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I’m in love with the MIRP

Happy trails to two former Yankee relievers.

Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Chad Green’s signature Yankee moment probably happened more than five years ago, when the then-sophomore player came into the 2017 AL Wild Card Game, down 3-0 with one out in the first inning. He struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to staunch the bleeding and give the Yankee offense time to strike back, in a game New York of course came back to win.

The second-most notable moment of Chad Green’s career may well have occurred on May 19, 2022, when he was pulled from an outing against the Orioles with the dreaded forearm tightness. The right-hander, in his contract year, missed most of the season with Tommy John surgery, and although he did ink a deal this week with the Toronto Blue Jays, won’t appear in blue and white until at least June.

I don’t know what he would have made as a free agent without the TJS drawback, but it would have been more than the $8.5 million guaranteed by the Jays. That’s less money than Seth Lugo or Kenley Jansen signed for, and Green’s projected to be better than both when he returns, and in fact is projected to have the same ERA as Rafael Montero, who got $33 million from the Astros.

Darren O’Day retired from baseball this week as well. He threw just ten innings for the Yankees in 2021, but leaves the game after 14 seasons with a 2.59 ERA and identical ERA+ to Aroldis Chapman, who has earned at least twice as much as O’Day’s career $49 million in earnings. He never closed, with zero saves in 644 appearances, but was a critical role in MLB bullpens for a decade and a half, posting 60+ appearance seasons in half his MLB campaigns.

New York Mets v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

These departures, one to another team and one from professional play, has me thinking about this role, the middle-inning relief pitcher. So many things about the way we view value in baseball has changed over the last 10 or 15 years — we know that its ok to accept a higher strikeout rate as long as that player provides premium power, we’ve left the value of pitching wins and to a certain level the value of saves in the dust.

And yet, I think the perceived value of individual MIRPs has remained somewhat stagnant. We recognize the value of bullpen corps as a whole, but individual relievers are often seen as relatively interchangeable. It’s true that of all the position groups, its easiest to produce a reliever in-house than any other, but we still undervalue the guys like Green who, year over year, can provide reliability.

The downside to the relative fungibility of homegrown relievers is the volatility of those pitchers — you may only need one thing to go right to take a disappointing Double-A starter to a decent MLB reliever, but you only need one thing to go wrong to undo all that progress. To then produce a guy like Green or O’Day, that can make 50-60 effective appearances pretty much every season, and in particular be like Green and do it for the same team while under club control, is a certain level of value that we take for granted.

This isn’t to say the Yankees should have given Green a massive extension or even made him an offseason priority. He’s just another one of those Pretty Good guys that a team needs to win, but doesn’t necessarily need to keep around. I love these players, and they’re only growing more important. As starters throw fewer and fewer innings, the value of a Chad Green or Darren O’Day to carry over those excess innings goes up.