Cue the loud cries of Marlins fans everywhere saying "Remember last time?"
Heath Bell has performed very well since being removed from the closer position at the start of the second half. Prior to today's three-hit, one run outing, he had 10 appearances, pitching nine innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Heck, that's pretty solid. It's also just 10 relief appearances and nine innings. Anything can happen for a reliever in nine innings; in fact, anything can happen for relievers in an entire season. For reference, if you stretch that nine innings out to the start of July, the numbers look drastically more "normal."
|From July 15||9||25.8||9.7||.150||0.00||2.63|
|From July 1||14 1/3||20.7||10.3||.263||3.77||3.82|
The difference in just five added innings is very large, which is why you do not trust just nine innings of work. Now, he has looked better, there is no doubt about that. But it is not as if Bell has not had a stretch in 2012 in which he looked passable. And on the whole, his numbers have been improving, in part because he is finally getting some swings and misses (8.5 percent swinging strike rate since the start of June). But can the Marlins really forget how occasionally awful he has been?
Well, if there is any time to forget it and test out his prowess, it would be now, with the Marlins clearly out of the race.No Need For Wins
It sounds ridiculous to say that the Marlins have "no need for wins," but the remaining wins in 2012 are likely to be low-leverage and meaningless overall. Yes, there is certainly a psychological effect to losing games, especially games that should have been kept intact by your $9 million per year closer. But given that everyone should have the mentality that 2013 is going to be a brand new year (and the front office can make it happen with some shrewd signings), that psychological hangover should not affect the Fish badly.
And the truth is that, even if Bell is at his worst (well, maybe not April-worst, but not very good), he still is not going to cost the Marlins many games. If you blow a save, often times the game will be tied, and very rarely (walk-off losses only) will the game be outright lost without the Marlins having a shot at coming back. Provided those leads are turned into deficits of one or two runs or ties, the Marlins would have a little less than 50 percent chance at the games Bell throws away that are not walk-offs. Even if he blows six saves, the Marlins aren't likely to go 0-6 on those games going forward, so the psychological toll is further diminished.
And of course, most importantly, the Marlins' wins and losses in 2012 are more or less meaningless. The team is out of contention and its only race is likely to try and stay out of the cellar of the NL East, maybe potentially catch the New York Mets. Outside of that, the Marlins are playing 2012 with an eye on 2013, so it would be the perfect testing ground for Bell to work out his kinks and see if he can return to something close to a viable pitcher.
The Most Value
Yes, the Marlins have Bell as a "sunk cost" in that they are going to have to pay him whether he is good or worthless from now on. But if the Fish do want the best value for Bell, they should rehabilitate him as a closer, if anything to try and pry as much trade value as possible. Not many teams would be willing to deal for Bell in his future seasons, but if he is an effective reliever for the remainder of 2012 in the closer's role, there may be one dupe of a team willing to go after a "final bullpen piece." And if the team is competing, testing to see if Bell can be effective enough to close games is a good thing to know for 2013 as well.
So the Marlins have many solid reasons to at least try Bell in the position now that the team is way out of the race. There is little downside if he does not do well; the worst that can happen is that he gets demoted again and the Marlins lose a few wins in a suddenly meaningless season. The best that can happen is the team gets its desired $9 million closer back.