Are the Giants paying too much for their bullpen?

Ezra Shaw

Well, yeah, but I made a table!

I did research! I made a table! I opened a spreadsheet!

These numbers are imperfect, and by March they'll be outdated because there are still relievers on the free-agent market. Plus, these estimated payrolls don't include the rest of the free agents out there. Michael Bourn needs to sign, Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche ... some of these payrolls are going to spike.

But that doesn't mean we can't get an answer to the basic question at hand, which is this: How much are the Giants spending on their bullpen compared to the rest of their roster, and how does that compare to the rest of baseball. The answer ........ ......... MIGHT SURPRISE YOU.

Hahaha, no it won't. The Giants spend a crapton of money on their bullpen. Take a look:


Team Est. cost of bullpen Total est. payroll Percentage of payroll dedicated to relievers
1. Indians $11.9 $50.6 23.5%
2. Cubs $17.6 $81.0 21.7%
3. Padres $12.8 $61.0 21.0%
4. Diamondbacks $16.7 $82.0 20.3%
5. Pirates $11.4 $63.2 18.0%
6. A's $8.8 $54.5 16.1%
7. Rockies $11.4 $71.3 15.9%
8. Giants $21.0 $132.3 15.8%
9. Reds $14.5 $96.7 15.0%
10. Rays $7.5 $51.7 14.5%
11. Red Sox $16.2 $112.7 14.4%
12. Phillies $21.6 $150.3 14.4%
13. Orioles $12.4 $87.0 14.3%
14. Astros $3.4 $24.9 13.7%
15. Brewers $8.7 $67.2 12.9%
16. Jays $14.5 $112.4 12.9%
17. Rangers $12.1 $103.5 11.7%
18. Mets $10.0 $85.9 11.6%
19. Cardinals $12.1 $107.7 11.2%
20. White Sox $12.0 $115.8 10.4%
21. Twins $7.3 $75.0 9.7%
22. Angels $13.9 $146.1 9.5%
23. Nationals $8.7 $95.9 9.1%
24. Braves $7.2 $81.5 8.8%
25. Tigers $12.2 $140.6 8.7%
26. Yankees $17.0 $200.3 8.5%
27. Marlins $3.4 $40.9 8.3%
28. Dodgers $17.0 $213.8 7.9%
29. Royals $5.5 $76.7 7.2%
30. Mariners $3.6 $68.8 5.2%

When it comes to just the raw dollars, the Giants have the second-most expensive bullpen in baseball, just behind the Phillies. The Giants are eighth in percentage of payroll allocated to relievers.

Some notes: I used the estimated payrolls from the front of Baseball Reference for the total payroll, the individual team-payroll pages on Baseball Reference to get the estimated arbitration salaries for a lot of guys, and I used MLB Depth Charts to see what the projected bullpens are for each team.

The Giants are expecting about 250 innings from the top six pitchers in their bullpen this year, or about the number of innings you'd get from a frontline starter. If you would be willing to pay Justin Verlander $20 million to be the best over those innings, why wouldn't you pay the bullpen the same if you want to guarantee that they're the best group in baseball?

Because there's no guarantee they'll be the best. Even if pitchers are inherently unreliable, I'd put a lot of money on Justin Verlander doing what he does before I'd put a dime on any bullpen in the league being good or bad. One year's Jeremy Affeldt is the next year's Jeremy Affeldt, if you want to look at 2010 vs. 2011.

And apart from the mercurial nature of relievers, the other reason that analogy breaks down is that you can't buy a Verlander arm on the free-agent market for the major-league minimum, then place it with a rookie Verlander torso and two cheap minor-league free-agent Verlander calves. You can't build a cheap #1 starter like you can with a bullpen. The Royals might have one of the best bullpens up there -- they're all making about what Santiago Casilla is.

So while I'm not aghast at the Casilla and Affeldt contracts like some of you are, I'm more perturbed by the collective strategy to give four different relievers a substantial chunk of money. It's more common to have a couple of guys who make well over a million, with the rest of the 'pen filled in around them. The Giants are shooting for a really, really deep bullpen. But it's costing them.

There is a lot of value in having a four-deep or five-deep bullpen. But probably not as much as the Giants are thinking. The really scary thing is that bullpens can shank you in the shower in the middle of a pennant race for no good reason. Those things aren't to be trusted. The Giants are paying like they think bullpens are to be trusted. Gulp.

It's not the end of the world, but it's a pretty risky strategy for a team maxing out on payroll. On second thought, I might have rather had Casilla test the free-agent waters after all. Or, considering the presence of Mijares, it's probably the Affeldt contract that's the real luxury.

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