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1.05.2006

Bottom of the Barrel 

Ryan Franklin: $2.6 M.

Scott Elarton: 2 years, $8 M.

Jason Johnson: $4 M.

Ramon Ortiz: $2.5 M.

Sidney Ponson: Lunch money and a Get Out of Jail Free card.

These are the dollars being dumped into the bottom of the pitching barrel this winter, folks. And the terms of Shawn Estes's contract with the Padres hasn't even been announced yet. Why, exactly, would the Giants spend this type of money for entrenched mediocrity (to put it charitably) when they have Brad Hennessey is beyond me.

I've seen complaints that Hennessey, who turns 26 next month, is a terrible idea as fifth starter. But is he so young and unproven to be that much worse a risk than, say, Brett Tomko, he of the 2 year, $8.7 M contract?

Before you answer that, read this tidbit from an article by Bryan Smith that appears in today's Baseball Prospectus. It's an assessment of under-the-radar minor-league prospects several levels removed from the big leagues, but it speaks to the point I'm trying to make:

Pitching statistics are so easily manipulated. One bad start can have a major effect on ERA, and two starts can begin to have an effect on year-long counting stats. Often, consistency is a learned trait among young pitchers, as many will have a few bad games tarnish their record each year. In the past, I predicted breakouts from Jeff Francis and Jon Lester because this happened to them.

This year, I’ve noticed that southpaw Adam Bostick is the latest victim of manipulation. Like Francis and Lester, Bostick’s numbers don’t speak to how well he pitched. In four out of every five starts, Bostick was one of the minors’ better pitchers. However, the other 20% of the time, he was one of the worst.


Now here's something I wrote last year about Brad Hennessey:

Name the two pitchers below:

Pitcher A
8 games / 54.2 IP / 11 ER / 7 HR / 18 BB / 34 K / 1.81 ERA

Pitcher B
6 games / 23 IP / 34 ER / 4 HR / 19 BB / 8 K / 13.30 ERA

Both are young starters in the NL West. One is really good. One is worse than terrible.


Both pitchers were Hennessey, of course. I wrote that in August. Commenters to that post noted that Hennessey had the highest "flake factor" in the bigs: Three of every seven starts was ugly. He made seven more starts after that: 5 were quality, one was mediocre (5 runs in 6 IP), and one was short (5 runs, 3 ER, in 2.2 IP). Overall, his quality start ratio improved to 13/21. Not great, but his '05 ERA was 4.64, better than many of the barrel-scrapers mentioned above.

Hennessey's peripheral stats, especially his BB/K ratio of 52/64 in 118 IP, do not portend well. But we're not arguing about him becoming a top-of-rotation guy. We're talking about him pitching every fifth day and giving the Giants not only a decent chance of winning but payroll room to spend elsewhere). If he gains a little more consistency and stretches a few of his early-exit starts into 5 or 6 innings, he'll do just fine at the end of the Giant rotation.

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