Ryan Madson: So Long, and Thanks for All the Wins

Madson's last Phillies appearance. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Since erstwhile Phillies closer Ryan Madson signed with the Reds earlier this month, coverage has focused primarily on the great bargain Cincinnati got, and secondarily on how dumb the Phils were to sign Jonathan Papelbon to an eight-figure deal soon after the free agent market opened for business. Lost in the argument over their respective contracts and the back-and-forth over Ruben Amaro’s learning curve in the GM chair are a couple simple facts: in terms of both performance and season-over-season consistency, Madson has a strong case as the greatest reliever in Phillies history, and he delivered the team astonishing value above and beyond what he was paid for in his eight seasons with the team. In fact, by one analysis at least, the Phillies could have doubled Madson’s compensation over that span and he still would have been a significant bargain.

The table below attempts to quantify what Madson gave the Phillies. WAR, of course, is Wins Above Replacement; these figures are taken from Baseball-Reference.com. Salary is self-explanatory. The Nominal Value per WAR is derived from a recent Fangraphs article that starts from the premise that a marginal win in 2012 is worth $5 million, and posits a five percent annual nominal increase in how much a win is worth. Using that starting point, I worked back to determine how much a win was worth in each of Madson’s pro seasons. Madson’s Value is a simple multiplication operation, and then I subtract his actual salary to derive the difference. All numbers other than WAR are in millions of dollars.

Year Madson WAR

Nominal Value per WAR

Madson Value Madson Salary Difference
2004 2.1 3.32 6.97 0.3 6.67
2005 -0.1 3.49 -0.35 0.35 -0.7
2006 -0.6 3.68 -2.21 0.4 -2.61
2007 1.3 3.87 5.03 1.1 3.93
2008 1.4 4.07 5.7 1.4 4.3
2009 1.5 4.29 6.44 2.33 4.11
2010 1.4 4.51 6.3 4.83 1.47
2011 2.2 4.75 10.45 4.83 5.62
TOTAL 9.3 n/a 38.34 15.55 22.69

Madson delivered value in excess of his compensation in six of his eight seasons as a Phillie, including his last five when he moved to working progressively higher-leverage innings out of the bullpen. (I didn’t attempt to measure that aspect of his tenure; this is quick-and-dirty stuff, after all.) It’s not surprising or particularly noteworthy that his biggest "bargain" year was his first season; that’s kind of the point with young players. What might raise an eyebrow is that his second-biggest value season was 2011, when he finally emerged as a top-shelf closer. In all, Madson’s performance for the Phils reflected nearly $23 million of value beyond the $15.55 million he actually received. And of course, none of this includes Madson's postseason performance for the Phils from 2008 through 2011, when he pitched to a cumulative 2.31 ERA in 33 games.

Like many if not most superior relievers, Madson progressed through the minors as a prospective starter and moved to the bullpen first from expediency and finally after he failed to stick in an extended try at the rotation during the 2006 season. Oddly, most of the Phillies’ better relief prospects—Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Jacob Diekman, Joe Savery. Michael Schwimer—have spent most if not all their minor-league careers working out of the bullpen. Of course, the team is also pretty deep in rotation prospects, among whom considerable attrition from injury and ineffectiveness is a certainty. It’s unlikely that there’s another Ryan Madson in that bunch—after all, the guy is coming off the best five-season relief stretch in club history (another analysis for another time), and I’m not even necessarily saying that the Papelbon signing was a mistake (though I’ll be very surprised if he delivers above his generous compensation in multiple seasons). But the lesson shouldn’t be lost altogether: the way to build a bullpen is from within, especially on an aging team with other significant pending needs.

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