Thursday, December 16, 2010

White Sox Nab Crain

Peter Gammons is reporting that another former Twins reliever has signed a three year deal.  This time, it’s righty Jesse Crain going to the White Sox for a 3 years $13M contract. 

My feelings toward the Crain signing are slightly different than the Matt Guerrier signing by the Dodgers.  For starters, Crain throws a lot harder.  In each of his last four seasons, Crain has improved the average velocity of his fastball, increasing it from 93.9 to 94.8 MPH.  While increased velocity is usually a good thing, it hasn’t corresponded with a marked improvement in the effectiveness of the pitch.  In fact, his fastball has gotten worse, registering a pitch type value of -5.2 runs (-1.13 runs per 100 pitches) in 2010.  That said, Crain’s slider has been incredibly effective throughout this career.  In 2010, it turned into a true out pitch, registering a pitch type value of +14.6 runs (+2.91 runs per 100 pitches).  I should caution that Crain appears to be in danger of over-relying on the pitch.  His slider usage doubled from 2009 to 2010, going from being thrown 22.8% to 46.3% of the time.  If he continues to over-rely on his slider, hitters may learn to lay off of it, thus lowering its effectiveness. 

Secondly, Crain is three years younger than Guerrier.  While this might not seem like a big difference for two relatively effective relief pitchers, it is.  This is especially true when you consider the length of both contracts—three years.  At 29, it would seem Crain would have a greater likelihood of maintaining his current performance baseline than Guerrier would at age 32.  Still, that doesn’t make this move a smart risk by White Sox GM Kenny Williams.  Three year contracts for any relief pitcher, outside of elite closers, are usually a losing proposition due to the high degree of season-to-season performance volatility that exists.  Giving one to Crain, a career middle reliever that’s accumulated a grand total of 3.0 WAR, seems to be a bit of a reach.

Crain is a solid strikeout pitcher who has registered at least seven strikeouts per nine inning in four of the last five seasons.  His control is somewhat spotty, and seems to have gotten worse as his velocity has increased.  In 2010, Crain put up a 3.04 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 71 appearances despite not having peripherals that matched. 

Crain will likely step into role of right handed set up man that was vacated by J.J. Putz.  Putz signed a 2 year $10M contract with the Diamondbacks on December 6th.  This leads me to ask what should be an obvious question.  Why didn’t the White Sox just re-sign Putz?  Yes, he’s older and his average annual salary is slightly higher, but Putz is a much better pitcher by practically ever objective measure.  Plus, his contract is shorter, and therefore less risky.  Then again, maybe I’m letting rational thought get in the way of sound decision making…

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