If you watched the Giants bullpen last year, well, I feel sorry for you. No person should be forced to watch the bullpen atrocities that were Tyler Walker, Jack Taschner, Vinnie Chulk, and Brad Hennessey pitching in relief*. The good news is that Walker, Chulk, and Hennessey are no longer on the team and there’s a good chance that Taschner could be kicked to the curb as well.
*Bullpen Facts of Horror: In 2008, the Giants bullpen had a collective FIP of 4.72. That’s, um, not very good. Only two bullpens in Major League Baseball — Baltimore (4.57) and Pittsburgh (4.78) — did worse in terms of FIP. The Giants pen ERA of 4.45 shows that our bullpen was, hold on to your seat, actually a little lucky when you compare it to FIP. By FanGraphs’ WPA/LI metric, the Giants’ score of -3.39 sticks them at dead last in MLB. To put it bluntly, the bullpen stunk.
The Giants looking to improve their bullpen have already added LHP Jeremy Affeldt into the mix — you can find his PFX article here — but, not satisfied with just one reliever, the Giants added another. Yesterday the team announced the signing of RHP Bob Howry to a 1-year deal worth $2.75M. Howry, who was originally drafted by the Giants in 5th round of the 1994 draft, had a down year in 2008 for the Chicago Cubs. After posting solid-to-very-good FIP’s over the last four years — 3.73, 3.07, 3.43, and 3.52 — Howry had trouble in ’08 and posted a FIP of 4.49 to go along with an ERA of 5.35.
What happened to the 34-year-old reliever known for his consistency? You could usually write Howry down for 70+ relief innings and a FIP of 4.00 or less. If you check out Howry’s underlying stats — GB%, FB%, LD%, K%, and BB% — most of them stayed the same or slightly improved. He cut his LD% to 17.9, nearly 2 percentage points under his career average. His BB% of 4.21 was tops among relievers in the National League — only 5 relievers in all of baseball had better BB%’s — and while his K% dropped slightly to 18.45, it was still average for relievers.
So, what happened?
Home runs happened. Home runs and he gave up a bunch of base hits. In just 70 innings, Howry gave up 90 hits. His career HR/FB% of 8.5 increased to 11.7. A 11.7 HR/FB isn’t outlandish, but it’s clear that Howry gave up more HR’s in ’08 than ever before in his career. His BABIP rose to a bloated .354 as a result of all the base hits. Howry’s BABIP has me scratching my head. He didn’t give up an inordinate amount of line drives and the Cubs — when ranked by Defensive Efficiency — had the 2nd best defense in the game. How did Howry give up so many hits, without giving up a rash of line drives, and playing in front of one of the best defenses in baseball? Howry did see some changes to his pitch-selection. According to his FanGraphs page, his fastball velocity dropped about 1mph to an average of 91.2mph. Another interesting thing is that Howry was throwing his slider — 23.1% of the time — more than ever. His previous career high for usage of the slider was 15.6% in 2004 with the Indians. In 2007, he only threw it 9.7% of the time.
Let’s run through some PITCHf/x plots of Howry’s 2008 season to see what we can learn. First, let’s check out the averages on what Howry throws.
Pitch, number thrown, average velocity, average X-Break (horizontal), and average Z-Break (vertical)
A quick note on the data. PITCHf/x tracked up to 40-50 changeups that Howry may have thrown in 2008. I usually don’t toss pitch-types out of an analysis, but I decided to this time. Howry probably does throw an occasional changeup — BIS has him throwing it 2.1% of the time in ’08 — but MLBAM is known for struggling to properly identify the changeup in it’s pitch-type classification algorithms. I decided to exclude them. The changeup isn’t a pitch that Howry is going to throw except for a handful of times over the year. Josh Kalk, who is using a more finely tuned classification system, has no changeups tracked by Howry in ’08. I would have loved to gotten the 40 or so changeups that Howry threw into the data-set, but all things considered, I didn’t think it was a crime to toss them out.
Howry is a two-pitch reliever that primarily pitches off of his fastball. His heater was clocked at an average of 91.3mph. Being a RHP, his fastball broke in on right-handed batters at an average of -8.46 inches on the horizontal axis. His other pitch, which saw increased usage in ’08, is his slider which came in at an average of 83.4mph. Howry’s slider, on average, broke at 1.15 inches on the horizontal axis, meaning that it’s breaking slightly away from right-handed batters but mostly staying centered in terms of horizontal break. The slider was Howry’s pitch with the most vertical break at 3.22 inches.
Let’s check out Howry’s Vertical/Horizontal Break Plot.
