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4.12.2005

Giants' Prospect Roundtable: Brad Hennessey 

This is part two of a roundtable discussion about several top Giants' prospects. If you like to geek out on prospects, it gets no better than this. The participants: Tom and Rob (Fogball), Steve (Giants News Diary), Martin (Biased Giants Fanantic), Grant (McCovey Chronicles), Doug (Westwood Blues), and Alex (El Lefty Malo).

Part 1, a discussion of David Aardsma, can be found on Fogball.

Steve: Other than Merkin Valdez's two brief major league appearances last July, Hennessey and Aardsma are the Giants only two top-ten prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, who have major league experience. A brief review of the scouting report on Hennessey:

- an 89-91 mph fastball with sink.
- slider is his strikeout pitch
- sinking changeup
- gets ground balls

He is also described as having very good makeup. A statistical analysis of Hennessey is less flattering. His low K/IP and low K/BB, along with an unimpressive H/IP, meant to John Sickels that Hennessey is not even among the Giants top 20 prospects. Hennessey will begin the 2005 season in the Fresno rotation. Does anyone believe he will be an impact pitcher for the Giants, whether in relief or as a starter, by early August?

Alex: Steve's right about the wimpy K/BB rate. It certainly doesn't bode well. But there's something odd...in his seven starts with the big club last year, he had the best K-rate of his career by a wide margin. Yes, yes, small sample size, but can we learn anything from it? (Note also that in his big-league stint he had the highest BB/9 and hits/9 rates of his career.)

Breaking down his seven big-league starts in '04, his only excellent game was 7 shutout innings against a punch-n-judy Milwaukee squad. His other starts fit roughly into two categories:
1) Easy going the first time through the order, then the opposition started to figure him out (Cubs, Expos, Braves).
2) Didn't fool anyone (Phils, Dodgers, D-Backs). Granted, the Phils game wasn't all Hennessey's fault, as the defense put him in trouble early.

There was also the question of his stamina. 2004 was his first full season after recovering from the tumor surgery (surgeries?). Could it be that with another year removed from the long layoff, he'll be stronger, with more pop on his fastball and more bite on his slider? If I were in Fresno right now, that's what I would be watching for. Any eyewitness accounts?

As for his impact in '05, there's no reason Hennessey would be the first call-up to fill a temporary rotation slot given the way Foppert and Cain pitched this spring. It's possible that with a rotation injury, Foppert could become a starter and Hennessey called up to be the long man. But Hennessey's only 25, a young pitcher who needs time to practice his craft. Burying him in the big-league bullpen doesn't really make sense. Keep him in Fresno for a full year, let him work on his stuff. He needs to miss more bats.

Martin: I agree with Lefty's points on Hennessey. Look at his Norwich stats: the only decent one is his ERA - his H/9, HR/9, W/9, K/9, WHIP are either average or worse. So his ERA could be a fluke at Norwich. I agree he needs to miss more bats.

Hopefully he can continue his short string of success at Fresno, build confidence and arm strength, as '04 was his first full season and 171 IP probably taxed his arm. And he did have *two* surgeries, as the tumor recurred and necessitated the second surgery.

With the potential for an embarrassment of riches in starters -- Williams, Lowry, Cain, Foppert, Valdez, Hennessey, Misch, Schmidt -- Hennessey could be the one to go in a mid-season trade since he's probably the most developed pitcher in the next tier of pitchers below Cain, Foppert, Valdez, and I presume (hope) these three are pretty much untouchables.

Steve: Foppert, Hennessey, Misch, Cain, Valdez: I think any of those guys could capably fill in for a spot start on the big league level. It would mostly be just whose turn in the rotation is next. The only drawback for Cain or Misch in a spot start role is that they are not yet on the 40-man roster, and adding them to the roster might require removing another prospect from the 40-man roster and exposing him to waivers. Currently, the most likely candidates to lose their spot on the 40-man roster are Tyler Walker and Tony Torcato since they are out of options.

I am not sure the Giants quite have "an embarrassment of riches in starters." There's a decent chance that only two of the Fresno rotation would remain starters at the major league level. Rueter and Tomko become free agents at the end of the year. I believe that Eyre, Herges, Brower and possibly Christiansen (team option) will be free agents too. If you plug the above five Fresno pitchers and Aardsma into those holes, suddenly the store of riches is gone. The top Giants remaining minor league pitchers would then be prospects Alfredo Simon and Craig Whitaker, along with Kevin Correia. After them, you would be talking about "Grade C" prospects like Jeremy Accardo, Billy Sadler, Scott Munter, Erick Threets, Brian Burres, Garrett Broshuis, Justin Hedrick and Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants might even need to access the store before then for mid-season additions. I like the depth of the Giants' current bench with Tucker, Feliz, Cruz and Torrealba. Still, an injury or two could necessitate a trade for another position player mid-season. Hennessey and Misch might be the best trading chips. I would also be willing to trade Valdez for an impact bat.

