Thursday, August 25, 2005

A comparison

As the season runs

Okay, as the season stumbles along, the thought has occurred to me, over and over again, that the Giants will probably want to make a change or three next season if they desire to achieve a better won/loss record.

Call me Captain Obvious.

A couple/few of these changes will have to occur within the starting rotation. Besides Jason Schmidt and Noah Lowry, I really can't see any of the other pitchers currently starting for the Giants having some sort of lock on a spot next season. Brett Tomko's got to go, or a least take a paycut to league minimum, while Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia are currently starting by default -- though I'm sure they think they are making a debut for next season. It's possible, but I can't see an effort to replace them in the free agent market this winter not happening. Brian Sabean won't want to depend on them next year unless they had pitched lights out this year, which hasn't happened.

But, really, would this be worth it? Trying to find any decent free agent starting pitcher is tough nowadays (just ask the Mets, Yankees, Reds about Kris Benson, Jaret Wright, or Eric Milton). So trying to find three has got to be well-nigh impossible, right?

Of course.

So Sabes, in reality, is faced with putting one of those three mentioned above (Tomko, Hennessey, and Correia) in his rotation next year, if not two. But is there any of them that he might be able to depend upon? Let's break them down and see what we can see...

Brett Tomko - No, he isn't going to ever figure it out. As much as we like to get upset with Tomko, we really have no reason to, because he's doing now what he's done pretty much every year. The only difference is the tease he gave us late last season where he was lights out. Otherwise, his k/bb ratio (strikeout to walk ratio) this year is at 1.74, which is one of the lower numbers of his career. His k/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) is at 5.11, which is also one of his lower rates for his career. Opposing hitters are running an .811 OPS against him, which is one of the highest totals of his career. His ERA is 4.93, which again, is one of the higher totals of his career. As I've said before, Tomko is a 5th starter, regardless of his stuff or the velocity on his fastball. The only thing is, his numbers this year are among the worst they've ever been, so it may be wiser to let him go before it gets any worse. A move to the bullpen could help his career, but not making well over $2 million.

Kevin Correia - This one is relatively simple. It's all about walk rates and dampening power for Correia, as he's walking a batter at a rate higher than one every other inning this year (5.3 per 9 innings), and opponents are SLG .542 against him this year. In his other stints in 2003 and 2004, there isn't anything there to suggest that he might not actually be this bad. His career walk rate is 4.7 per 9 innings, and opposing hitter have SLG'd .506 when you include Correia's previous years.

The tantalizer? The stuff, and the strikeouts. Correia's got the pitches, but can't always locate them. However, his strikeout rate has been rising slightly with each stint he's been with the Giants: 6.41 in 2003, 6.63 in 2004, and 6.80 so far in 2005.

Can he be trusted? Heck, no. Even as a 5th starter, the way Correia's numbers stand right now, he's unacceptable. He's got to cut down on the walks to somewhere less than 4 per 9 innings, at least, and that opponents' SLG has got to come down to at least .450 or less -- then, we can talk. While it's easy to be tempted because of his stuff and how cheap he'll be, I would want him to show some progress towards cutting those numbers down in the five or six starts Correia likely has remaining this season.

Brad Hennessey - This one is simple as well. Hennessey has all of the same problems Correia has, only without the electric stuff and the strikeout ability. His walk rate is actually a bit lower than Correia's (4.35 per 9 innings), but when you compare that with his low-ish strikeout rate (5 per 9), then it's a bit of a problem. Hennessey actually struck out hitters at a higher rate last year (6.55), but it was a tiny sample size of 34 innings, plus his minor league stats suggest his k rate this year is more in line with what he's capable of.

Hennessey's also have trouble with dampening power, as hitters are running a .518 SLG against him.

So, essentially, you can't trust Hennessey, either. He also has to cut down his walks tremendously to support that lower strikeout rate, and he also needs to stop giving up extra-base hits before you can throw him out there for a full season.

The main difference between Hennessey and Correia is that Hennessey has several quality starts mixed in with his otherwise horrible outings, so the knee-jerk reaction is to grab ahold of those and use that as a body of evidence saying they are indicative of Hennessey's ceiling, or potential, as a pitcher. Correia, on the other hand, has been consistent in mediocrity, with only the strikeouts as an indicator that he could potentially do better things down the line.

My opinion? Hennessey has better control, but Correia has the better strikeout ability, so my tendency is to go with Correia over Hennessey over the longer haul. In the short term, neither of these two have provided much to suggest they can be trusted over a full season, but Hennessey has shown the ability to be the better pitcher (as opposed to thrower). So I think that unless there is one of these two pitches much better or much worse in September, Hennessey will be tentatively slotted for a rotation spot next Spring.


El Lefty Malo said...

Beware of the jerking knee. Instead of just looking at stats, I think it's reasonable to assess Hennessey's good start/bad start dichotomy as a function of something that can be fixed, such as bad mechanics. It's not knee jerk to say, hmm, he's completely shut down the mighty Cardinals twice, so what is he doing right on those days that he can't do on other days? And can he learn from that?

Daniel said...

Yes, one does have to ignore the stats with Hennessey to see the diamond amongst the coal (or, at least, a topaz). This is why I threw in the comment about Hennessey being the better pitcher of him and Correia right now, and that's probably what'll lead him to a starting slot next season.

But I still hold that Correia has the higher ceiling and overall ability if one just looks at pure stuff.