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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

FIFTH WHEEL
The Angels enter this offseason with a starting rotation of four men: Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana.

If all four of these players are healthy, that’s a superb top four. In 2005, they combined for an ERA+ of 116 in 625 innings pitched – which includes the fact that Santana was below average for the year as a whole (though it’s highly encouraging that he improved his ERA+ from 68 before the All Star Break to 106 afterward). And even with Colon and Lackey having worse years in 2004, Escobar was good enough that those three combined for an ERA+ of 102 in 615 innings that year.

It is the fifth spot that brings drama to the Angel winter. Their options are as follows:

1. Re-sign Jarrod Washburn.
2. Re-sign Paul Byrd, who is The Wyrd.
3. Sign a free agent pitcher (A.J. Burnett?).
4. Give the job to someone like Joe Saunders or Chris Bootcheck.

There is little reason to believe the Angels are inclined to do item 4. In fact, if local media are to be believed, there seems little chance that the Angels will pursue item 1. Though Wash has given the Halos a number of years of good service, he is on the wrong side of 30, and as represented by Scott Boras will likely demand a contract out of step with his value. The Angels have needs on the other side of the ball, so to speak, and may well decide to give The Wyrd another one-year contract while Jered Weaver, Steve Shell, and Daniel Davidson continue their progress toward Angel Stadium.

Would this be the right decision? Is Jarrod Washburn really going to make more than he’s going to be worth?

Let’s take a look back at Jarrod. His best year, of course, was in 2002:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2002 206.0 852 .163 .069 .022 .215 .60 .258 138
What is all that? BFP is Batters Facing Pitcher, and I like looking at strikeouts and everything as a fraction of batters instead of innings. Why? Well, say you have a guy who gives up a lot of hits, a lot of walks, but gets a lot of strikeouts. His strikeouts per inning is going to overstate his strikeout ability, because the hits and walks mean he’s facing more guys per inning than someone who allows less baserunners. So it kind of evens the pitching field.

GB/FB is groundball-to-flyball ratio, and BABIP is Batting Average on Balls in Play.

As I’m sure you recall, Jarrod was a pleasure to watch in 2002. To me, the best thing about him was how he’d basically only throw fastballs. He’d take something off of it, cut it every now and then to change things up, but it was mostly fastballs and the occasional slider.

In Spring Training of 2003, Jarrod fell on his pitching shoulder, and all of his numbers suffered:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2003 207.3 876 .135 .062 .039 .234 .68 .255 96
I believe what basically happened was that Wash’s fastball lost a bit from the shoulder injury. In 2002, he was hitting 93 or 94 pretty consistently; since then, he’s been in the low 90s. That reduces the margin of error on his fastball just enough so that he can get hit.

Jarrod also suffered an injury in 2004, and, again, his results were predictable:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 149.3 640 .134 .063 .031 .248 .96 .281 99
But something funny was going on; check out that groundball-to-flyball ratio: after being a pretty extreme flyball pitcher, Jarrod was becoming more of a groundball guy. He started mixing in other pitches, and was becoming more of a finesse pitcher, relying less on the strikeout.

A couple of things happen when a power/flyball pitcher makes the switch to finesse/groundball: you’re gonna give up less home runs (to be honest, the small amount of homers he gave up in 2002 looks like a fluke), and you rely more on your defense. Look at the batting average on balls in play, and how it jumped from the mid-.250s to .281: flyball pitchers, all else equal, will have lower BABIPs than groundball pitchers, since a number of flies are easy popups.

In 2005, Jarrod made his conversion to finesse pitcher complete, and had a very nice year, despite missing three starts due to forearm tightness:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
Now, here’s a game for you. What two pitchers seem more similar, these two:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2002 206.0 852 .163 .069 .022 .215 .60 .258 138
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
Or these two:
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 149.3 640 .134 .063 .031 .248 .96 .281 99
2005 177.3 740 .127 .069 .026 .249 .97 .286 131
If you go by results only, Jarrod v.2005 looks damn close to Jarrod v.2002. But if you look at process, at the peripheral numbers that led to those results, Jarrod’s 2004 and 2005 years look pretty identical.

So, if the inputs were so similar, why did Jarrod have such a better ERA in 2005?

Check this:
         With Runners in Scoring Position    With Runners on Base
Year AB AVG OBP SLG AB AVG OBP SLG
2004 122 303 372 492 230 300 358 496
2005 122 238 310 385 262 267 315 408
Jarrod may also have been helped by his defense a bit: there were 14 double plays behind him 2004, but 24 in 2005.

But we see that Jarrod kept runs off the scoreboard by stepping up his game with runners in scoring position. Do you think he’s really going to hold hitters to a .238 batting average with runners in scoring position again? Well, it was .232 in 2002, so who knows …

… I think that Wash was a bit lucky in 2005, but a bit unlucky in 2004. I would guess that his performance with runners on base would even out over time; he was extremely poor one year and extremely good the next, so the truth can most usually be found in the middle.

