Miami Marlins Season Preview: Heath Bell

Mar 13, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Miami Marlins relief pitcher Heath Bell (21) delivers a pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to the Miami Marlins Season Preview! After this, check out the other previews:

02/24: Catcher
02/27: First base
02/28:
Second base
03/01:
Third base
03/05: Shortstop
03/06: Left Field
03/08:
Center Field
03/12: Right Field
03/14: #1 Starter
03/15: #2 Starter
03/19: #3 Starter
03/21: #4 Starter
03/21: #5 Starter

The Miami Marlins Season Preview continues examining the team's pitching staff today. Yesterday, we discussed how the Fish have totaled a solid 15 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from their starting pitchers. The team's bullpen last season was forced to play a major role due to the starters' collective ineffectiveness, but the Fish are hoping this season that the pen will get to contribute less in favor of better starting pitching.

One cog of the bullpen machine from whom the team would like to see great performance is their $9 million closer, free agent acquisition Heath Bell. The Marlins spent $27 million over three years on Bell and is expecting top-notch production. Unfortunately, the team also performed a cardinal free agency sin that never would have happened in the team's old penny-pinching ways. With the club more confident in their spending, they splurged on a pitcher who is certainly good and still likely has decent days ahead of him, but probably is not worth the price of admission.

Bullpen

Closer: Heath Bell

We have covered Bell's prospects thoroughly from start to finish around these parts, but it is worth mentioning again.

Bell IP K% BB% ERA FIP
2011 62 2/3 19.9 8.2 2.44 3.23
2010 70 30.0 9.8 1.93 2.05
2009 69 2/3 28.4 8.6 2.71 2.42
2009-2011 202 1/3 26.3 8.9 2.36 2.54

We pointed out before that Bell has been a very good pitcher who lost a lot in the way of strikeouts in 2011 despite being a consistently strong performer in the last few seasons as closer. We discussed the possibility that a move away from Petco Park may hurt his ability to suppress home runs. At the same time, we also mentioned that Bell has done a good job of suppressing home runs away from Petco as well, and he would be moving to a stadium that is also going to be large and most likely will suppress homers.

Can bell repeat his strikeout performances of the past given the changes in contact rates against him? We can suspect some regression, but it is likely that he has lost something in terms of strikeouts, just not to the drastic amount that is seen in 2011. At the same time, if everything else remains close to his 2009 to 2011 levels, Bell will be worth pitching in late innings, even if he is not worth the contract that he signed.

Since we have discussed all sorts of angles for Bell's 2012 season, let us see what the projection systems say.

Bell, Proj IP K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 59 2/3 25.4 9.4 3.02 2.98
Steamer 60 23.1 9.3 3.50 3.66
PECOTA 64 2/3 24.9 8.3 2.89 2.86
Fans 66 24.4 8.5 2.84 3.22

When we combine all of these projections, we see a player with a projected 3.12 ERA. Now, before you get too excited, you need to recall that relievers get compared to a higher standard than starters. The replacement level for relievers is significantly higher than that of starters; whereas starters get compared to a replacement level of pitchers who would win 38 percent of games for their teams, Bell and other relievers get compared to pitchers who are closer to league average for their replacement baseline. This means that, even though Bell's ERA is still pretty good as projected, it will be compared to significantly better numbers than our past projections.

Projection: 62 2/3 IP, 1.4 WAR

That is not a good sign for the Marlins. Using an average leverage index (LI) of 1.8 (indicating that the average PA that Heath Bell will pitch in is 1.8 times more important than the average PA), we get a projection of just about 1.5 wins. Depending on what value you use for the free agent market this season, you are looking at a pitcher worth maybe $6.5 million in value, meaning the Marlins would be overpaying Bell this season as well. In comparison, FanGraphs had relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon League at 1.4 WAR last season,

According to these projections, some of Bell's strikeout decline is significant enough to change his outlook, and his walk rate should remain as it always has over the years. Most of the projections expect him to give up a few more home runs this season than usual, which also sounds fair given his move to an easier environment. Overall, these changes supposedly lead to a worse player who is still contributing positively for the Marlins, just not positively enough to be worth his contract.

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