I wonder if it is useful to break down Hennessey's minor league stats by month (approximately):
Apr: 20.1 IP, 27 H, 10 BB, 15 K, 3 HR, 3.98 ERA
May: 37.2 IP, 27 H, 14 BB, 22 K, 2 HR, 2.87 ERA
Jun: 29.0 IP, 39 H, 11 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 4.66 ERA
Jul: 36.2 IP, 27 H, 10 BB, 20 K, 4 HR, 1.96 ERA
Aug: 13.0 IP, 12 H, 9 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 2.77 ERA
Do these look like the stats of someone who will crack the Giants 2006 starting rotation?

Rob: Brower will not be a free agent until after the 2006 season.

Alex: A few weeks ago on my blog I went out on a limb and bet the Giants would make a trade for a position player by the end of May. We should know around then if Ellison can hit ML pitching, if any old guys look destined for a season of nagging injuries, and if one of the triple-A starters Steve just mentioned is ready for the bigs. Whatever happens (or doesn't) on the trade front will be a big factor in Hennessey's future with the Giants. As Steve says, if he does well in Fresno and the Giants need another bat, he's prime mid-season trade bait. If there's a hole in the rotation and he's lights out in Fresno, he could be the call-up.

Does anyone have his stats from Youngstown State? I couldn't find them on the Web. Is it worth looking at them to shed any light on his potential? By the way, my mom was born in Youngstown. She was not, however, a Youngstown State Penguin.

Grant: Hennessey doesn't impress me on paper, and he doesn't impress me in person, either. But how much of that is due to his extended layoff? Everything I've ever written about him is predicated on his post-injury stats and performance. Maybe this is the year he finds a couple of miles on his fastball, and all of my opinions are ill informed.

With that caveat out of the way, I see his best case comparison as Tim Worrell. In a remake of A Streetcar Named Desire, his fastball/slider combination screams "bullpen" over and over. His worst case comparison would be one of the gazillions of 1st rounders that never made it. He's definitely behind Foppert, Cain, and Misch on my personal list of emergency starters this year.

Martin: Clarification on my "embarrassment of riches" comment: I meant at the MLB level. I agree that should all of them move up (or out) as you noted, the farm system would be a bit barren. I think you would agree that most teams' farm systems would be barren if so many advanced or fell out.

If they do fill our rotation -- and I think the odds look good -- our rotation could be set for the next 3-4 years. Hence my thought that a starter could be traded, with Hennessey being the most developed of the ones I don't consider virtually untouchable. Misch could be a good chip if he continues to do well as he moves up to AAA. I just consider Hennessey the more desirable chip. I would prefer keeping Hennessey, if we can, just to have good backups should the inevitable occur and something happens to a starter. I would be OK trading Valdez for an impact bat as well.

I agree the depth on the bench is great -- basically we got three starters from last year on the bench. If we should lose anyone to injury short-term, they should fill in without skipping much of a beat (except for Bonds of course and probably Alou). I think a trade is necessary if we lose Bonds, Alou, or Durham (unless Alfonzo moves there) for the season -- the other positions have a good enough backup that we should be able to hit enough to match the lost starter close enough without losing a good prospect for a fill-in.

Doug: Martin, while I understand your excitement about the overall quality and depth of young arms in the Giants organization, I think it's both premature and a bit overly optimistic to be talking about a future embarrassment of riches at the ML level or that the odds are good that the youngsters will fill out the rotation for years to come. Cain, Hennessey, Valdez, Misch, and even Williams and Lowry have a lot prove before we can write them into rotation for the next few years.

Young pitchers are a very unpredictable lot. Between shoulder and elbow injuries, flameouts, trades, head cases, etc. the odds just aren't in their favor. My hope is that Giants have stockpiled enough young arms to improve the odds that one or maybe two of them could turn out to be healthy and productive hurlers for the Giants. Maybe three or more of them will pan out for the Giants. Who knows?

As for the Giants rotation being set for the next 3-4 years, even excluding the current farmhands, the rotation for the next 3-4 years is already seven deep -- Schmidt, Lowry, Ainsworth, Williams, Bonser, Hannaman, and Kevin Rogers. ;)

Steve: I want to follow up on several notes of this discussion. First, I agree with Doug. I remember entering the 2003 season thinking that the Giants had about 9 starting pitchers: Rueter, Schmidt, Moss, Ainsworth, Jensen, Livan, Foppert, Williams, Nathan. That depth evaporated fairly quickly. By mid-August, the Giants had called upon Kevin Correia and Dustin Hermanson to become part of their starting rotation.

Second, going back to the monthly stats, if I arbitrarily exclude the month of June, Hennessey's minor league stats are more impressive, at least as far as WHIP and ERA: 107.2 IP, 93 H, 43 BB, 66 K, 9 HR, 2.76 ERA. The K/IP and K/BB are still low. How much of this, though, might be because Hennessey understands at a young age how to get ground ball outs early in the count? Jerome Williams was a bit like this in the high minors -- although he maintained a K/BB above 2.0.