So, for 2006, we’re looking at a guy who’s 31 years old and can be expected to have an ERA+ around 115, and has missed about 10 starts in the previous two years due to injury.

What about Paul Byrd?
Year     IP    BFP    SO/BF   BB/BF   HR/BF   H/BF   GB/FB  BABIP  ERA+
2004 114.3 482 .164 .039 .037 .255 .77 .287 110
2005 204.3 842 .121 .033 .026 .257 .89 .281 112
The only alarming thing there is the big drop in Byrd’s strikeouts; that’s a worrisome sign for a veteran pitcher. But … he has superb control (he walks guys half as often as Washburn), gives up homers about as often as Washburn, gives up hits just a little more than Washburn, and gives up hits on balls in play about as often as Washburn. He seems to be a good bet to be consistently around the 110 mark on ERA+.

So, in the immediate future, Jarrod seems a little bit better of a bet than The Wyrd, but the difference ain’t big. In the long-term, that’s probably also the case, given that Wash is around four years younger, and Byrd’s strikeouts dropping so far.

But is the difference big enough to justify signing Wash to a contract that will likely be for three or four years at around $8M-$10M per year, when Byrd can likely be signed for a one-year deal at around half the price? Especially in that Weaver et al. may only be one year away?

My inclination is to say, “no.” I have every reason to believe that Jarrod Washburn will remain effective as a finesse pitcher, but looking at the market, I can’t justify paying him. For instance, look at guys like Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. Wash is a year older than them, but otherwise he has to be considered more desirable than they were this past offseason.

Pavano got a four-year deal for nearly $40M, and Wright got three years for $21M. With Scott Boras involved, you have to believe that provides the range for the opening bid on Washburn.

It seems to me that it makes more sense to grab Byrd at one year (with a team option?) at around $5M.

I think this is what everyone intuitively thinks; that was certainly true of me. Looking at it deeper only plants a tiny bit of doubt in my mind, but not a lot. I think Jarrod’s gonna remain solid, and I’ll keep rooting for him. But I can’t root for the Angels to pay him.

Comments:
Nicely done, once again. I think the Byrd one-year deal is by far the best option. And I think a fair amount of Washburn's improvement came because of the improved IF defense.

My big worries about the rotation, in order of likelihood, are:

1) Colon might be hurt next year, and in any case will probably decline.
2) The #6 (probably Saunders) might not be ready.
3) Santana might pull a 2003-04 Lackey.
4) Lackey might take a baby step backward.
5) Escobar might get hurt again.

I think Escobar has a good shot of winning 20 (I really hope we extend him in the offseason), Lackey's improvement was real, and Santana could be a #2 or even #1 in the not-too-distant future. But you can't just keep gaining weight every year & hoping for the best....
 
But you can't just keep gaining weight every year & hoping for the best....

Hey, that doesn't mean I can't try.
 
Of course, the one fear is that Washburn goes on to become the next Jamie Moyer (bluffing his way to 15-18 wins/year for the next seven years). Unlikely, though.

One other factor to consider is the condition of Jarrod's left elbow. He sat out a large chunk of September, and missed some games earlier, because of the tendinitis problem.
 
They need to re-sign Byrd, because the truth is they won't know how badly Bart jacked up his shoulder while he was favoring his back. Bart did nothing but aim the ball for the last month; it killed him to bump, and he was a shadow of his former 93-95 two-seam on the corners velocity/command Cy Young self.

Weaver? Stuff wise, he's not in league with Santana. He's Jeff Jr. is what he is - a sinker-slider guy who still thinks he's a strikeout pitcher.

I love Saunders, but I have concern that he's not the type of power arm they want in their young pitchers. I really do think he's legit, I just fear they'll be too impatient with him.

I don't think Bootcheck has the ceiling of either guy. Personally, Gregg has a better arm, but Boot has the better breaking shit. Boot's a cheap number five starter, but given the choice between Boot and Byrd, I'm with Byrd.

The Angels never hit for Byrd. He got like three runs a game and have gave up like three a game. He was really solid and I know he was better than his record.

The fact is, we don't know what will happen with Bart's shoulder, so in my mind they MUST re-sign Byrd, because to me, neither Weaver, Saunders or Bootcheck is the next Santana.

Weaver might be the next Santana in 07, but I've got to think he's going to get knocked around in 06. Santana could be inconsistent, yes, but when he was good, he was lights-out good. And I promise, Jered won't sit 95 for strikes the way Ervin can. Ervin's command only goes to shit when he bumps to about 97.

Re-sign Byrd.
 
A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
Stewart Alsop- Posters.
 
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