Abuse of Power

added 2/6/2007 by Scott Barzilla

Ken Rosenthal is all over the papers and the airwaves trumpeting the cause of Steve Trachsel. Apparently, he finds it unfathomable why a fifteen game winner can't get 2.5 million from the Houston Astros. Why he has chosen the Astros as a whipping boy is anyone's best guess. I can only guess that Trachsel's agents want him to end up there and Rosenthal is on retainer.

Someone on the message boards brought up the story of Jeriome Robertson. I had almost forgotten about him as most of baseball has since he won 15 games in 2003. Robertson won those fifteen games with some of the best run support in baseball. It seemed he was either pitching very well or very poorly. This is conducive to racking up a lot of wins, but doesn't help the team particularly. Like most teams, the Astros are interested in pitchers that will keep them in most games. I guess their priorities are misplaced.

Like Robertson, Trachsel's fifteen wins hide some really bad warts in his game. ERA is only the beginning of ripping off that facade, but it probably is a good start. Trachsel had a 4.97 ERA while pitching half of his games in a good pitcher's park. Most of the time, people aren't beating down your door if you have a five ERA (unless your name is Jason Marquis). Yet, that ERA only begins to reveal the problem. As we know, stat gurus love to look at other indicators like the DIPS statistics.

        INN     SO/9     BB/9     HR/9     ERA+
2004    202     5.19     3.69     1.11     107
2005     37     5.84     2.92     1.46     101
2006    164     4.32     4.26     1.26      87

When you focus on wins you lose so much. Here we see a pitcher that is below average in strike outs, below average in control, and below average in home runs surrendered. Guess what? That makes him a below average pitcher. Until last season, he consistently outperformed his DIPS. 2006 was simply a culmination of his luck catching up with him. It will likely get worse before it gets better.

The three seasons indicate that Trachsel is moving in the wrong direction. This should be obvious for a pitcher moving into his mid thirties. So, 2007 will likely be worse than 2006. A one to one strikeout to walk ratio should send most teams running, but in a park that is home run happy (even if it is neutral overall), it should scare you when you have a pitcher that consistently exceeds the league average in home runs allowed. If Trachsel were coming from Denver or Arlington I might feel better. Shea eats up home run balls.

I'm writing this column at work. I'm sure it will have the occasional grammatical error, but the concept of analyzing all of the numbers didn't take long. For the power brokers in the press, it seems that it's easier to sensationalize than to actually take a look at the facts. After all, a headline like, "Astros sign 15 game winner to round out rotation" sounds a lot better than "Astros put unknown young pitcher in the rotation." That's what will happen if Trachsel is not signed. Houston is not the only place where is will happen either.

Most teams work on the precept that they can find a young pitcher capable of being below average. So, why pay a below average veteran real money that could go to another purpose? In the interim, the casual fan will think, "wow, I know that guy, at least the team is doing something." This gets the weaker GM to give into guys like Trachsel (see the Mariners signing of Jeff Weaver.) So, not signing Trachsel to a "measily two million dollars" is not a sign of miserliness or incompetence. It is a sign that Purpura and company know what they have in the minor leagues. Rosenthal oughta do a little research. Then he might find out too.