I also could not find stats for Hennessey's college career. I am not sure I would find much meaning in them, though, since he was converted to pitching late in college. I quote from the Baseball America 2002 Prospect Handbook: "Hennessey went from obscurity to the first round of the 2001 draft on the strength of his slider.... Hennessey was a No. 3 starter on his Toledo high school team and went to Youngstown State as a two-way player. He was the club's shortstop for most of 2000, earning a few innings as a reliever and posting a 7.75 ERA. He convinced coach Mike Florak to make him a starter last spring, and his stuff took off as he shared the Mid-Continent Conference pitcher of the year award."

I find it interesting that Grant mentions Tim Worrell as a possible comp for Hennessey. I was thinking about that before Grant's comment, and I made the same comparison, although in physical stature, Hennessey is more similar to Matt Herges than Tim Worrell. The BA 2005 Prospect Handbook affirms what Grant says about Hennessey as a reliever, "Hennessey's stuff fits the profile of a setup man if the Giants need him in that role."

However, it continues that Hennessey might be more than a reliever for the Giants: "... but they like his upside as a starter, particularly if he can get his fastball and changeup to sink consistently." I think it is Hennessey's upside as a starter that Baseball America rates him ahead of Aardsma. I don't disagree.

Grant also rates Misch ahead of Hennessey. I understand that feeling based on the stats from last year, particularly before Misch began to fade in late July. It was a surprise to me when Hennessey, not Misch, was the one promoted to Fresno. Hennessey made his Fresno debut on July 17th. That same night, Misch pitched a complete game shutout for Norwich, his third CG shutout of the season. At that point, Misch and Hennessey had each made 18 starts for Norwich. Here is a comparison of their stats:

Hennessey: 101.0 IP, 106 H, 34 BB, 55 K, 8 HR, 3.56 ERA
Pat Misch: 116.0 IP, 96 H, 20 BB, 92 K, 7 HR, 2.56 ERA

(Note: Comparing their workloads, Misch had nearly one more inning per start, but Hennessey faced more total batters.)

Misch made 8 more starts during the season with this less impressive stat line:

43.0 IP, 42 H, 15 BB, 31 K, 5 HR, 4.40 ERA

The decline in Misch's K/IP is small, but the BB/IP nearly doubles. The H/IP also increases, and his ERA ballooned. I think this comparison between Hennessey and Misch is an example that the Giants' scouts saw something that those of us looking at the stats did not see. At this point, I am more comfortable with Hennessey than with Misch getting the spot starts.

The Baseball Prospectus 2005 book says that Hennessey will get rocked as a major league starter. This is one area where the arrogance of this year's book rubs me the wrong way. Wouldn't it be better to say that Hennessey's poor peripherals "suggest," or "strongly suggest," that he will get rocked? Hennessey's peripherals were poor in '04, but I think there are other things at work here. To ignore those and conclude that Hennessey will be an ineffective major league pitcher seems narrow-minded.

Alex: Re. BP arrogance: Sure, it would be nice to tone it down, but how many people would bang their head if the Scorpions "suggested" that, "if weren't too much bother," they "might rock you like a hurricane"? Not me, buster.

Tom: A touch more on Hennessey. There are two fundamental stats I always look at first when evaluating a starting pitcher: K/9 and K/BB. If K/9 is below 5 consistently, I get REALLY worried. If K/BB is closer to 1 than it is to 2, then I get doubly worried. Based on his raw stuff and his peripheral stats I am extremely pessimistic about Hennessey. If he had any consistent time up in the Majors his ERA would be closer to 6.00 than 4.00.

And can I point out something no one has yet mentioned: Hennessey's 4.98 ML ERA in 7 starts was tremendously helped by five of his runs being counted as unearned. His RA was a monstrous 6.33. The BP writing style may be arrogant at times but the point is still valid here: Guys with peripherals like Hennessey's almost NEVER do well at the ML level.

From 1999-2004, who had seasons with a K/9 of less than 5.00 and a K/BB equal to or less than 1.5 AND an ERA under 5.00 (minimum 125 IP)?

The list is pretty ugly. Kirk Rueter did it 5 times in 5 years. Next on the list is Tom Glavine (2 season with those numbers). After that it's one season each for a bunch of guys like Albie Lopez, Nate Cornejo, Jon Garland, Scott Karl, Sidney Ponson, Pat Rapp, Armando Reynoso, Dennis Springer, Steve Trachsel, etc. Mike Hampton, Miguel Batista, and Roy Halladay are in there, too. Only 19 guys have done it in the last 5 years. It's spectacularly hard to have peripherals that bad and still be a successful starter.

ED. NOTE: Hennessey's first start at Fresno produced this line:

5 IP / 3 H / 3 ER / 4 BB / 5 K

Steve: I think I am more optimistic about Hennessey than anyone else. Let's turn the discussion towards Pat Misch. (Coming soon ...)

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