J.C. Romero Is Still An Option

In his live chat at Baseball Prospectus today, I asked Eric Seidman about the Phillies’ LOOGY options and who he prefers. He said:

Dennys Reyes. Oh wait, nevermind. Scott Eyre still retired? How about the J.C. Romero from 2007? I think Joe Beimel would be a good fit. I’d also take a flier on Ron Mahay. Realistically, I’d be more comfortable forgoing the idea of a LOOGY and just building a solid overall bullpen. And as iffy as Romero looked last year, he still finished 2nd to Boone Logan in my 2010 LOOGY Awards, which measured the numbers lefty batters produced against a lefty specialist, relative to how those same batters performed against all other lefty pitchers. Maybe bring him back at a bargain price.

You may recall that in late March, I argued that Romero should be used strictly as a LOOGY. He is garbage against right-handed batters but has shown a legitimate ability to dominate left-handed hitters. If the Phillies are simply looking for a LOOGY, why not take another shot with Romero? Romero still wants to be a Phillie, after all:

“Maybe this is a door that opens for me to go back to Philly,” said Romero, the Phillies’ top lefty reliever the last four seasons with a 2.60 ERA over 260 relief appearances since 2007. “I hope so. My family loves it in Philly. I love it in Philly. I hope it works out and I can be back there. I felt they were closing the door for me when they signed Dennys, but everything happens for a reason.”

Here are the facts, using Romero’s career splits:

  • vs. RHB: 6.8 K/9, 6.9 BB/9, .292 BABIP, 5.34 xFIP
  • vs. LHB: 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, .266 BABIP, 3.61 xFIP

Romero made over $4 million in 2010, but he is now 34 years old, has an injury history, and he will be used sparingly as the situations allow. A pay cut is absolutely defensible and Romero realizes it:

“You have to understand that I’m not asking for $4 million,” Romero said. “That’s what I made at my best. It’s not like I’m expensive right now.”

Romero noticed that Lee left money on the table to return to Philly. He hinted that he’d do the same.

“What Mr. Cliff Lee did was a class act,” Romero said. “Sometimes being comfortable and in a place where you can make a difference means more than money. Hopefully, the Phillies and my agent will talk again.”

Let’s get this done, Ruben.

Guest Post: Why The Phillies Should Keep Big Joe

Today’s guest post is written by one of my favorite people on Twitter, @Utley4God. He argues that the Phillies should keep Joe Blanton, whom they will be trying to trade between now and the start of the 2011 regular season.

. . .

You already know the story: late Monday night, word broke that Cliff Lee was coming back to Philadelphia. In the days since, this move has been extensively analyzed and there isn’t much left to say. My quick analysis: “Fantastic”.

Due to Ruben Amaro’s history, Philadelphia immediately began to worry. “Does this mean Cole Hamels is on the move?” became everyone’s favorite question. Thankfully, tweets from Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and others eased our fears. Joe Blanton was going to be moved to help clear payroll room for Lee.

Blanton is scheduled to make 17mm over the next two seasons (8.5mm per). He is coming off a season where he posted a 4.82 earned run average. In response to his poor year, the expectation is the Phillies will have to eat between $8-9 million to move Blanton and the rest of his contract. While most would argue the Phillies are a better team with Joe as the fifth starter, I believe it even makes economic sense to hang onto Big Joe a little longer.

There is no question Blanton had a bad season last year. A 4.82 ERA will scare even the most stat-friendly GM. But, if we dig a little deeper, it doesn’t look so bad. As you can see below, it looks like Joe’s declining ERA is actually due to poor luck on balls in play rather than a decline in skill. The profile of balls hit against him actually improved from 2009 to 2010 (LD% down, GB% up). He also improved his strike out to walk ratio. This led to an improvement in his FIP and xFIP year over year. Joe seems to have gotten hit with the patented Hamels bad luck train, and would be a great bounce-back candidate as his luck will likely normalize in 2011.

2009 28 4.05 2.76 4.45 4.07 0.302
2010 29 4.82 3.12 4.34 4.06 0.331

Even with an improvement in performance, that doesn’t explain why it would make sense for the cash-strapped Phillies to keep a fifth starter making $8.5 million per year. If a team calls and offers to take the full contract for a C-level prospect, Ruben should say yes as quickly as he did to the Roy Oswalt trade. However, if as expected, the Phillies are forced to eat half the contract to move him, they should hold onto Blanton until at least the All-Star break. The belief here is that if Blanton’s performance improves as expected, a team would be much more likely to take on the full contract. This scenario would have the Phillies paying $4.25 million and getting a half-season of Blanton rather than paying $8.5 million and filling those starts with Kyle Kendrick.

In a slightly worse scenario, it takes a full year for Joe to re-establish some value. This would leave the Phillies money neutral to making the trade now, but would still provide the value of filling 30 starts with Blanton rather than Kendrick.

In a worst case scenario, Blanton struggles for another full season and the Phils are still forced to pay a part of his salary next year to move him. This would make the “Keep Big Joe” a financial loss, but judging by his underlying statistics, this scenario seems unlikely.

If the Phillies really need to pay half of Blanton’s salary to move him, it would make sense from a expected performance and economic sense to hold onto the big right hander (who is still very well in his prime) for at least a little while longer.

Not to mention, he could be a nice insurance policy if one of the aces goes down with an injur…….. actually forget I said that, I’m not prepared to imagine that.

. . .

Make sure to follow @Utley4God on Twitter for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the 2011 season. Hopefully, he’ll do the right thing and start a blog.

Do you agree that the Phillies should keep Blanton? Share your thoughts in the comments.