How To Build a Winning Bullpen

Todd YCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2008

In the dog days of August, it becomes very obvious which teams are pretenders and which ones are contenders. 

A lot of that comes down to the effectiveness of their bullpen. 

The length of the season, the humidity of August—which makes the ball fly out of parks—and the demanding schedule all conspire to overwork even the best of the 'pens. 

ESPN recently ranked the top-10 bullpens in baseball, and I thought it would be interesting to look at how you build a successful pen. 

Do you bring in dynamic young players? Or do you sign the wily, experienced veteran?  Do you skimp on the 'pen, or do you allocate large amounts of money to build it?


1.) LA Angels

Rodriguez (26-years old) amateur free agent

Speier (34) free agent

Shields (32) drafted in the 38th round

Oliver (37) free agent

Arredondo (24) amateur free agent

Loux (28) minor-league free agent

Total Cost - $22 million


2.) Chicago Cubs

Wood (31) drafted in the first round

Marmol (25) amateur free agent

Howry (34) free agent

Wuertz (29) drafted in the 11th round

Cotts (28) trade

Gaudin (25) trade

Samardzija (23) drafted in the fifth round

Total Cost - $12 million


3.) Philadelphia Phillies

Lidge (31) trade

Romero (32) free agent

Madson (27) drafted in the ninth round

Durbin (30) free agent

Condrey (32) free agent

Gordon (41) free agent

Total Cost - $20 million


4.) Arizona Diamondbacks

Lyon (28) trade

Qualls (29) trade

Pena (26) amateur free agent

Cruz (29) trade

Slaten (28) drafted in the 17th round

Rauch (29) trade

Total Cost - $10 million


5) Chicago White Sox

Jenks (27) claimed off waivers from the Angels

Dotel (34) free agent

Thornton (31) trade

Logan (23) drafted in the 20th round

Linebrink (31) free agent

Carrasco (31) free agent

Total cost - $13 million


Your thoughts? Pretty cheap, huh? 

A lot of the relievers were acquired off the scrap heap from other teams and were guys that were not highly sought after. 

None of these teams wasted high draft choices to build a 'pen. It's interesting that one of the worst 'pens in baseball, the New York Mets, is comprised of not one, but two first-round picks, plus a third rounder, and then a highly-paid free agent closer. 

Brad Lidge is the only closer on this list who makes real money, and its only $6 million this year. Kerry Wood is the only first-round pick.


What we learn?

1.)  Don't waste high picks on relievers

2.)  Younger closers are better

3.)  Younger relievers overall are better. Count—Five of 30 players are over 32.

4.)  Be cheap. There is no reason to spend $25-35 million on your 'pen. 

5.)  You really can look at a team's 'pen to evaluate the effectiveness of the scouts and general manager. Look at some of the deals here: Bobby Jenks claimed off waivers?! Matt Thornton was drafted in the first round by Seattle, and then dealt to the Sox for Joe Borchard.

That says a lot about both teams. Houston gave up Brad Lidge, who is perfect as a closer this year, for Michael Bourn, who is hitting .233 with four home runs. 

6.) The old idea that spending big money on set-up men is a waste actually doesn't hold a lot of truth here. Arizona is the only team that doesn't have at least one $3-6 million set-up man.

7.) The all-important lefty specialist isn't so important. Out of the five teams, there is only one lefty specialist. Only Neil Cotts would qualify as a lefty specialist (Romero was one, but has 'graduated' into a true set-up role). The other teams don't have one, or have used players interchangeably in that role.  

Interesting, but no holy grail. You have to be smart, have a good scouting system, and get some luck to build a strong 'pen. But throwing money or high draft picks at the problem only makes things worse because then you are stuck with the guys you bring in.


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