Friday, March 13, 2009

Mikey Goes Dumpster Diving

Tonight Mike Rizzo followed up his first move as GM, signing Kip Wells, with another dumpster-diving veteran: Julian Tavarez. Whatever you want to say about ol' Mike, you can't accuse him of trying to make a splash just for the sake of making a splash the way JimBo did.

Tavarez is a sinker-baller who has only once in the last seven years seen his groundball rate on balls in play fall below 50%. Last year, he also struck out 19.1% of batters faced. That's not JT--if it was, he would have been a closer in his better days. His career K-rate is just 13.4%, which is a good bit below average, and last year his walk rate ballooned to 10.4%, which is a problem. Still, he'll generally keep the ball in the yard, and he should be very efficient.

PECOTA has him with a 4.57 ERA, which would be pretty much replacement level for a reliever. CHONE however sees him at 3.91 FIP, which would make him about half a win above replacement, which doesn't sound like a lot, but for a reliever it's pretty ok.

As a minor-league signing, it's a no-risk move that gives us some depth of guys who can be reasonably counted on for no worse than replacement-level mediocrity. Under the circumstances, that's probably an upgrade. I would guess that Tavarez will slide into the bullpen and bump Garrett Mock or Steven Shell to AAA.

He'll also be Scott Olsen's buddy in anger management classes.

Kip Wells has less of a chance to make the team than Tavarez, but again as a no-risk, minor-league deal, I'll play along. Last year he racked up a very good 53% groundball rate but walked a ridiculous 17% of batters faced on his way to a 5.42 FIP. It was a small sample size of just 37.2 innings, but he just has to have better command to survive. Historically he's walked 10.4%, which is still pretty bad but not fatal.

PECOTA hates him, projecting him with a 6.04 ERA. But CHONE sees a 5.03 FIP, and Marcel has him way down at 4.67, which is darn near replacement level for a reliever. He's probably not going to help us, but who knows--he could be Tim Redding for cheap.

One thing we seem to be learning about Rizzo is that he likes pitchers who get a lot of groundballs. This brings to mind his enthusiasm for infield defense. Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez were almost certainly Rizzo moves (Jim's never had any interest in defense, and both were D-Backs prospects in the Rizzo system way back).

I don't mean to read too much into two minor league contracts to veteran (at best) medicrities, but if this is the direction, I like it. I tend to think defense remains an undervalued commodity in general, and for a team looking to break in young pitchers, the best way to help them is to line up some gloves behind them. My saddest day from 2008 was watching Collin Balester trying to gut through a start when he clearly didn't have his best stuff with Ronnie Belliard and Paul Lo Duca bumbling outs into hits.

And if nothing else, it suggests the existence of an overall strategy for roster construction, which has been sorely lacking. You can't load up on flyball pitchers and miserable fielding outfielders and expect a good outcome. If you can put together a very good fielding infield and a crop of groundball pitchers, you can amplify the value of each component part.


Positively Half St. said...

I like this signing as well, although it still follows the scrap-heap method of roster-building. I do wonder who loses out untimately because of this signing. There are a number of pitchers who have to be sent to AAA, and there is a limit to the Syracuse roster, as well. Each veteran we sign means someone else gets cut.

When Redding gets cut by the Mets, do you think the Nats would consider signing him, horrible spring or not?

Steven said...

Yeah, as I wrote I would rather see them pony up the ~2 mil it would take to get Ohman or Beimel. But if you subscribe to the theory that RPs are mostly fungible and that the only mistake you can make is to overpay for them, Tavarez is probably the best available option that you could get on a minor-league deal.

Steven said...

As for Redding, sure, why not? Spring training stats don't mean much. That shouldn't be the reason not to sign him.