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We’re done talking about Walt Jocketty, but being that this is the second part of a series, we figured we would keep the name.

In the first part, we determined that the market for pitching is irrationally expensive, and contemplated some solutions to get around it. But up to this point we have mostly been discussing starters, when they are only responsible for about two thirds of all innings pitched. Filling these other innings with solid, dependable, cost efficient arms can go a long way toward offsetting the potentially bloated costs of a team’s rotation. For a number of reasons reasons, talented minor league (or even major league) relievers often slip through the cracks, toiling away in obscurity when they could be helping a big league team win games.

While several teams have been particularly adept at finding free talent relievers to stock their bullpens, the leaders in the clubhouse are the San Diego Padres. Year after year, GM Kevin Towers continues to find diamonds in the rough. Scott Linebrink. Doug Brocail. Rudy Seanez. Akinori Otsuka. Alan Embree. Scott Cassidy. Cla Meredith. Heath Bell. All of these men have found success in the Padres pen over the last four years while pulling in salaries at or near the league minimum.

For obvious reasons, finding these hidden gems is a bit easier than finding undervalued starters. While all pitchers’ performances are subject to luck, relievers are especially prone due to their smaller sample sizes. Take Bell, San Diego’s top find for 2007, who was acquired in the offseason from the Mets along with lefty Royce Ring, in exchange for pitcher Jon Adkins and outfielder Ben Johnson. These were Bell’s splits from 2004 through 2006 at Norfolk and New York:











New York





Bell was dominant at Triple A, striking out almost twelve men per nine. His strikeout-to-walk numbers at the big league level were also impressive, right in line with his minor league translations and on par with some top tier relievers. But thanks to balls-in-play averages of .373 and .398 at the big league level in 2005 and 2006 , respectively, Bell’s performance was superficially mediocre.

The Padres knew better. Towers tried to trade for Bell at least year’s deadline, before actually doing so during the winter. The results have been outstanding, if somewhat predictable: 93 strikeouts and 26 walks in 87 innings, leading to a 2.17 ERA.

The key to the Padres’ success in this area is so obvious, Towers and his staff haven’t even tried to keep it a secret. Local reporters have often cited the team’s close attention to strikeout-to-walk ratios, and even BABIP, when discussing Bell, Brocail, Linebrink, and others. Yet despite this, few other front offices seem to have grasped the subject. While Bell could have been had by just about anybody, teams were busy spending millions of long term dollars on right handed relievers Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota, Justin Speier, and David Weathers. It’s fairly easy to argue that Bell has been a better pitcher than anyone in that group since at least 2004.

There is also another way to find cheap bullpen help: converting minor league starters. While there are more relief prospects today than ever before, almost all future big leaguers begin their pro careers as starters. This strategy makes enough sense; starters are more valuable assets, so organizations do everything possible to develop them.

But what teams (especially those in contention) don’t do enough is utilize good minor league starters to the big leagues in a secondary relief role. This was one of Earl Weaver’s fundamental strategies, and it serves several purposes. The pitchers themselves can get a taste of the big leagues in a role that is set up for them to succeed in, ingratiating themselves in the environment without a great deal of pressure. It also is a way to limit a prospect’s innings without entirely shelving him. The team, meanwhile, gets more relief innings from quality pitchers, instead of retreads. Both the Yankees (with Joba Chamberlain) and the Red Sox (with Clay Buchholz, no-hitter notwithstanding) have used this strategy successfully this season, and could see even larger dividends starting next week.

Like with any other problem, the best solution usually involves using creativity and some out-of-the-box thinking. There are ways to assemble a pitching staff that don’t involve building Gil Meche’s next castle, but they are a bit more complex and involve a great deal more mental energy than simply throwing money at the problem.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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