Bill Campbell – 1977 Topps
December 2, 2011
We’ve Been Down This Road
Hello there! I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving with someone special and working hard, so sorry for the absence.
This will be short, because I still got stuff to do, but I read something that gave me pause.
The Marlins signed Heath Bell, for big money. $9 million for three years. Oh, wait, allegedly agreed to terms. Whatever.
There are a few basic facts:
1. Of any position outside of DH (or maybe 1B), relief pitchers are pretty easy to come by and can easily be found in the minors or on the waiver wire.
2. Closers, for the most part, are way overrated. Usually they pitch in lower-leverage situations than the set-up men and now hardly ever enter with runners on base.
3. Anyone who is a legitimate major league pitcher can close.
So while elite talent is worth spending money for, perhaps Heath Bell shouldn’t be valued that highly for what his true value is.
But ever since the dawn of free agency, though, open-market closers have been quite desirable.
Case in point, Mr. Campbell. Soup to his friends.
Campbell spent 3 1/2 seasons in Minnesota before free agency became the law of the baseball land. The rules were different, so even though Campbell didn’t have that much service time he was allowed to rid himself of the penury from playing under Clark Griffith.
In 1976, Campbell went 17-5 with 20 saves and a 3.01 ERA in 167 2/3 innings. That’s a pretty hefty workload, and even then it should have been known that it was unsustainable.
Campbell had a better year in 1974 with a 3.7 WAR (8-7, 19 saves, 2.62 ERA. And he did blow 10 saves in 1976 (four of which he turned into wins). But the Red Sox needed pitching in order to compete with the Yankees, so why not spend the money?
They gave Campbell a five year $1 million deal. That’s $1 million total. Still, it was a far cry from the $23,000 he earned in 1976.
In 1977, he went 13-9 with 31 saves and a 2.96 ERA. He blew 11 saves, and the Red Sox finished 2 1/2 back. His WAR was the best of his career at 4.6.
But the rest of the contract, he was rather much a disaster for the Red Sox. 0.5 WAR total. 15-10, 20 saves and a 4.02 ERA. Bleah!
After the contract, he became a Cub for two seasons, then drifted around the leagues.
In the first free agent class, it was demonstrated that spending lots of money for free-agent closers don’t really work out in the long term.
But to this day, teams will try to prove that wrong.
Good luck, Marlins. Hope you get some good trade value in year 3 of the deal!