Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Sturtze Conundrum

Yesterday it was the Matsui deal, today it’s the Tanyon Sturtze deal. I haven’t been the only fan bemoaning Cashman picking up the $1.5 million option on Sturtze’s contract, and for good reason. He has spent two years with the Yankees, posting an ERA over 4.50 both years, while accumulating over 65 innings in mostly relief appearances (less than three starts). There are only 12 other pitchers in the major leagues who accomplished such feats in 2005, so I guess Sturtze is in rarified air.

But there’s a simple reason as to why there are only 13 major leaguers with more than 65 IP in relief with an ERA over 4.50. Normally, if a pitcher is doing that badly, he doesn’t get used frequently enough to accumulate that many innings, and certainly wouldn’t be paid in the range of $1.5 million. At least that’s what one is inclined to believe. But after looking at the actual numbers, Sturtze’s contract doesn’t seem all that ludicrous.

Qualifications: 65 IP, less than 3 starts, ERA > 4.50, guaranteed 2006 salary

PlayerTeam’06 Salary
Steve KleinOrioles$3
Jorge JulioOrioles$2.5
Tanyon SturtzeYankees$1.5
Esteban YanAngels$1.25
Brian MeadowsPirates$1.125

All figures in millions

Qualifications: 65 IP, less than 3 starts, ERA > 4.50, no contract for ’06

PlayerTeam’05 Salary
Kevin GreggAngels$360,000
Travis HarperDevil Rays$750,000
Doug BrocailRangers$1,000,000
Lance CormierDiambondbacksno info (probably the league minimum)
Matt BelisleReds$316,000
Guillermo MotaMarlins$2.6 million
Yhency BrazobanDodgers$320,000
Ryan VogelsongPirates$332,000

My guess is that the guys in the bottom table won’t get deals that exceed $1 million for 2006. Just a guess, based on nothing (except their performance). But a look at the top table shows that maybe Sturtze’s deal isn’t so bad. I mean, he’s in the middle of a pack of five, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Let’s not start at the obvious flaw with this table (you know what I’m talking about). What isn’t specified until now is that each of the four other guys in Table 1 (Klein, Julio, Yan, Meadows) are in the middle of multiyear contracts. This means that their 2006 salary does not reflect their 2005 performance because they signed the deal before the 2005 season. Sturtze, on the other hand, could have been jettisoned from this list, but management opted to make him a part of it. He is the only member of the list who wasn’t guaranteed that money as recently as three days ago.

Sturtze would have fit better in the bottom list, with a $800,000 next to his name (his 2005 salary). At least there can be excuses made for the bottom feeders. True, Gregg was part of a lights out Angels bullpen, but how many times did you see him once Kelvim Escobar came off the DL? Harper gets a pass because it’s inevitable that the D-Rays would have a guy on this list. Ditto for the Rangers, Reds and Pirates, hence Brocail, Belisle, and Vogelsong. Cormier’s excuse is simple: who the hell is Lance Cormier? Brazoban was an experiment when Gagne hit the DL, so he is excused for the moment. And Mota, well, I guess it goes to show that DePodesta isn’t an idiot after all.

I realize that Sturtze’s option acts as an insurance plan in case the Yanks can’t land any relievers – Ryan, Farnsworth, Howry, Eyre. But this is one hefty premium on the plan. I’d say that Proctor could do the job well enough and at a much cheaper price, but he struggles mightily against lefties, whereas Sturtze actually fares better against lefties than righties. Maybe Sturtze can be groomed for a LOOGY role…

If anything is certain at this point (nothing is), it’s that the Yankees will land at least one reliever that can act as a set up man for Mo. Ryan obviously tops that list, and the Yanks have plenty of drawing power, with the eight straight division titles and a man by the name of Ron Guidry running the pitching show (both he and Ryan are Louisiana natives, which has only been printed in the newspaper about 17 billion times so far).

The interesting names on that list are Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre, names not normally associated with top-notch relievers. Just remember that Eyre is a lefty, a valuable commodity in any bullpen. He also led the NL in Inhereted Runs Prevented over at Baseball Prospectus. This basically means that he allowed the least amount of inherited runners to score, at least according to the way Prospectus counts it (they’re way too hesitant to publish their formulae). And even though I don’t know how it’s calculated, if it does in fact mean something, Eyre would be a nice break from Sturtze and Quantrill, who seemingly let in every runner they ever inherited.

Howry ranked fifth in the AL in Adjusted Runs Prevented from scoring, behind Huston Street, Cliff Politte, Mariano Rivera, and Jason Frasor. Not bad company, I have to say. Howry isn’t exactly a highly touted free agent, and could be an option if the Indians go gung ho after Kyle Farnsworth as their replacement for Bob Wickman.

And it all comes full circle, as I wouldn’t mind tossing Wickman out in the pen for a year, should he not retire and not return to Cleveland. This would be one of those “break glass in case of emergency” deals, but he is a passable middle inning stopgap (once again, he could fill the situation in the sixth with men on when the Yanks really need an out).

Of course, I could have gone the other route with that last paragraph and talked about how Kyle Farnsworth could be another candidate for the successor to Mo. That puts five relievers on the radar, six if you count Gordon. I’m very confident that the Yankees can land at least one of these six, if not two. So the question is now compounded: why, oh why, was Sturtze’s option picked up when there are six guys out there that are head and shoulders above him?

It’s more of a headache when you factor in Small’s probable presence in the bullpen, along with Jaret Wright, who seems at this point to be the odd man out in the rotation (though management could be stupid and send Chacon to the bullpen).

If anyone has answers, I’m ready to listen.