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December 27, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Count on One Hanrahan

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Joel Hanrahan and INF-L Brock Holt from the Pirates for RHP Mark Melancon, OF-R Jerry Sands, RHP Stolmy Pimentel, and INF-R Ivan De Jesus Jr. [12/26]

Ben Cherington traded a package of players for a veteran closer last offseason and chose to do so again by acquiring Hanrahan. Unlike Cherington’s trade for Andrew Bailey—in which he parted with Josh Reddick and two prospects—there is minimal chance of regret. Melancon is the best piece going the other way, while the rest of the players are spares. In return, the Red Sox get one year of Hanrahan. It’s hard to see fault from either perspective when you minimize this deal to Melancon for Hanrahan: Boston gets the superior pitcher while Pittsburgh gets budget space and years of control of a solid reliever.

Hanrahan keeps it simple. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, high-90s fastball early, high-80s slider late. No trickery involved, no need for it, just power relief pitching. There are some concerns about Hanrahan and his game. His strikeout, walk, and home run rates increased while his groundball rate declined last season. PITCHf/x data suggests Hanrahan threw his fastball up in the zone more, perhaps in order to coerce more whiffs, and generated fewer groundballs in the process.

The wildness is harder to explain. Hanrahan’s mechanics are smooth relative to other closers and do not portend control woes. Buster Olney indicated executives were chalking the walks up to an arm problem, but Hanrahan has (presumably) passed a Red Sox-administered physical. If Hanrahan is hearty and hale then he, along with Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa, should form a solid bullpen.

Holt, the other player heading to Boston, is small and gritty without much in the way of tools. Somewhat concerning is Pittsburgh relegating Holt to second base last season despite his familiarity with shortstop and no disincentive to try him out for a few games here and there. Throughout his minor-league career, Holt has hit for average and gotten on base, but his upside is limited to utility infielder.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Mark Melancon, OF-R Jerry Sands, RHP Stolmy Pimentel, and INF-R Ivan De Jesus Jr. from the Red Sox for Joel Hanrahan and INF-L Brock Holt. [12/16]

The Pirates get quantity but perhaps not quality in exchange for Hanrahan.

Melancon is the prize. His short-lived tenure with Boston got off to a disastrous start, as he allowed 11 runs and five home runs over his first four appearances. Boston sentenced him to Pawtucket to work out his mechanical issues—either overthrowing or showing too much of the ball during his delivery—under the not-as-bright-as-Fenway lights. Melancon returned after 20-odd innings for the P-Sox and pitched better. In his final 43 innings, he allowed three home runs, struck out four batters per walk, and held opponents to a .217/.274/.323 line. (Hanrahan, for comparison, allowed a line against of .187/.307/.341 last season.)

Of course, you can’t go around erasing the worst instances from a sample all willy-nilly. What you can do is acknowledge those outings occurred while also asserting that Melancon is likely to pitch closer to his 2011 numbers than his 2012 numbers heading forward. If Pittsburgh can help Melancon—blessed with a bowling bowl low-to-mid-90s sinker, a curveball, and a cutter—iron out his platoon issues then it’s not hard to envision him closing out games again. He is not a free agent until after the 2016 season.

The rest of the package is underwhelming. Sands’ minor-league numbers are as inspiring as they are misleading about his talent level. He’s a bat-only type, without the athleticism to play anywhere but left field or first base. The Dodgers did not allow Sands the opportunity to dethrone James Loney at first base, and the outfielder never batted as a member of the Red Sox. Mistreatment by one organization is possible, mistreatment by two in short order less likely. It’s not clear where Sands fits into the Pirates picture as they already have Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Starling Marte vying for time in the corner outfield and first base. In all likelihood, Sands will find himself back in Triple-A.

Pimentel and De Jesus Jr. are former top prospects. Pimentel has the body and velocity of a power pitcher, along with a strong changeup, but mechanical inconsistencies leave him with a bleak outlook as a starter.  De Jesus Jr. profiles as a utility infielder. He can play various positions; he just doesn’t have the profile to start at any one of them. 

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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