Would a New Arm Bring Relief? History Suggests Otherwise

Reading the Boston Globe today, I noticed some striking figures. Sean Smith compiled some basic stats on Theo Epstein's midseason relief acquisitions. Since the Theo Epstein era began in 2003, only one year - 2008 - has seen July 31st go by without a new reliever coming in. Even in years like 2007 and 2009, when the pen was a relative strength, Theo still moved to try to bolster it.

Unfortunately, the results of these acquisitions don't speak well for the strategy. True, they're small sample sizes, and we're just looking at ERA and WHIP. But you can't ignore that of the 8 relievers Theo brought in, every single one had a higher ERA with Boston than their previous team, and all but three pitched horribly (Chad Bradford and Bryan Corey were okay, and Billy Wagner was very good). [Click "Continue Reading" for the numbers and explanations.]

Scott Sauerbeck (2003)
Pirates 53 games / 4.05 ERA / 1.375 WHIP
Sox 26 g / 6.48 ERA / 2.100 WHIP

Scott Williamson (2003)
Reds 42 g / 3.19 ERA / 1.394 WHIP
Sox 24 g / 6.20 ERA / 1.426 WHIP [Note: Williamson did have a 1.13 ERA in his 8 games in the playoffs.]

Terry Adams (2004)
Jays 42 g / 3.98 / 1.651
Sox 19 g / 6.00 / 1.519

Chad Bradford (2005)
AAA (OAK) 9 g / 3.24 / 1.320
Sox 31 g / 3.86 / 1.414

Mike Remlinger (2005)
Cubs 35 g / 4.91 / 1.303
Sox 8 g / 14.85 / 3.000

Bryan Corey (2006)
Rangers 16 g / 2.60 / 1.327
Sox 16 g / 4.57 / 1.246

Eric Gagne (2007)
Rangers 34 g / 2.16 / 1.050
Sox 20 g / 6.75 / 1.875

Billy Wagner (2009)
Mets 2 g / 0.00 / 0.5
Sox 15 g / 1.98 / 1.098

There are a couple of ready explanations for the failure of these players. It can't be easy coming from a team that's out of the running, into the fishbowl, pressure-cooker environment of Boston, typically in the middle of a playoff race when these guys arrive. Some players might feed off the attention and adrenalin, but others might find it overwhelming. There's also the issue that many of these guys came from the NL or the AL West, neither of which present the level of offensive that the AL East offers. Finally, there's the fact that good relievers are rarely available - teams either hoard them (Rays) or want too much for them, so we're just seeing the results of Theo's slim pickings.

Nevertheless I think it's fair to say, given these results, that the organization has trouble evaluating relievers. In such circumstances, the Sox should probably give up on midseason relief acquisitions, unless a top-of-the-line reliever (a la Wagner) is available. Even then, Theo needs to scout them properly and ensure they're healthy, lest we repeat the Eric Gagne experience.

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