In response to NYRoyal's recent post on Joakim Soria as a starter, many RR readers pondered how much more valuable Soria would be if he was simply used more often (and efficiently) as a reliever. This is right on, of course. I'm not saying he'd be worth more there than as a starter... But reliever usage is a big deal. Three run, one innings saves are well known as wastes of relief aces. Two inning saves with a 1 or 2 run lead is much smarter. but that's another discussion... loyal2sdad brought up a good case, though: Royals legend Dan Quisenberry. What was his WAR? Well, that sounded like a challenge I couldn't refuse...
The following historical WAR numbers for Quiz were arrived at using basically the same process I used to calculate projected 2009 WAR in my Driveline Series on 2009 starting pitchers. You can read there for more informationon methods. Here's a few notes on the differences for those that are interested in methodological issues...
- Replacement level win% is different for relievers than starters -- generally, it's .380 for and .470 for relievers.
- In contemporary baseball, given the talent disparity between the leagues, replacement level is adjusted for AL and NL, so it's .390/370 and .480/.460 for the NL and AL, respectively. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the leagues were pretty much equal, so we can stick with .470 for Quisenberry.
- Although I'll explain it more fully if I ever write my "So what is WAR?" series of posts here, for relievers we need to include their leverage by multiplying their Runs/Wins Above Replacement (RAR/WAR) by it to account for the higher value of the innings pitched. Doing it in a straighforward manner overvalues relievers, so to set "leverage above replacement, we multiply the WAR by the relievers leverage (pLI) averaged with 1. You can look up "bullpen chaining" in google to read the debates about this. this is how I prefer to do it at the moment. Here, the RAR I give is straightforward, and the WAR is with leverage added in.
- FIP/IP values, etc. were taken from my own BDB database rather than FanGraphs for various reasons having to do with scaling FIP to RA more quickly. So some of my numbers are different than other sources. It's not a huge difference.
- I just did 1979-1987, before he went to St. Lous. This made things simpler, and these are the years we're really intersted in, anyway.
And here are the numbers...
Yeah, those are some pretty impressive seasons. For perspective, here are the numbers we get for Soria using the same methods (and adjusting for a different replacement level) for the last two seasons.
I'm not here to adjudicate who was more "talented." Soria has amazing FIPs in a more offensively-oriented environment, and pitched higher leverage innings on average. On the other hand, Quisenberry pitched wa more innings in a park that was more amenable to hitters. But we aren't talking about the ability or true talent of these pitchers, but their value. In that sense, Quisenberry was clearly superior. That's not to say that Soria couldn't be that good, but that despite not being used in (or, more properly, "saved for") more high-leverage situations and not having as good a FIP, Quisenberry was allowed to help his team more by simpy pitching more innings. To emphasize this more, here's another reliever's 2008:
Not bad, huh? That guy must be a pretty good closer to have outpitched the Mexecutioner, huh? Actually, those are Ramon Ramirez's numbers from 2008. For the record, no, I don't think his "true talent" is better than Soria's (for one thing, he couldn't hack it as a starter, I don't think) , but he did outpitch Soria in 2008. Please, let's not get into "luck" again. I've been over this with others, yes, Ramirez had a bit of batted luck, but Soria was at least as lucky when all things are considered... But this isn't about going forward or about the Crisp trade. It's about reliever value. Ramirez wasn't always given the highest leverage innings, especially at first, but he still managed to be incredibly valuable because of his performance and his slightly higher innings count. The general point is that it isn't all about leverage (although Hillman and most managers don't get that right, either, with their ace relievers), but other factors, especially number of innings, is important to maximizing reliever value. And, hey, the leverage isn't going to be helped if you keep "saving" him so long that he ends up having to pitch in a blowout to get some work in.
I'm still for Soria as a starter, but at the very least, he should be pitching more in general. And see The Book for how lame the workload is for contemporary closers and better leveraging them...
And let's appreciate Dan Quisenberry for how great he was. This isn't a nostagia trip, it's a numbers game: Soria's got a long way to got to match Quis' legacy.