Leveraging Todd Jones

WPA Leaders

Rank Name WPA
1 J.J. Putz 6.17
2 R. Betancourt 5.38
3 Takashi Saito 4.27
4 Heath Bell 4.12
5 Joakim Soria 3.85
6 J. Papelbon 3.72
7 Joe Nathan 3.63
8 F. Rodriguez 2.95
9 Hideki Okajima 2.93
10 Pat Neshek 2.83
11 Carlos Marmol 2.8
12 Brandon Lyon 2.8
13 J. Isringhausen 2.75
14 Manuel Corpas 2.71
15 Tony Pena 2.56
39 Todd Jones 1.57

WPA or win probability added tracks a teams chances of winning over the course of a game and the measure for an individual player is the difference in win probability when a player enters the game compared to when they leave. WPA of .5 represents 1 win. The complete list of WPA reliever leaders can be found at Fangraphs.

Last week Dave Dombrowski indicated that the club would like to have Todd Jones back, but under the condition that he may be moved out of the closer’s role at some point during the season. Right now the ball is in Todd Jones court as he evaluates his options, and tries for a gig closer to his Alabama home. But is a set up role better for Jones than as the 9th inning man?

Not your typical closer

Jones doesn’t possess one trait that is common among closers, an ability to strike hitters out. In 2007 Todd Jones was dead last, by a considerable margin, among closers (or people who finished at least 35 games). His 4.84 was considerably behind David Weathers 5.56. What’s more is that there were 12 closers who’s K-rate was more than double that of Jones.

Still, Jones manages success because of other things he doesn’t do. His renaissance as a closer came in 2005 with the Florida Marlins when he simply stopped walking people. He only issued 25 free passes between 2005 and 2006 in over 130 innings. However in 2007 he struggled with his control, relatively speaking and issued 23 walks in 61.1 innings, and that put him in the bottom half of closers.

So with a bad strike out rate, and a not so good walk rate, he must have had sterling defense behind him right? Not so much. His batting average on balls in play was .299 which ranked in the bottom 3rd, or the top 3rd depending on your point of view, but it’s the bad 3rd regardless.

Look at these numbers, how did Jones manage to have blown save numbers comparable to Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Jenks? He had 2 things working for him. The first is that he keeps the ball in the park. He only allowed only allowed 3 homers this year, and a slugging percentage of .371 meant that it would take several hits for Jones to blow a save.

Protecting the protector

Second, he was typically starting with the bases clean. He only inherited 7 runners all season (2 of which scored), only 6 other closers faced fewer. Only 4 times he was brought in to the middle of an inning. And of those 3 times there were already 2 outs and never did those runners on base represent the tying or winning runs. So while Jones was utilized to protect leads, he was protected in that role.

And that last point really gets to the crux of the Jones argument. Should he be the closer or a set up guy? I’ve been a supporter of Jones in the closer role for exactly this reason that due to a low strike out rate he works best in a situation where the next hit doesn’t spell doom. In 2006 Tigers fans watched Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney routinely come in and extinguish threats protecting narrow margins with runners on base. Truly facing those high leverage situations right? Wrong?

If you look at leverage index (LI is a measure of the crucial-ness of a situation), Todd Jones faced the highest leverage situations each of the last 2 years. If you’re like me your first inclination is to think “well duh, he pitched himself into those situations” but that’s not the case – entirely anyways.

Jones average LI when entering a game in 2007 was 1.76, essentially meaning that the typical situation was 1.76 times more crucial than a randomly selected situation. Joel Zumaya, coming into those tighter spots was 1.65. Given Zumaya’s and Rodney’s injuries this year, it’s worth looking at last year as well. Zumaya was actually a little lower last year at 1.58 while Jones was almost identical at 1.74.

The discrepancy has to do with the fact that the later in the game it is, the less time there is to recover. Coming into the top of the 8th with a 1 run lead has a 2.2 LI versus at 2.9 LI with the same lead at the beginning of the 9th. So even with runner-on situations in the 7th and 8th innings, there were enough times that Zumaya would come in starting an inning clean that he wasn’t really being maximally leveraged.

Should he still close?

Jones probably received to much grief from Tigers fans last season. He of course had his roller coaster moments, but he also turned in 24 1-2-3 9th innings this year. At the same time he’s probably pushing his luck as far as he can push it. Jones had a decent K-rate until last year (7.5 per 9 innings pitched), but he’s gone the last 2 years only fanning a batter every other inning. His margin for error has become exceedingly thin.