You can see with Howry’s two pitches, he’s getting more separation in terms of horizontal break than he is in terms of vertical break. Because Howry is right-handed, his fastball will work it’s way in on right-handed batters and away from lefties. The slider will move away from right-handed batters and into left-handed batters.
Howry is getting some nice action on his fastball in on right-handed batters in the speed/horizontal plot. The slider will work itself slightly away from that same righty but you’ll also notice that he’s getting a little separation in terms of velocity between the two pitches. Almost 8mph separates the two pitches in addition to the horizontal break.
None of Howry’s pitches have what I would call great vertical break. The slider gets the most, but still not a whole lot and the fastball, well, it’s a fastball. After looking at the separate plots for horizontal and vertical break in regards to velocity, I think it’s easy to say that Howry is more of a horizontal break pitcher. He’s getting about 9 inches of break between his fastball and slider on the horizontal axis and only about 5 inches between the pitches on the vertical axis. Meaning that he’s moving the ball more left-to-right than he is upward-and-downward.
Finally, let’s check out Howry’s Release Point plot.
Howry has a pretty consistent release point which no doubt helps him throw strikes. The slider is centered in the mass grouping of fastballs and Howry doesn’t appear to change his delivery between either pitch. Depending on how well he sells the pitch, batters shouldn’t have any obvious release point clues as to when he’s throwing the slider or the fastball.
For the price, you can’t argue with what the Giants are doing with Bob Howry. He’ll earn $2.75M on a 1-year contract. If he flames out and his 2008 performance was a sign of things to come, the Giants can dust their hands and say goodbye. The contract is short and cheap, the perfect deal for a bullpen reliever. If things turn out well — AT&T reduces his HR/FB, he boosts his K% slightly, his velo returns, etc. — Howry could be a nice bargaining chip around the trading deadline for a team looking for bullpen help. The Giants have added a bullpen piece that should help their extremely weak bullpen and while not damaging future teams.
Marcel projects Howry to as 4.17 FIP pitcher in ’09. It has his BABIP dropping to the .320 range and his HR/9 mellowing out some after his HR-happy ’08. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has a nice little article on why Howry is a decent pick up. I agree with Dave and I think for a bullpen that struggled to throw strikes, Howry is a very nice addition. He doesn’t walk hitters and if he can return to his 2004-2007 years, he’ll be a steal. If he doesn’t, no harm and we can move on to the next reliever.
Think of it like this: The Giants turned Walker, Hennessey, and Correia into Howry. Another very nice bullpen signing that demonstrates the way you should build a ‘pen.
Edgar Renteria has signed with the Giants for a 2-year, $18.5M deal. From SFGiants.com:
The Giants had pursued Renteria and Rafael Furcal, another free-agent shortstop. But Renteria proved to be more economical than Furcal, who reportedly is seeking a four-year contract worth more than $10 million annually. The Giants and Renteria’s agents, Jeff Lane and Barry Meister, began exchanging proposals about two weeks ago, as initially reported on MLB.com.
“Jeff and I really felt like this was the right place for him,” Meister said.
Renteria’s arrival is expected to prompt change throughout the Giants’ infield. Emmanuel Burriss, who began the offseason as the heir apparent at shortstop, likely will play second base, where he’ll compete with Kevin Frandsen and Eugenio Velez.
The price is right and like the other deals the Giants have given the FA’s this offseason, the deal length is short. Marcel projects Renteria is a .336 wOBA hitter and if he can defend around -5 runs — a slight bump over his ’08 defensive performance — he’ll be worth around +2 wins over replacement. Teams have tended to pay around $5M per replacement win meaning that Renteria should be worth about $10M per year. Under the current deal, he’ll be getting paid $9M per year. Not a bad value for the Giants. Check out the newly updated* positional depth chart and you can see that the organization doesn’t have a lot of depth at the shortstop position.
I’m fine with Burriss, Frandsen, and *shudder* Velez competing for the second base job. Renteria might not have the overall value of Furcal — who should defend better and hit around the same — but the deal is much shorter than Furcal’s rumored 4-year pact with the Oakland Athletics. I’m OK with this deal as well.
*Changes include: Renteria moving to #1 at SS, Schoop gets bumped off the positional depth list. Burriss moves to #1 at 2B — until further Spring Training developments and/or FA signings — and to #2 at SS. I also bumped Frandsen up to #2 behind Sandoval at 3B. Howry is added to the bullpen list which is kinda crowded at the moment. It should sort itself out some by Dec. 12th when the Giants decide what to do with Jack Taschner.