Giants Doing the Wright Thing
The Giants recently invited Jamey Wright to spring training with a chance to supercede Brad Hennessey for the #5 spot in the rotation. I hope he is able to because I think Hennessey needs more time in AAA to figure out how to pitch at the high level that he has shown very sporadically on a consistent basis. Plus we have no other good candidates internally to "replace" Schmidt in the rotation in 2007, assuming we lose him to free agency. Hopefully Cain is ready to take over Schmidt’s role by then, leaving a #4 spot to fill with Wright, hopefully.
Wright Isn’t Half Bad
Wright's one of those pitchers who drive sabers crazy. His K/9 is horrid, a little over 4.8 and his K/W is very close to 1 when you want it to be 2. And his HR/9 is over the magic 1.0 rate, though only slightly over for his career.
However, he's had the misfortune of pitching for Colorado for many years, hence his stats are horribly skewed by pitching at that offense-oriented part, so any analysis that includes his home stats are hopelessly flawed. Thus, we should look at only his road stats. (for ease of analysis; my pet project has been to create a spreadsheet that can take past park stats and pro-rate them according to a team’s upcoming schedule)
While his rate stats don't improve much on the road, the one stat that does improve greatly is the stat that counts most: ERA. He has a lifetime 4.25 ERA (though still bad WHIP of 1.51) with a BA of .268. And he gets his HR/9 under 1.0 (roughly 0.8), which helps his poor K/9, W/9 (about 4.5 when under 3.0 is key), and K/W.
It is also much better over the past three seasons on the road, showing a little improvement over his 10 year career. His ERA is 4.07, his WHIP is still 1.51, his BA is .256, but he shows improvement in his rate stats, with a K/9 of 6.0 (150.1 IP), W/9 of 4.7, resulting in an increase of K/W to 1.3 (still too low but at least he has a good K/9), and HR/9 of 0.9
In addition, in 5 starts/6 games in SBC, he has pitched 35.1 innings with 23 hits and 21 (Bonds!) walks but only 12 strikeouts, though 0 homers, with a 2.29 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and .184 BAA. And the Giants offense through those years were not shabby.
The Real Slim Shady
Even in his poor season last year, he had a 4.63 ERA, 1.50 WHIP on the road, which is about what you might expect to get from Hennessey in 2006. But he also had the misfortune of two horrible outings in Dodger Stadium, 8 IP, 5.63 ERA, which pushed up his ERA, plus a bad one in Great American (Reds), which he may or may not get a start in for 2006 if he pitched for us (depends on where the rotation and schedule falls). The Dodger Stadium and GA aberrations removed drops his road ERA to 4.18, which is in line with his career line of 4.25.
Whereas I'm not sure who's the real Hennessey. He pitched horribly in SBC but great on the road, though great at some hitter's park and horribly at neutral or pitcher's parks. He still needs to make the leap.
But his potential is obviously there and we need to tap it because we will probably need to replace Schmidt’s spot in the rotation in 2007. Cain might do it but it would be prudent to have other options brewing. According to Ron Shandler’s book, The Baseball Forecaster, their research shows that pitchers with a full year of AAA experience performed well 56% of the time in their first exposure to the majors whereas pitchers with less than a year of AAA experience performed well only 16% of the time, 3.5 times better. Obviously, he's already missed the boat on that, having pitched most of last year in the majors, but assuming there is a critical growth phase that occurs in AAA, we need to maximize the odds of Hennessey performing well in 2007 and beyond and having him pitch in AAA and hopefully figure out that critical bit of knowledge or experience would seem to do that.
Looking at Beyond 2006 and A.S. (After Schmidt)
As briefly noted, we are probably losing Schmidt to free agency next season as I don't see the Giants spending the $12-15M ($18M?) necessary to sign Schmidt (and rightly so for an oft-injured pitcher) and will need good pitching to replace him. Frankly we have no one in the farm system who I think can do it in 2007 unless someone surprises. However, if Wright can pitch as well as his road numbers indicate, while he won't replace Schmidt, he will certainly be a good middle of the rotation guy for us and hopefully Morris, Lowry and Cain can be a good 1-2-3 for us with Hennessey coming up primed for success.
If Wright really does pitch well at SBC on a regular basis, he would be a good middle of rotation starter (plus experienced innings eatter) for the 2007 rotation and we would have gotten him cheap with a year and option deal. And Wright has definitely had some success at SBC, with a 2.29 ERA in 5 starts there. For an example of how a sinkerballer might do at SBC, Munter's known for his sinkerballs and he had a 2.51 ERA at home in 2005 and that is comparable to Wright’s success in SBC thus far.
And while 2.29 is not likely on a full season basis, I think a high 3/low 4 ERA is not out of the question given his ERA at SBC and on the road so far. And that, combined with a lifetime 4.25 ERA on the road, should easily get him to low 4 ERA overall. That compares well with Tomko's 4.26 ERA pitching for us. And there is the potential of going under 4 if he really is that good at SBC.
Meanwhile, I think Hennessey has the higher ceiling than Wright and therefore we need to have the patience to get that type of performance out of him. Hennessey could be as good as Lowry once he becomes consistent enough and getting a year in AAA to concentrate on doing that will prepare him for great success in 2007 and beyond for us. We need to maximize his chances of doing that and I believe playing him most of the season at AAA would do that, by keeping his mind focused only on performing well instead of worrying about the consequences at the major league level.
We need to take the chance on Wright and keep Hennessey in AAA so that he can figure it out, if we are to prepare the team for a good to excellent rotation, overall, in 2007. Count me on the Jamey Wright bandwagon to take the #5 starters role for 2006 as long as he is cheap, say, on the order of Tomko's contract with us for the past two seasons. Given that he willingly took a minor league contract with only an invitation to spring training suggests that he won’t be hard to sign. It suggests that he realizes that he has a good opportunity here to prove his worth and then cash in in the free agent market in a couple of years. Then we can let Hennessey concentrate on becoming consistent with whatever he needs to be in order to be that pitcher who dominated the powerful Cardinals offense before the All-Star break.