Thursday, November 10, 2005

Six Degrees Of Mediocrity

Way back in May, a time most of us have stored in the depths of our subconscious, I had quite a bit of praise for a guy named Tanyon Sturtze. Even though I feel just a bit foolish for saying these things, it is alleviated by the fact that he actually pitched well to that point, and a bit beyond. He looked like the savior Joe Torre was looking for, the 7th inning head to his flawless bullpen scheme that somewhat compensated for a lack of starters who could pitch into the eighth inning.

In 2004 it was Paul Quantrill, and the results weren’t atrocious. In fact, the scheme worked quite well until Paul recalled the elusive fact that he was 35 and hadn’t pitched so many innings (95 1/3 by the end) since he was a starter with Toronto in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I’m actually surprised the experiment worked as well as it did. After all, Quantrill was the prototypical Yankee bust: held a decent to good track record, coming off a spectacular season. It’s always a formula for failure once the pinstripes are donned. But until August, Quantrill showed few signs that he would be breaking down.

It was about that time that Torre started to go with Tanyon Sturtze, who had come from the same place as Quantrill: Los Angeles, though he could have been had for free quite a few times in the 2003-2004 off-season. He wasn’t an automatic with a lead in the seventh like Quantrill had been, but Sturtze still made many an appearance beginning in mid-August or so. The diagnosis on the kid (though he was 33 at the time) was that he lacked the confidence to throw strikes. Everyone knew about his blazing fastball that was complemented by a less than devastating splitter, but everyone also knew that if they waited up there long enough, chances are Sturtze would give them first base for free.

In fact, his BB/9 stats since 2000 aren’t exactly top-notch, and are further compounded by his strikeout to walk ratio.

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   3.82     3.64       3.58     4.33     3.84     3.12
K/BB:   1.52     1.39       1.54     1.26     1.70     1.67
*relief years in bold

I’ll get to the downward trend of the last three years in a minute. But let’s compare that BB/9 and K/BB rate of a quality middle reliever like, oh say, Paul Quantrill over the same period:

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   2.69     1.30       2.94     1.75     1.89     1.70
K/BB:   1.88     4.83       2.12     2.93     1.85     2.57

Quantrill may not have been great with the Yanks, but at least he didn’t “clog the base paths,” allowing opponents to capitalize in the later innings. Is it fair, though, to compare Tanoyon – a career underachiever – with Paul Quantrill, considered a consistent option at middle relief until he broke down in August, 2004? Baseball Reference has a list at the bottom of each player’s card that lists similar players. I don’t know exactly what they base this on, but let’s make a blind observation here. A familiar name popped up here: Jason Grimsley. So let’s walk through his BB/9 and K/BB since 2000

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   3.92     3.14       4.67     4.32     5.00     3.68
K/BB:   1.26     2.18       1.61     1.61     1.11     1.11

Now that’s more like it. Notice, however, Grimsley’s years below the Mendoza Line in K/BB(1.50 roughly) – 2000, 2004, 2005. Two of those years got him booted from his club – the Yankees in 2000, the friggin Royals in 2004 – and 2005 was an injury year.

Before I move on, I just want to go over what’s been proven so far. We’ve seen similarities in defensive independent pitching statistics (though not DIPS as a whole. That formula can be found here. Good luck with that) between Grimsley and Sturtze, while using Quantrill to demonstrate the numbers a quality reliever puts up. Needless to say, the former two just don’t measure up with the latter.

You may have noticed that Sturtze’s BB/9 and K/BB rates have spiked since he joined the Yankees. This is a relative spiking, since his numbers still do not constitute a good reliever, but a serviceable one. Remember that term, serviceable, at the end of this column.

The spiking statistics may be misleading, though, as Sturtze seems to be a one-month-a-year kinda pitcher, and that month helps level out his statistics. In 2004, it was September; in 2005, it was May. So let’s take a look at those same BB/9 and K/BB stats for those months compared with their yearly stats, along with their yearly stats sans the aberration month.

                  BB/9       K/BB       ERA
2004         3.84       1.70       5.47
Sep. 04     3.60       2.67       4.20
04 - Sep.   3.90       1.48       5.78

It must be noted here that the only runs he gave up in September were in one game against the Royals, though it was a seven run performance. Kinda ruins the whole idea, and I was thinking of excluding that appearance from the September 2004 stats, but that would be deceiving. Just know that his ERA would have been 0.00 if not for that appearance. But now to 2005.

                  BB/9       K/BB       ERA
2005         3.12       1.67       4.73
May 05     0.50       10.0       0.50
05 - May   3.90       1.34       6.00

Sans May, Sturtze was up to his old crappy tricks. And since May was so long ago, I would say that his performance over the remainder of 2005 was much more telling. So let’s go over the facts.

Tanyon Sturtze is a serviceable reliever who is comparable to Jason Grimsley. He has the propensity to shine for one month per year, and other than that his stats are pretty below average. So now the point becomes clear: why the hell would the Yankees pick up his 2006 option for $1.5 million? There is no possible way that Tanyon Sturtze is worth a million and a half. He can be bought out for a tenth of what his salary would be, so it makes a world of sense just to pay him his $150,000 and let him sign back on with the Devil Rays.

Seriously, think of all the ways you could spend $1.5 million. Would a year of service from Tanyon Sturtze be on that list? I would certainly hope not. I know a lot of what preceded was a bunch of hot air, but that’s the whole point: so is Sturtze. In a time when Brian Cashman wants to reduce payroll, I saw two obvious places to start: declining the options on both Tino and Sturtze. Phase One is complete. Phase Two seems just as obvious.