Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I know he pitches for the Giants, but what does he actually DO?

There's a player I've always tended to gloss over. He's a pitcher. A relief pitcher, to be more precise. As a job description, the relief pitcher -- well, he provides relief for whichever pitcher he's replacing. Right?

Jason Christiansen. What relief, exactly, does he provide?

Others have mentioned this as well, so I'm not nearly the first with this thought. However, this is the first time I've really, really thought about it. I looked around the Web a bit, and became a little confounded.

Why is he still with the club?

Yes, yes, I'm hearing a few answers: he's a lefty reliever, and a successful bullpen needs a lefty reliever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...blah. Blaaah.

What a bullpen needs is good relievers, and Jason Christiansen is not a good reliever. Furthering my issue here is the fact that he's made about 6.5 million dollars over the last three seasons to be a not-good reliever...that is, when he's been available. He's really good at being injured, missing almost all of 2002 after having Tommy John surgery on his elbow on May 30th of that year, coming back on June 3rd -- of the next year.

After coming back in 2003, he started to do his thing against lefties. That year, lefties posted a measly .547 OPS against him for the season. However, righties pounded him to the tune of a .920, meaning it was pretty much like Christiansen was facing Carlos Beltran every time he pitched against a right-handed hitter. These were some of his stats at the end of the season:

5.19 ERA, WHIP of 1.38, 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio

So...that ERA is hard to ignore, but perhaps it could be ignored if we attributed it to the misuse of Christiansen -- by misuse, I mean letting him face right-handed hitters. There are some, I'm sure, who are questioning me at this point, saying, "How could Christiansen have been misused by having him face righties? He's a relief pitcher, right? Using him in relief is his job. He's got to be able to face at least some righties."

What, holding a relief pitcher on your staff that only faces lefties all season isn't worth it? What garbage. Christiansen should be able to stay on the team all season, facing only lefties, and earn over 2 million dollars in a season while only pitching about 20 innings all year.

Doesn't it sound dumb when it's spelled out like that? It should.

So while Christiansen, again, "did his job" against lefties in 2003, he stunk against righties. After two full seasons with the club at the end of 2003, we have a relief pitcher who has missed a full season worth of play due to injury, and when he has pitched, did well against lefties but poorly against righties...and was due to make another 2.43 mil in 2004.

Sounds like a good time to abandon ship to me, but Sabean was either encouraged enough by the lefty splits to keep Christiansen, or unable to trade him -- I can't remember which, and am too lazy to try and research which it was (I'd have traded him for an piggy bank full of pesos at that point, but that's just me). In any case, Christiansen was brought back...or, allowed back for 2004, his final contract season.

What did he do last season? Well, something's might be up with Christiansen and the month of June, because the first day after his Tommy John surgery was June 1st, 2002, he came back from it on June 3rd, 2003, and then in 2004, he went on the 15 day DL on June 21st.

Besides being hurt again, he pitched...well, in a word, mediocre. His OPS against facing lefties was .736, which isn't what you want from your left-handed relief specialist. His OPS against facing righties was .708, which would go great with his OPS against lefties from 2003 of .547, but not so well with the .736. These aren't horrible numbers, per se, but remember -- the man is a relief pitcher making almost two and half million dollars, so they aren't really acceptable.

He did one thing very well last year, and that was to dampen power -- he only allowed three HR's in 136 at-bats against him, and opponents slugged a Mike Matheny-ish .346 all season. Great, right? Well, yeah, but then he had to go and screw up somewhere else. Remember that nice, shiny 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio he had from 2003? Hope you enjoyed it. Christiansen walked 26 batters last year vs. only 22 strikeouts. Let's trot out the 2004 numbers:

4.50 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 1 to 1.18 strikeout to walk ratio.

Are you starting to become confused? After his injury-lost 2002, his mediocre-at-best 2003, Christiansen actually got worse. The only thing that saved him was that he didn't allow a bunch of extra-base hits -- laudable, to be sure, it doesn't mean much if you allow a host of baserunners. Those walks and singles will turn into runs eventually, or you'll end up leaving a bunch of ducks on the pond for the next pitcher to deal with. Defininitely not one of the ways to Make Friends and Influence People.

Yet again, however, Brian Sabean saw something in Christiansen he liked, and he will again try to fail to be bad in 2005. Sabean will be paying him much less, only about 1.15 million this year, but after two seasons of poor pitching, I'm thinking that money could have been used to get some other lefty, one without a mediocre ERA, a huge WHIP, and a horrible K to BB ratio. Surely those exist, right?

Matt Herges may be using the same petrol that Jason Christiansen is using. Christiansen, after being traded to the Giants in 2001 from the St. Louis Cardinals, was lights out for the remainder of 2001. He's yet to even approach that level of pitching since, but three years and 6.5 million dollars later, he's still here. Herges was traded from the San Diego Padres in the middle of the 2003 season, was lights out for the remainder of that year, has been horrible since, and...(gulp) will Herges still be a Giant in 2007?

Somebody pass me the Pepto.

Interesting note, by the way. When you type "Herges" into the ESPN search box on their player page, the next page to come up has this phrase near the top of the page...

Did you mean: herpes?

Well, no I didn't, but yes, I did. Kinda.


Anonymous said...

Well, on the one hand, I don't think everybody in the bullpen needs to be lights out every time. Of course, if you keep Franklin, I don't know if you need Christiansen. And at least he is making less, so I can think of worse moves that have been made.

On the other hand, didn't he have a sign in his locker grousing about how many games he hadn't pitched? Guess what Spanky, there's a bus leaving for Norwich in 10 minutes. Be under it.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Christiansen also complained to the press about his lack of playing time last year. During the season. And he put up a stupid sign in front of his locker to voice his displeasure.

Don't we send losers like that on their way?