FanGraphs’ David Cameron pointed out last night that only one reliever signed to a three-or-more-year contract has been worth it. That player? Mariano Rivera.
Don’t expect Jesse Crain to join him.
At three years, $13 million, the White Sox are paying Crain like a 1+ WAR reliever. There’s a problem with that, though: Crain has only been worth more than 1.0 WAR once in his career, and that was 2006.
If we figure Crain is going to be worth somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9 WAR for his three years with the Sox, his total value likely won’t eclipse $10 million. The Sox are overpaying for Crain, no doubt about it.
But for the White Sox to truly be “all in” for 2011, they needed to acquire a reliever or two. Kenny Williams found a way to add to the bullpen without taking away from the lineup (i.e, trading Carlos Quentin), which is a tremendous plus. While Quentin plays abhorrent defense, there’s no replacement in the organization for him and his bat makes the Sox’s lineup much deeper, so keeping him around ultimately is going to be a good thing.
So in that regard, the Crain signing was good. The Sox added without subtracting. But what exactly will Crain bring to the table?
Crain transformed himself from a groundball-oriented, low-strikeout reliever to a power pitcher who gives up more fly balls in 2010. He featured his devastatingly effective slider on 46.3 percent of pitches thrown, nearly double his career average. Conversely, he threw his fastball just 42.2 percent of the time, down 20 percent from his career average.
While that shift led to a career-high strikeout rate (8.21 K/9), it also led to a career-low ground ball rate (39.2 percent). His fly ball rate went up to 44.2 percent, which isn’t encouraging given U.S. Cellular Field’s homer-friendly confines. It’s unlikely that Crain will allow home runs on just 6.2 percent of fly balls as he did last year with the Twins.
The good thing is that a modest jump of two percent in his HR/FB ratio doesn’t translate into anything really significant. A jump of two percent means one more home run in every 50 fly balls, and if Crain gives up ~80 fly balls that’s only one or two more home runs.
The whole HR/FB jump may be exaggerated, too, given that the 2010 White Sox tied for the fourth-lowest staff HR/FB ratio in baseball at 8.4 percent. The teams with better or equal HR/FB ratios were the Giants, Marlins, Tigers, and Mets, all of whom play in pitcher-friendly ballparks.
But still, it’s a pretty good bet for Crain to allow a couple more home runs in 2011 than he did in 2010. It’s also a pretty good bet for his ERA to rise from his 3.04 mark in 2010, too. Crain’s .270 opponent BABIP was 29 points lower than his career .299 mark, so that should be expected to regress to the mean in 2011. That’ll lead to more baserunners and, obviously, more chances for those baserunners to be driven in.
In asking Twins fans about Crain on twitter last night, the general impression I got from everybody was that Crain is maddeningly inconsistent. One day, he’s lights out, the next, he gives up a backbreaking three-run home run.
But if Chris Sale assumes a bullpen role for 2011, Crain shouldn’t be counted on to be a dominant reliever. Sale, Thornton, and Sergio Santos could shape up to be a formidable trio, and if Crain is the fourth reliever out of the bullpen, a repeat 0.8 WAR season wouldn’t be bad.
If we’re comparing Crain to one of the players he’s replacing, he’s not [healthy] JJ Putz, but he’s also not Scott Linebrink. For reference, Linebrink was worth 0.5 WAR in three years with the White Sox. Crain has been worth 1.7 WAR in his last three years with the Twins.
So he’s an upgrade from Linebrink, and given Putz’s lingering injury concerns, Crain very well could be an equal replacement to Putz given his durability.
Three years isn’t ideal, but it’s also not the worst thing in the world. While comparisons to Linebrink’s contract will be abound, Crain hasn’t shown signs of regression in the last few years like Linebrink did leading up to 2008.
In fact, if 2010 is any indication, Crain may actually be getting better.
- Sox Machine
- White Sox Observer
- South Side Sox
- Nick’s Twins Blog
Also, the Red Sox signed Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million contract. I’m kind of surprised Jenks didn’t sign somewhere where he could close (like Tampa), especially Boston where he’s not even the second option behind Jonathan Papelbon. The rich just got a lot richer, though, as Jenks is going to make a fantastic seventh/eighth-inning guy for the Red Sox over the next two years.