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April 14, 2011

The BP Broadside

Three-H: Haren, Hamilton, and Heliciano

by Steven Goldman

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1. Where Were the Contenders When Dan Haren Was Traded to the Angels?
On Tuesday night, Dan Haren pitched a one-hitter against the Indians to snap the Tribe’s eight-game winning streak. He is now 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA on the season, having allowed just 11 hits, two walks, and one home run while striking out 21 in 24 2/3 innings. Each time Haren pitches well for the Angels, which is most of the time since he left the Diamondbacks, I flash back to last July 25, when contenders hungry for pitching let this ace-level starter slip through to the Angels for a very small return.

The lack of a superior offer from the Yankees is especially hard to figure. At the time, the Yankees were willing to empty the farm—by which I mean Jesus Montero—in pursuit of Cliff Lee. Apparently the same level of interest wasn’t there for Haren, assuming the Diamondbacks would have been interested in adding a slugging catcher-first baseman to their midst. Given this season’s first base mélange, it seems unlikely they would have turned up their noses at Montero.

Haren’s and Lee’s careers have run roughly in parallel, and picking the better pitcher is no easy task: 































Lee has had higher peaks than Haren, particularly in the Cy Young year of 2008 and 2009, but Haren has been more consistent at meeting his own standards. He has been a consistently durable pitcher, totaling over 200 innings every year beginning in 2005, and has a clean injury record, whereas Lee has lost over 30 days to injury in 2003 (61 days), 2007 (41), and 2010 (35). I don’t know why a general manager would be willing to trade a Montero-level prospect for Lee but not for Haren.

At the time the Angels made the Haren trade, they were 7.5 game behind the Rangers. On that same date, the Yankees led the Rays by three games and the Red Sox by eight; the White Sox led the Twins by one game and the Tigers by three; the Braves were ahead of the Phillies by 4.5 games; The Cardinals and Reds were separated by one game; the Padres led the Giants by 3.5. All of those teams had as much or more reason to bid on Haren as the Angels did; where the heck were they?

2. Why Josh Hamilton is a Jerk: Why Did Hamilton Blame His Third-Base Coach for an Act of God?
After Hamilton fractured his humerus bone, he put the blame for the play on Dave Anderson: “I listened to my third-base coach,” Hamilton said. “That’s a little too aggressive. The whole time I was watching the play I was listening. [He said], ‘Nobody’s at home, nobody’s at home.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’ But I listened to my coach. And how do you avoid a tag the best, by going in headfirst and get out of the way and get in there. That’s what I did.”

Hamilton’s premonition is hard to credit—if players always got hurt on plays at the plate, there wouldn’t be any. Whether the attempt to score was a wise one, normally the act of sliding across the plate does not automatically climax with two months of inactivity, particularly one without a collision. Some of you may be old enough to recall the July 21, 1987 play in which Bo Jackson simply annihilated Rick Dempsey, ending his season with a broken thumb. You’ve probably seen film of the collision between Pete Rose and Ray Fosse, a play that took place because Rose just had to win the All-Star Game, damn it. The injuries that were incurred as a result of those plays were the logical result of the forces involved. Hamilton’s break required this notoriously fragile player to hit his shoulder just right to break it.

There is no way of knowing without taking 10 players and dropping them onto home plate, but it seems likely that 9.5 of the 10 attempting the same slide would have popped up without an injury. That is the conclusion implied by our own Corey Dawkins, who wrote that, “Humeral fractures have a low incidence in baseball, but they are seen much more often in pitchers than in positional players.” In short, Hamilton’s break was a fluke, not a predictable or obvious result of the play. As Casey Stengel said of the ball that hit Tony Kubek in the throat in the seventh game of the World Series, “Perhaps God can do something about such a play. Man cannot.”

As such, it was unseemly for Hamilton to blame Anderson in the first place, then continue to blame him a day later. This lack of judgment, not atypical of Hamilton, is hardly ameliorated by his belated apology.

3. Why Does a LOOGY?
Cottleston, cottleston, cottleston pie
Why does a chicken? I don’t know why.—
A. A. Milne

After Wednesday’s game, Joe Girardi announced that Pedro Feliciano has a “damaged shoulder.”  This is an odd way of putting things; if a crocodile eats your ankle it could be described as a “damaged leg,” and yet that wouldn’t truly convey the extent of the problem. Girardi has a way of talking about injuries that may be unique in the annals of managerdom, though in all fairness to him, he was apparently attempting to let the press know there was a problem while allowing Feliciano time to make a decision as to how to cope with the problem itself. Why the press knowing the nature of the injury would inhibit that process isn’t clear.

Unlike, say, Hamilton’s injury, this one doesn’t come as a surprise. I’ve already written elsewhere about how much like sour grapes Brian Cashman’s complaining about the Mets’ handing of Frequent Feliciano was—if you felt like the Mets put too much mileage on the guy, and they did, breaking records for appearances in a three-year period in the process, don’t sign him. (In fairness to Cashman, as I suggested in the linked piece, the signing might not have been his idea—with the Yankees, you never can tell.)

Now that Feliciano is gone for what is likely going to be a long period of time, the question can be asked: Does it really matter? As hard as Felciano worked over the last few years, he only pitched an average of 60 innings per year. His 299 2/3 innings from 2006 through 2010 was just four percent of the Mets’ total innings over that time. Yes, they were generally high-leverage innings, and he was very effective against the same-side hitters he was supposed to retire, but the total is minuscule and the roster spot may be more effectively utilized with a more versatile pitcher.

Still, let’s credit the Yankees with this much: Feliciano was well qualified to do his job. Last year, left-handers hit just .211/.297/.276 against him, and just .214/.282/.297 for his career. Given that he was prepared to get his one out more than once every other day, he may even have gone further to justify his spot than the typical pitcher asked to fulfill his role. Now that he’s gone, they, like many teams, will feel the urge to add the best pitcher who can fit the role, not the best pitcher they have. Does anyone really need another Alan Embree go-round, or another look at Jack Taschner?  That’s the kind of pitcher that the best minds in baseball can bring you when they think they have to have a situational pitcher. It would be better to simply have good ones and hope you didn’t need to depend on the barely qualified who only can meet the bar of a role designed so that it’s the only one they can fill.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  The Process,  Year Of The Injury

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