazy sportscasters pronouncing Putz with a wicked long U, like it rhymes with “flutes”, but this is apparently incorrect. And now you know… the rest of the story.