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Trading Francisco Rodriguez is No White Flag

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It's going around the internets that the Mets have waved the white flag on the season. Wrong.

Really, the question of what the short-term impact of the Francisco Rodriguez trade means for the Mets is different than the question of the Mets' state of competitiveness. If you think the team was competitive before the trade, they remain so. If you think the team was a .500 team before the trade, they remain so. That might be hard to comprehend because of how high of a profile (and salary) Francisco Rodriguez has, but it's the nature of the closer. They just aren't that valuable.

We often use the WAR - Wins Above Replacement - statistic here, and a thorough explanation of the term can be found here. Since it uses defense and is a counting stat that depends on quantity, it can be more useful when evaluating starting pitchers and position players, but the theoretical underpinning is sound even when relievers are concerned. There are players in Triple-A, minor-league free agents, and veterans on the end of benches that are readily available. These players set a replacement level - basically what a player could do if you brought him in to fill the role. When seen through the lens of this stat, closers are just not that valuable.

Last year, ten closers were worth more than two WAR. Compare that to 73 starters that managed the feat, and 100 position players. And this isn't just because they pitch fewer innings -- even by adding leverage, which gives closers credit for the fact that their average inning is worth more than the average inning of a starter, closers come out on the short end of the value stick. 70 innings, even with extra credit, is only 70 innings, and even your number five starter manages to pitch twice as much.

Here's another way to think about it. How many current closers around the league are signed on multi-year free agent deals? Mariano Rivera. Kevin Gregg. Jose Valverde. Aaand we're done. That's it. Three closers were signed as free agents to multi-year deals. The rest are cost-controlled young dudes still going through arbitration years or veterans on one-year make-good deals. Closers, for the most part, are found in systems or made from failed starters or both. General managers know that closers aren't foundational pieces, or you'd see more free agent deals for 'proven' closers.

Francisco Rodriguez is a great reliever. He's been worth 0.7 WAR this year. Bobby Parnell is not in the same league. He's been worth 0.4 WAR this year. And that's without the benefit of having late-inning pressure situations to inflate his value further. Francisco Rodriguez has saved 23 games and blown three. That's an 88% success rate. The top 30 relievers by saves have averaged an 86% success rate on saves this year. Even if the new closer is below-average, he won't cost the team the year.

A closer comes in and blows the game and it seems like he's just cost the team the game. But the hitters and pitchers that got the team to that one-run lead could have gotten them a bigger lead. And, on average, you've forgotten the other 8.8 times out of ten that your closer finished the game successfully.

There might be more moves in the future that cost the team more dearly in the short-run and can be considered 'white flags.' Getting rid of the most overpriced closer in the game before his $17.5 million option kicked in was not one of them. This deal may not have even cost the team one win, and it just gained the Mets a much better chance to sign Jose Reyes next year.