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December 17, 2010

Warning Track Power

Oakland's Armed Robbery?

by Chase Gharrity

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Though the Oakland Athletics won the posting fee sweepstakes for Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakima, the team elected not to sign him. Still, the A’s have been on a mission to add depth to their pitching staff. The odd negotiations with Iwakuma and the Vin Mazzaro trade were enough motivation for Billy Beane to try and add insurance arms, so he signed a pair of injury-prone righties this week: Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden. Now that the contractual ink has dried, the physicals have been analyzed, and the photo-ops completed, let’s take a look what these new additions can do next year.

McCarthy, a former top prospect in the White Sox system, is coming off a relatively successful season, but it was limited to just nine starts, 11 appearances, and 56 1/3 innings pitched with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate. The native of Glendale, California battled shoulder issues throughout the season, a common theme throughout his young career. Below is his 2010 line with Oklahoma City:

Age

GS

IP

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

SO/BB

LOB%

BABIP

ERA

26

9

56.1

8.1

1.3

1.8

7.0

4.00

79.9%

0.272

3.36

As we can see, McCarthy was very effective when healthy. He had strong peripherals, including an impressive 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, his left-on-base percentage and BABIP could raise some eyebrows, especially when those marks were accrued against sub-MLB-quality opponents and in a fairly neutral home park. Playing in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks will help McCarthy, as will Oakland’s fantastic infield defense.

McCarthy posted a 1.96 ERA in 23 innings in four Dominican Winter League appearances, a final tune-up before spring training. He walked three batters and only struck out 11, but most importantly, he pitched pain-free.

There was no shortage of interest in (or physical evaluations of) the right-hander, who was rumored to have been checked out by “at least seven teams.” Though I suppose the Athletics’ health staff hasn’t earned very much trust amongst fans over the years, a new training staff regime leader and a currently non-bothersome right shoulder on McCarthy should give the Athletics a solid backup rotation option.

PECOTA projected a 4.80 ERA and 1.46 WHIP for McCarthy in 2010. After throwing fewer innings in 2010 than 2009, this projection is probably in for some regression. However, with just $1 million guaranteed to the right-hander (plus various performance-based incentives), it’s a worthwhile investment.

Harden is another interesting low-risk, high-reward acquisition. Though he has usually been in the rotation, the righty signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to work in relief.

Injuries and inconsistent command have kept Harden from reaching his full potential. After a stint in Chicago, he signed with the Rangers prior to the 2010 season. Here are the 28-year-old’s ugly results:

GS

IP

H/9

HR/9

HR/FB%

BB/9

SO/9

SO/BB

LOB%

BABIP

ERA

SIERA

VORP

18

92.0

8.9

1.8

12.5%

6.1

7.3

1.21

73.8%

0.274

5.58

5.22

2.5

He continued to post above-average strikeout rates and below-average walk rates. Harden’s velocity in 2010 was a career-worst, and he had clear struggles with his mechanics while with the Rangers, contributing to the awful year.

Along with the benefit of working in a pitcher’s paradise in terms of both park and defense, working out of the pen should benefit Harden. In his 13 2/3 career relief innings, he has logged 15 strikeouts and a 3.29 ERA (but had seven walks). Finding the strike zone will be critical to Harden’s success.

Harden’s move to the bullpen could also address concerns with the dramatic decrease in velocity he experienced in 2010. Though it’s been proven that a drop in PITCHf/x velocity can be caused by a number of non-important factors, an average fastball and changeup velocity that drops nearly two mph is hard to ignore. The move could give Harden the opportunity to throw his pitches with more effort, giving an extra bit of spice to his heater and helping him make the most of his limited arsenal. Armed with an explosive fastball and a nasty changeup coined the “spuckle,” Harden has just a two-pitch mix, which is hard for a starter to get by on. Given that this arsenal has largely contributed to his success in his first turn against opposing batters (highlighted by the 577 OPS conceded in that split), it would not be surprising if Harden thrives in relief, even with the rumors that he’s still being considered an option for the fifth rotation spot.

 There is no surprise that the A’s felt the need to add some pitching after missing out on Iwakuma. While there have been questions swirling about the sincerity of Oakland’s potentially lucrative addition of the Japanese star, there is no denying that the Athletics have helped themselves out with two lottery tickets in Harden and McCarthy. If just one can stay healthy and pitch close to their potential ability (not a given by any means), their performance should outweigh the monetary cost of both contracts.  

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ScottyB

I hear the ghost of Will Carroll saying: "Health is a skill". These guys don't have it.

