No longer willing to deploy Leo Nunez as their closer, the Miami Marlins went ahead and signed former Padres closer Heath Bell to a three-year deal worth $27 million dollars. Bell will certainly be worse in his new park, as Bell has been a huge benefactor of PETCO in his career. His numbers fell off last season, as he posted his worst FIP since 2008 and had a career-worst strikeout rate.
Bell was worth just 0.5 WAR last season, representing the lowest total of his career in seasons with at least 50 innings pitched. His 7.32 strikeout rate represents a step backwards, and his curveball really was not working last season. Bell threw it more often than usual, and it is interesting to note that he generated more chases from hitters but allowed more contact; thus, hitters whiffed on less pitches overall. His .261 BABIP was one of the lowest totals of his career, and it shows us that his struggles were related to his decrease in strikeout rate. He did not give up many home runs, and Bell was a lucky pitcher in 2011 who still managed to only be average working out of the pen.
However, average isn’t anything to be too disappointed with; even though we always expect much more out of a player like Heath Bell. One must look past the 2.44 ERA and 43 saves to truly assess Bell’s value. His strikeout rate will definitely be close to his career average of 9.22/9, but Bell will pitch in a more hitter-friendly ballpark and will suffer from this. However, if his xFIP is any indication, he will still be solid closer; just an overpaid one.
Since WAR is park-adjusted, there is no need to fret over Heath Bell’s projected WAR total for 2012. He should be worth about 1.4 WAR, and his 3.23 FIP was still solid. He is an overrated closer and will see his “normal” numbers fall off next season, but he’s still an above-average player.
The problem, however, is that the Marlins didn’t really have much of a need for him. It would have been more practical for them to sign a more low-profile free agent to add to an already solid bullpen. They didn’t need to go after a big-name closer such as Bell, and the extra expenditure just isn’t worth it. I’m beginning to fully believe- after previously only speculating- that the Marlins never really wanted to go after Albert Pujols or Jose Reyes in the first place. They are only real players in the race for Jose Reyes- they pretty much shut down all Pujols rumors- and Hanley Ramirez has made it clear that he isn’t moving to short. In short, Reyes isn’t signing with the team to play at another position; the Marlins don’t have a chance of signing the former Met. Instead of striking out this free agency, the much-hyped Marlins pretty much had to sign a “famous” player in order to show that they actually want to improve and that they aren’t all hype.
Giving Heath Bell $9 million dollars a year isn’t exactly the answer, because that’s what a 2 WAR player makes. Bell has achieved this three times in his career, but if last season is any indication; it isn’t certain as to whether or not he can accomplish this. I think the Marlins just lost about $5 million in this deal, and it’s not because Bell is a poor player. It is extremely difficult for a closer to be worth 2 WAR over a single season, and I have my doubts with Bell. He should bounce back, but the Marlins didn’t need him as much as one would think; and they definitely overpaid to acquire him.
For more analysis on the Miami Marlins, check out Marlin Maniac.