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Three More Seasons of Gagne, And Then ... ?
2004-01-28 16:03
by Jon Weisman

So you're worried that Eric Gagne might leave the Dodgers when he becomes a free agent?

Here's some food for thought. Some munchies for musing.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus had a theory that "the best relievers in the modern era have short, high peaks before slipping." He identified major league baseball's 16 best relievers since 1980, limiting himself to closers who excelled when they were between 26 and 30 years old, and analyzed their statistics.

First of all, he found that four of the 16 pitchers were completely out of baseball by the time they turned 34. Four others, including Trevor Hoffman, Robb Nen, and Billy Wagner, each lost a season because of injuries.

"Collectively, relievers who are dominant in their 20s do decline in their early 30s," Sheehan said. "Much of that risk is in the form of injury, rather than performance deterioration. The real break for the guys on the field seems to occur between 31 and 33, where the pitchers who had formerly been dominant step back to being just good, often at the same time they become very expensive. The chance of getting a star-caliber season from a top relief pitcher after they turn 30 is less than half of what it is before that."

Eric Gagne is 28 years old now. He is not eligible for free agency until after the 2006 season, at which point he will be nearly 31. We have no way of knowing what kind of pitcher Gagne might be and how much he will demand nearly three years from now. But if this small sample is any indication, it serves no purpose to worry about it.

"What I take from this research," Sheehan concluded, "is a reinforcement of the idea that there is no reliever in the game worth the risk of a long-term free-agent contract. They don't age well, they miss entire seasons with too much frequency, and the salaries they command on the market make it nearly impossible for them to end up as a good value."

Unless, I suppose, they create a whole bunch of concessions sales.

This is anything but me trying to usher Gagne out of town at the first opportunity. Rather, this is me using an interesting article to attempt to minimize stress during a trying offseason.

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