That said Jones can still provide value, but he has to be used similarly to how he has been the last 2 years. He shouldn’t be coming into jams, but there’s no reason he couldn’t be expected to eat the 7th or 8th innings, especially with a Zumaya like talent available to work out of jams.

At this point it becomes how much the Tigers want to pay for established bullpen depth. To get Jones, the Tigers will probably have to pay closer to closer money than set-up man money. Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have shown a preference for the familiar and so a premium of a couple million for a one year deal probably won’t be an issue.


  1. Kathy

    October 6, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Personally, I’d love to see Pudge and Jones come back next season. My reasons are not based on statistical evidence, but merely because I like them. Watching these playoff games has gratefully distracted me from obsessing about the Tigers. However, the Tigers not playing in the playoffs still hurts. I can’t think objectively right now.

  2. Jeff M

    October 6, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    He shouldn’t be coming into jams, but there’s no reason he couldn’t be expected to eat the 7th or 8th innings

    Depends… You’d have to show me there isn’t a drop off in his numbers in “non-save situations”.

  3. Eric Cioe

    October 6, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Let Jones stay another year. If Zumaya isn’t read to close by opening day, then leave Todd there until, say, the All-Star Break.

    But when he isn’t closing, why must he come in in close situations? Have Jones take those innings where the Tigers lead (or are losing) by a lot, and he can’t mess up too bad. Let Joel close, and have Rodney and Bobby Seay be the setup men. Rodney is lights-out when he’s good, and if there is a letfy due up in the 8th inning, have Seay go out and pitch the whole thing. He’s certainly proven his effectiveness against left-handed hitters, and he isn’t bad against righties either.

  4. David

    October 6, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Hey Billfer you never said anything about the Jair website, looks like a cool idea if you have enough time for this and that and w/e other websites you cover.

    I’d rather see the 10$ mil on Pudge spent elsewhere and use our 2 backups to cover the spots.

    Jones I think if he doesn’t sign with the Braves should be a last resort.

    Yea he was somewhat effective, but there were plenty of nights over the last few years where he absolutely stunk.

    One wonders how much longer he will even be able to throw above 90mph.

    Plus the fact that he doesn’t really have another pitch.

    As you pointed out he doesn’t get alot of swings and misses which is what you need when you have your closer in (last 2 innings in a close game)

    You want the guy who can blow guys away (Zumaya when hes right), or guys who can buckle a hitters knees with something off-speed.

    Another point on Todd is even though as you pointed out – his low Slug % against I think its very well could sky-rocket there were quite a few balls that with our decent outfield were caught – Maggs seems to be the best in the field late in the games that count and Grandy can go get them.

    The only few good points he has is that hes done it for awhile = exp and also the low walk rates which are lifesaves esp for him.

    I’d rather they went after a more dominant guy – Cordero, or a few good guys – Wood Gagne Dotel etc.

  5. Mike R

    October 7, 2007 at 12:54 am

    His slugging percentage against for his career is .382, so the only thing that’s declined is his K rates but if he’s not walking anyone that’s something that can be tolerated. With Carlos Guillen being the worst defensive shortstop this side of Jhonny Peralta and Derek Jeter, his replacement up the middle will help the staff out and that would in turn help out Jones when the ball is in play. Bill mentioned it, the only reason his Leverage Index was higher is because it was later in the game. Zumaya and Rodney are still infinitely more valuable in the 7th/8th inning jams then they are waiting around for the 9th while someone like Tim Byrdak or Jason Grilli is in the game.

    And he won’t break the bank. I think for him it’s Atlanta or Detroit in that order. I don’t see anything outlandish about 1 year, $5-7 million.

  6. David

    October 7, 2007 at 2:27 am

    I have a feeling that he is about done and guys are going to start really teeing off of him in ’08 or ’09.

    His Road ERA this last year – 4.99!!!

    Before the ASB his ERA was 5.20…

    I just have a feeling that if Granderson or Magglio weren’t quite as good as they were this past year in the late innings and COPA was maybe 10-20 feet shorter in the outfield he would have already gone the Jose Mesa route.

    But you are right on one thing getting a SS with more range than Guillen would have helped him quite a bit this past year.

  7. billfer

    October 7, 2007 at 7:55 am

    David – ERA isn’t a good metric for relievers because of the number of innings they pitch. One or two bad outings can destroy an era for a chunk of the season.

    As for the walls at Comerica, I do think Jones benefits from them, as do all pitchers.

