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January 18, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Something in the Way He Throws

by R.J. Anderson

IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B/C/DH-R Mike Napoli to a one-year deal worth $5 million with incentives. [1/16]

Sam Miller wrote about this pairing when the original deal was announced:

So if he doesn’t catch at all for Boston, and he doesn’t hit like he did in 2011, he’s about a two-win player. You might argue that his offense will benefit from not catching, especially because “durability” was a major knock on Napoli during his catching years in Anaheim. One of the strange backwards facts about Napoli, along with the road/home splits and the left/right splits, is that, since becoming a part-time first baseman, he has still hit quite a bit better on days he catches. But, of course, that proves nothing at all. You might also expect that Napoli, freed of catching, will become a healthier player, one able to play every day.

We’ve since learned about Napoli’s shoddy hip, which turned an average annual value of $13 million into $5 million. It’s not a total loss, as Ben Cherington and Napoli’s agent Brian Grieper worked out a smart arrangement where Napoli will receive the full $13 million if he avoids the disabled list with hip-related issues. Napoli’s offensive game revolves around power, which relies on torque. If the hip limits Napoli’s ability to drive the ball then he’s not someone teams line up to employ. Napoli’s future is touch-and-go at this point, but on a one-year deal the Red Sox are willing to take the plunge.

TEXAS RANGERS
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Agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $55 million with LHP Matt Harrison, which includes a vesting option for a sixth year. [1/16]

Jon Daniels signed Derek Holland to a five-year extension last winter in anticipation of the young southpaw taking the next step. Holland did not, and instead Matt Harrison was the Rangers’ best left-handed starter. Now Daniels has re-signed Harrison.

Harrison is not your typical frontline pitcher: He doesn’t strike a ton of batters out or boast impeccable control. But generating grounders and double-play balls is how he makes up for those deficiencies. No pitcher with 300-plus innings since 2010 has generated more double plays per double-play situation than Harrison has:

Pitcher

Innings

Double Play%

Matt Harrison

477.3

18.7%

Trevor Cahill

604.3

18.4%

C.J. Wilson

629.7

18.4%

Mike Leake

485

18.3%

Joe Saunders

590

17.6%

Daniel Hudson

362.7

17.5%

Ricky Romero

616

17.4%

Clayton Richard

520

17.3%

Carl Pavano

506

17.1%

Jeff Karstens

375.7

17%

 

It’s easier to keep runs off the board when nearly one-fifth of your double-play situations end with two outs. The Rangers defense deserves credit, too. Replace Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Ian Kinsler with average or below-average defenders and Harrison may look a whole lot worse. Still, Harrison’s double-play rate is a big part of his success regardless of whether it’s all him or not.

The dollars involved seem high given what we've said thus far. Think about it this way: Harrison was projected to make $6 million in arbitration this season. The Rangers are paying him $5 million instead. If Harrison had another decent season he would have been in line for about $8 million (which is what Texas will pay him in 2014). From there Harrison has what amounts to a three-year deal worth a little over $39 million. Harrison probably gets that on the open market. He probably gets more than that if the next two seasons are as strong as the last two.

But there is a solid amount of risk involved here. The Rangers are paying for three seasons that they didn’t have to; thereby banking on Harrison’s health and double play-coaxing ability. Should one or the other go this deal has the chance to look off; as things are, it looks about right.  

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Signed RHP Peter Moylan to a minor-league deal. [1/16]

Moylan might be the best thing to come out of the original World Baseball Classic. Years after washing out of the Twins system, Moylan’s performance for the Australian team put him on the Braves’ radar. Injuries and a solid in-house alternative led the Braves to sever the relationship this winter, but not before the sidearmer made 295 appearances for the club. Moylan is a righty-on-righty specialist with groundball tendencies; however he’s barely pitched over the past two seasons. He could be a boon for the Dodgers bullpen if healthy.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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Signed RHPs Aaron Cook and Juan Cruz to minor-league deals. [1/16]

Cook started 18 games for the Red Sox last season and walked just two per nine innings. Yet the veteran right-hander still managed to walk more batters than he struck out, as Marc Normandin chronicled throughout the year. Cook remains an extreme groundballer, but that can only get you so far. He’ll spend time in Triple-A, but could opt out come June 1 if another team is interested in his services.

Although the Phillies have a number of young relief options, they decided to add Cruz on a minor-league deal just because. Cruz had a weird ending to his 2012 season. He returned to the Pirates from the disabled list and made six appearances before being released. No other team signed Cruz and the Pirates elected against sending him to the minors. He’s not as good as his 2012 ERA suggests, but you can do far worse as a bullpen safety net.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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