Dec 17, 2010 06:54 AM
rating: 6
 
jhardman

One for two from this Ranger fan's perspective. McCarthy needed the change of scenery regardless of the shoulder injuries, and moving his flyball stuff into a pitchers park will make him effective. Plus, I'll bet he'll stay healthy with a better attitude being away from Texas, where he fumed after being traded from the then championship caliber Sox.

Harden to the bullpen makes sense too, but I'll stand in ScottyB's corner. He can't stay healthy, and he clearly wasn't healthy last year.

Dec 17, 2010 07:32 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

I can't help it...I think the A's are going to be solid this year. If Chris Carter develops, he and Matsui will help lift the offense. You can almost see a SF Giants II coming over there. Personally, I like Oakland to push 90 wins and contend for the division.

Dec 17, 2010 07:57 AM
rating: -1
 
mrdannyg

Daric Barton at 1B, Matsui at DH and Willingham in LF, not to mention Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney. If Carter develops, it looks like it'll be as a pinch-hitter, or at AAA. Either way, it'll be tough for him to help the A's in any significant way.

Dec 17, 2010 19:54 PM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

Gio Gonzales, Bret Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden and a healthy McCarthy would have the potential to be a top 3 rotation in all of Baseball .... with good health.

I am hopeful the significant increase in high leverage innings load this year with Cahill does not make for a regression.

Braden has a history of pitching 4 out of 6 months each season .... so the A's would be well served to have a #6 starter in the pen or at AAA (much like Mazzaro was last year)

Bret Anderson has the highest upside - Cy Young potential.

Dec 17, 2010 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

"Gio Gonzales, Bret Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden and a healthy McCarthy would have the potential to be a top 3 rotation in all of Baseball .... with good health." So many things would need to break right for that to happen, that I have to say that may be one of the most optimistic statements of the offseason.

Dec 17, 2010 08:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Considering that the A's led the league in SNLVAR last year without McCarthy and with Anderson only making 19 starts, it's not the most farfetched possibility out there, not that I'm lining them up ahead of Philadelphia and San Francisco, rotation-wise.

Dec 17, 2010 14:34 PM
 
blw777

That would be the Astro's AAA-affiliate in Oklahoma, wouldn't it? The Rangers AAA is the Round Rock Express.

Dec 17, 2010 08:46 AM
rating: 0
 
VDracul

McCarthy couldn't have played for Round Rock since they were Houston's farm team in 2010, they don't become Texas Rangers AAA until next year.

Dec 17, 2010 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Manprin

This seems like $2.5 Million for two pitchers that aren't much better than what the A's already have in their minor league system.

Why burn the cash when you can just bring up Jared Lansford, Mickey Storey and/or Fernando Hernandez?

Dec 17, 2010 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Chase Gharrity
BP staff

I think the consensus opinion there would simply be that those guys are just not ready to be at the Major League level on a full-time basis. They'll get their looks in spring, but I think moves like the Harden and McCarthy deals are made in order to let a team avoid having to dip into their farm too early.

As stated in the article, I think there's a good chance one of these guys hits the DL for a while next season. Your Landsfords, Storeys and Hernandezs (along with Humber, Magnuson and De Los Santos) will all probably get some call-ups once the injuries begin to pile up. That said, these signings should not be considered disrespect towards the farm guys, but merely a means of easing them into whatever roles the A's have in mind for them in the future.

Dec 17, 2010 16:51 PM
 
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Nice work, Chase. I do believe some, but not nearly all, of Harden's velocity drop in 2010 was due to PITCHf/x calibration issues in Texas.

Lucas Apostoleris had a nice post on Harden at Beyond the Box Score:
http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/12/17/1882126/harden-returns-to-oakland-but-wheres-his-stuff

Dec 18, 2010 22:56 PM
 
jtratz

The A's should sign Bonderman.

Bring Bonderman back to his original organization on a one-year deal, and watch him put up a sub-4.00 ERA in front of the A's ridiculous defense. If he can make 25+ starts (he threw 171 IP last year), he might actually be able to snag another multi-year deal on the free-agent market (he'll only be 30 after this season).

Dec 18, 2010 23:35 PM
rating: 0
 
wizstan

It isn't just that Health is a skill...but that keeping players healthy is something an organization is either good at or not...

The A's fall very much towards the "not good at this" end of the spectrum...for this organization to spend money on players and especially pitchers with histories of injuries is just tragic.

Dec 19, 2010 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
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