    Oh, and as for the Jair website, I’ve linked it here a couple times. We’ll see how it works. I just hope he doesn’t get traded.

    Jeff – he’d still be in save situations, just not situations where he’d get the save. You can still blow a save in the 7th inning protecting a 2 run lead.

  8. Jeff M

    October 7, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Good point, Billfer, just as long as you can convince him that it’s the same difference.

  9. Coach Jim

    October 7, 2007 at 9:52 am

    I would like to see the percentage of shutout innings, or something approximating that. I mean, Jones did give up a lot of runs, but I seem to remember a lot of innings where multiple runs were scored. Since 1 run is a big deal to a closer, there is little difference between giving up 1 run and giving up 4; a loss is a loss.

    I caught the end of the Red Wings’ game last night. It looks like they need a closer too.

  10. Chris

    October 7, 2007 at 11:16 am

    I wonder if Jones would be a better reliever for appearances with inherited runners at the bases. He seems to induce allot of ground balls, which can get turned into rally killing double plays.

  11. Stephen

    October 7, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    It appears–and this is purely subjective–that Jones wouldn’t be a reliable 2 inning pitcher. So, if you eventually switch him out of the closer role, he really is limited in his appeal and appears to be Jose Mesa waiting to happen. He’s a nice guy, but unless he’s willing to play for 3m, i think it’s time to cut him loose.

  12. Vince in MN

    October 7, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I agree with Stephen. When Jones has to throw more than 20-25 pitches he tends to get hammered. This certainly eliminates the possibility of him pitching more than 1 inning. It seems that he also hasn’t been particularly effective in coming into a game to put out a fire in the middle of an inning. It’s hard to make any kind of judgement here though, since it just hasn’t happened that often. Since Zumaya missed so much of the season due to injury, I think our “closer in waiting” may need another year of seasoning before we can count on him in that role. If this is indeed the plan for the near future, bringing in another lights-out closer for only 1 year is going to be next to impossible, so a one year deal with Jones may not be such a bad idea. Besides, outside of the handful of games where Jones got lit up for 4 or 5 runs, he did very well. Let’s face it, most of the time our expectations of what was going to happen when Jones came in were not met, which in this case is a good thing.

  13. Kyle J

    October 7, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    Bottom line:

    Coming into to start an inning with no one on, Jones is an above-average reliever.

    Coming into a game in the middle of an inning with runners on, Jones is very much a below-average reliever.

    I’m A-OK with brining him back as long as he’s used in the first situation–regardless of which inning it is–and not in the second.

  14. Coach Jim

    October 8, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Let me add this. Look at Zumaya’s record in extra innings this year. He’s not ready.

  15. Mike R

    October 8, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    That’s a pretty small sample, Coach Jim.

    If you look at his “Clutch Stats” he’s dominant.

    2 outs, RISP: .179 BA against, .295 OBP, .299 slugging against.
    Late and Close situations: .209/.298/.286
    Tie game: .272/.344/.309 (only 19 games in this category. one of his smallest sample sizes)
    Within 1 run: .199/.287/.256
    Within 2 runs: .183/.254/.253
    Within 3 runs: .191/.280/.287
    Within 4 runs: .195/.283/.283
    More then 4 runs: .128/.328/.234 (another small sample.)

  16. BobS.

    October 9, 2007 at 2:21 am

    It wasn’t necessary to look at Zumaya’s record or his ‘clutch stats’
    to see he wasn’t ready to close.You just had to look at him pitch.

  17. Eric Cioe

    October 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I’d rather decide things based on statistics than “my gut.” I guess I’m a Moneyballer.

  18. BobS.

    October 10, 2007 at 1:04 am

    Stats are great deciders,especially when they’re used to supplement what we see with our eyes.If you’re convinced they’re the whole story,save a few bucks on tickets and stick to fantasy baseball.

  19. Eric Cioe

    October 10, 2007 at 9:51 am

    I agree Bob. I’m just saying you can’t say that Zumaya isn’t any good (for example) in late and close situations, when the stats tell you people only bat .209 against him then. I agree 100% that he could be a lot more mature of a pitcher, and when he does that he’ll be absolutely dominant, but right now, in his pretty much raw form he does pretty good in closer-type situations, and makes me chew my nails less than Jones.

  20. ron

    October 11, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Bob S. Good comment. I liked the ol’ days when people couldn’t back up their opinions with stats. Made for much more interesting talk. But then again, I liked the old days when ballplayers worked a job in the off season, and their were one or two pitchers each game, and they smoked in the dugout and….

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