So JCR is reporting that the Fish have agreed to terms with Luis Ayala, which makes sense since they've been linked to him for quite some time. As we all know, the Marlins have had a plethora of bullpen problems this season, ranging from overuse to misuse to general sucktitude. So is this the move that finally puts things in order? Perhaps the better question is whether it puts anything in order...
The fact that Ayala has been a much discussed name when it comes to teams looking for bullpen help seems like it should mean he's someone who will, you know, help bullpens. In a general sense, that's probably true. His numbers for the last few years have been those of a very average reliever, and if you're looking for help, odds are "average" is better than what you've got.
But there is one number where he has consistently underwhelmed. You may recall that a particularly handsome and intelligent person started tracking how players' win probability numbers differed from their expected contributions, and how this could be a proxy for measuring "clutch." That stat has evolved in underlying form but still measures the same thing: how much a player over- or under-performs in higher leverage situations. And Ayala has underperformed year after year, both in years where that "expected performance" was good and even when it was bad already.
If you don't put stock in WPA stats, look at his splits. In low leverage situations, batters hit .242/.286/.361 with a 3.14 K/BB ratio. In medium leverage, they hit .286/.334/.443 with a 3.35 K/BB ratio. But in high leverage situations, aka in big spots, batters hit .310/.361/.463 and his K/BB ratio drops to 2.38. In short, fifth or sixth inning? Put him out there. Get Pinto out of a jam in the 8th? Not so much.
OK, but how do we know that's not the Marlins plan already, just shoring up the early relief. Well for one, you wouldn't go out and get a guy to do that, especially considering the number of so-called "live arms" the Marlins have. But much more telling are the reports of his last days with his previous team.
As Twins blogger extraordinaire (now national reporter extraordinaire) Aaron Gleeman noted the other day, the reason the Twins DFA'd Ayala is that he wanted to pitch in the eighth inning, and the Twins felt this was, frankly, a bad idea. The Star-Tribune reported manager Ron Gardenhire's comments as:
He wanted an eighth-inning role; that’s why he signed over here. He wasn’t pitching well enough to be an eighth-inning guy. So there you have it.
His thoughts were if we gave him the ball in that eighth inning, he’d be able to do the job. My thoughts are if you’re not getting them out, you’re not going to pitch in the eighth inning. We’re trying to win. So there’s your difference.
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that a big part of the reason Ayala is signing with the Marlins is that they promised him he'd get the chance to be that eighth inning guy. After all, we haven't exactly had the best performance in high leverage situations, so the position isn't locked down. The problem, as noted above, is that Ayala is almost exactly wrong for such a job.
Heck, when the Twins first signed Ayala, Gleeman broke down why it wasn't a big upgrade for them, ultimately determining his projection as "the fifth-best reliever in a good AL bullpen." We don't have a good AL bullpen right now, so it's not like he's going to make things worse in terms of who he displaces. But he's not going to make things any better, and reading between the lines, it would appear the Marlins are just adding another name to the list of guys who just can't get it done.