The Scoop on Armando 

Looks like Armando Benitez is coming to town. Henry Schulman of the Chron got the scoop. 3 years, $21.5 million. More details to follow.

**Tuesday night update: Here are the money details from the AP:

Benitez gets a $7.4 million signing bonus, of which $1.6 million is payable in 2005, $2.6 million in 2006, $1.6 million in 2008 and $1.6 million in 2009. Benitez gets salaries of $2.5 million in 2005, $4 million in 2006 and $7.6 million in 2007.

So the Giants are getting a premier closer for $4.1 million this year. That's less than the Tigers are paying Troy Percival. Given the way the Giants have spread out the cash, this makes perfect sense. On paper, a brilliant move.

A couple more thoughts on Benitez:

Last year he absolutely dominated. He's not striking out as many batters as he used to; in fact, his K/9 rate in 2004 (8.01) was the lowest in his career. But he also posted his career-low in OPS against (.475). Against him, batters only reached base 21.8% of the time and slugged a measly .257. To Benitez, the National League looked like Neifi Perez with a peg leg.

The declining K-rate and stellar OPS-against can mean a couple things: 1) Benitez played in a park where home runs died on the warning track, gappers were chased down by speedy outfielders, and hard-hit grounders were gobbled up by Gold-Glove infielders. Or 2) Benitez is no longer a brain-dead heaver, as Kruk likes to say. He actually knows how to get guys out with one or two pitches. The evidence supports #2: Benitez's pitches per plate appearance in 2004 dropped under 4 for the first time in his career (3.9), and his pitch count per inning (14.8) showed not just a career low but a dramatic drop from his previous low, 16.7 in 1999, and from his career average, 17.2.

Still, he could have had some help from Florida's defense and ballpark, no?

It doesn't seem so: He gave up more homers in Florida (5) than on the road (1) in roughly the same number of at-bats (122 to 115). Florida made relatively few errors in 2004 -- 86 was tied for third-fewest in MLB. They were 22nd in range factor but 5th in zone rating, which means, I think, that they don't get to tons of balls, but they catch the ones they get to. That seems reasonable for a team with plodders such as Mike Lowell at 3B and Jeff Conine and Miguel Cabrera in the outfield corners. Beyond their great double-play combo of A-Gonz and Castillo and the speedy Pierre in CF, the Marlins weren't a team to chase down a bunch of pitchers' mistakes.

Another amazing stat for a man reviled for his beanball ways: zero hit batsmen in 2004.

Fewer walks, fewer strikeouts, fewer baserunners, and fewer extra base hits: it appears that Benitez is maturing at the right time, and that the Giants, barring injury, have made an excellent pick-up.


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