Key Stats: With 132 saves over the past three seasons, Heath Bell has 10 more saves than the next closest relief pitcher. And these aren’t Kevin Gregg saves where he just happens to be the guy getting his name called in the 9th innings. Bell has a 2.53 ERA over the past five seasons – proof that he’s been a very good pitcher too.
Skeptics Say: While the Padres have offered Bell arbitration, it’s likely that the reputation in key stats won’t make teams shy away from losing draft picks to sign him. Leaving Petco Park will be difficult, but the splits actually aren’t all that different over the last three seasons at home versus on the road. What could be a bigger issue for Bell is a potential move to the American League. The Blue Jays are interested. Facing the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays 57 times is not easy.
There is also concern over his strikeout numbers which were down last year. He struck a career best 11 hitters per 9 innings in 2010 and only struck out 7.3 batters per 9 innings last season (a career worst).
Peer Comparison: The Jonathan’s (Broxton and Papelbon), Jose Valverde, and Joe Nathan have already signed, but other free agents remain on the market. Here are the players that remain unsigned at the hour and what they have done in the last three seasons.
Francisco Cordero: 2.84 ERA 1.26 WHIP 6.85 K/9
Frank Francisco: 3.71 ERA 1.24 WHIP 10 K/9 Age: 32
Ryan Madson: 2.78 ERA 1.15 WHIP 9.61 K/9 Age: 31
Francisco Rodriguez: 2.88 ERA 1.26 WHIP 10 K/9 Age: 30
Heath Bell: 2.36 ERA 1.16 WHIP 9.6 K/9 Age: 34
The numbers are very good for Bell, but the caution comes with the age and the dropoff he had this past season (a year in which he should have been more motivated to perform well). Teams will be more excited to knock on Madson’s door. There’s also the possibility that a team like the Red Sox swoops Bell up only to use him as a set-up guy to Daniel Bard (Bell has set-up experience). He’s at an awkward time where we don’t know if we should pick him based on reputation or let him be based on one year that could become a trend.
Team Outlook: Seeing where the Padres finished in the standings last year, Bell is a clear case for the quality of a team not making a difference in terms of save opportunities. The Padres have offered Bell arbitration, but it’s unlikely he’ll take it and it’s unlikely the team even wants him to take it (he would be one five players on the team making over $1 million). There are still other relievers out there on the market, so who knows Bell could end up back in San Diego, but it’s unlikely.
Projection: To some people saves are saves, so this whole profile didn’t mean much. Relievers influence K’s, ERA and WHIP too (sometimes leagues are decided by the slimmest of margins). You can’t argue with the results last year – even with the strikeouts being down.
36 saves 4 wins 2.87 ERA 1.18 WHIP 66 K in 70 innings