The Giants avoided arbitration with Brad Hennessey by offering the reliever-slash-closer a 1-year deal worth $1.6M, a nice pay-bump from his 2007 salary of $400K. Hennessey had his best year yet in ’07 when he took over the closers role for most of the year after Armando Benitez was traded. He saved 19 games while blowing 5 and posted a 3.42 ERA in 68.1 innings pitched.
Hennessey doesn’t have the flashiest of stuff, a nice 90mph fastball and a tight slider, that when it’s on, is a good pitch for him. Can the Giants expect Hennessey to continue to pitch well in the bullpen? Let’s take a look at some of Hennessey’s underlying stats from 2007.
Brad Hennessey 2007 K% - 13.9 BB% - 8.0 GB% - 46.3 FB% - 34.1 LD% - 19.6 LOB% - 80.3 HR/F% - 9.6 BABIP - .279
I’ve decided to use K%, BB%, GB%, FB%, LD%, LOB%, HR/F%, and BABIP as my measures to evaluate Hennessey’s ’07 season. They all give a pretty good idea of how Hennessey pitched last year. I think one thing that you’ll learn about Hennessey is that he does a lot of stuff well, above league average, but not by much. I think that makes sense when you take into account his “stuff” which isn’t overly impressive but tends to get the job done.
The league average K% for pitchers tends to be around 16%, and as you can see, Hennessey was below average in the K-department. This was the only measure that Hennessey was below league average in. Hennessey also tends to throw strikes, with a BB% of 8% he’s right at league average for a pitcher. From what I can remember about watching Hennessey pitch in ’07, was that he never seemed to strike a lot of guys out — only 40 strikeouts in 68.1 innings pitched — but instead he kept the ball on the ground as much as he could, letting hitters make contact. This idea is backed up by Hennessey’s GB% which is above league average at 46.3%. The league average GB% is 42% while the groundball masters like Brandon Webb and Derek Lowe induce groundballs at a 60% clip or better. Hennessey is good at keeping the ball on the ground but he’s not in the same class as Webb or Lowe. Because of Hennessey’s slight GB tendancies, his FB% is slightly better than league average at 34.1%. The league average pitcher gives up flyballs at an 36%.
Line drives are the worst type of contact that a pitcher can give up, because they fall for hits about 75% of the time. The league average pitcher gives up LD’s at a 20% rate. Hennessey was right around this number with his own LD% of 19.6%. Hennesey posted a really high LOB% in ’07 with his percentage of 80.3%. League average LOB% is 70% and it’s often a way to figure out how lucky or effective — depending on your viewpoint — a pitcher was at stranding runners in a particular year. Hennessey’s career LOB% is 72.8%, or just slightly above league average. Good pitchers are more likely to have a higher LOB% because they have superior stuff — velocity, pitch quality, command, etc — to get outs but LOB% can fluctuate between seasons for pitchers who aren’t as good. Chances are that if a pitcher has a super high LOB% it could correct itself next season. I wouldn’t consider Hennessey to possess the type of pitching ability to consistently throw up a 80%+ LOB% from year to year and I think he could settle back closer to his career of 70% next year. If he pitches closer to a LOB% of 70%, his numbers should regress some next year.
HR/F% is also in the same vein as LOB%. Sometimes pitchers just get unlucky and see a boost in their HR/F% rate which tends to be around 11-12% for all pitchers. Hennessey could be considered lucky with his HR/F% of 9.6%, a few points under league average, but the difference between his percentage and the league average percentage isn’t so huge that I wouldn’t think he would be able to do it again. His modest GB% certainly helps him keep the ball in the park as it’s hard to hit a groundball over the outfield wall for a home run. For his career, Hennessey has a HR/F% of 10.2, so his 2007 performance isn’t hugely different from what he’s done over 251.3 previous major league innings.
Hennessey’s BABIP, batting average on balls in play, is also better than league average. BABIP tends to be around .300 for all pitchers. Hennessey kept this BABIP under the .300 threshold with his BABIP of .279. For his career, Hennessey has posted a BABIP of .283.
As you can see Hennessey does a lot of stuff a little bit better than league average but nothing hugely better. He’s got a modest groundball percentage but he doesn’t strike out many batters. I would wager that his groundball tendencies aren’t strong enough to offest his lack of strikeouts. His LOB% is also something that should regress next year will probably bring his ERA closer to 4 than in the mid-to-low 3′s.
All the projection systems that I’ve read — ZiPS, Bill James, Chone, Marcel — have Hennessey anywhere between an ERA of 4.01 to 4.46, which I think is reasonable. In today’s market, is an average relief pitcher worth about $1.6M? I think so. I don’t think that the Giants should try Hennessey at the closer slot anymore, I’d much rather see Brian Wilson take his chances as the closer or if he struggles and the Giants really want to get crazy, maybe give Jonathan Sanchez a shot (though, I prefer him as a starter).
Enjoy your newfound cash, Brad.