Crashburn Roundtable: World Series Edition
As some readers may be aware, the World Series is currently going on, pitting one team with a long championship drought against a team with the long championship drought. As Cleveland and Chicago face off over the next few days, it understandably dominates the world of baseball. As a result, I thought it would be fun to temporarily change course on the round table series and ask some World Series-themed questions this week. Joining me on this Phillies-free affair are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther and Michael Schickling.
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber and Chicago ace Jake Arrieta are a month apart in age, each made over 30 starts in 2016, and each saw strong results. Kluber’s 73 ERA-, 76 FIP-, and 44.5 percent groundball rate compare well to Arrieta’s 75 ERA-, 85 FIP-, and 52.6 percent groundball rate in 2016. However, Arrieta also experienced an arguably higher peak just one season ago. If both were free agents this offseason, who would receive a larger contract?
Timothy Guenther: Kluber is coming off the better season, and has the better projection going forward. But to me, the most telling stat is the K-BB percentage.
2014: Kluber 22.9%, Arrieta 20.5%
2015: Kluber 22.6%, Arrieta 21.6%
2016: Kluber 19.8%, Arrieta 14.3%
The reason for Arrieta’s precipitous drop: hitters stopped chasing his pitches out of the strike zone. It may be a correctable issue, but it’s an issue that would give Kluber a leg up in this hypothetical contract battle.
Michael Schickling: These two pitchers are very similar in profile. Same age, same height, both with one Cy Young and one All Star nod. Arrieta has shown his high peak last year, but Kluber has been pitching in the AL and has thrown 200+ innings each of the last three years. Arrieta has only done that once. Honestly, I don’t really have a good way to decide who’s been better, so I’ll bet on the man whom superstar players seem to trust more than anyone else. Jake Arrieta is represented by Scott Boras, and Kluber is not. For me that’s the tiebreaker.
While the Indians (and, by extension, Superhuman Andrew Miller) have had a few days to rest before the start of the World Series, the Dodgers and Cubs have been fighting an extended battle in the NLCS. These teams also each feature an elite reliever (both of whom happen to be free agents this offseason). If you absolutely needed to produce an out, who would you feel most confident sending to the mound – Miller, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen?
Guenther: I’m going to reframe the question. If you absolutely had to get on base, which opposing pitcher would you feel most confident facing: Brett Oberholtzer, Frank Herrmann, or Patrick Schuster? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t make a difference, outside of trying to find some incremental advantage through the right matchup, and you’re probably overthinking it at that point.
Schickling: Making this choice is like picking between my favorite Halloween candies. They’re all great, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Kenley Jansen is like a Hershey’s Kiss. Nothing to him, what you see is what you get. The most basic candy (just chocolate) for the most basic pitch mix (cutters & more cutters). Aroldis Chapman is like a Reese’s Cup. He takes the most basic candy (chocolate/fastball) and turns it up to 105.1, then adds in a delicious little peanut buttery treat in his gnarly slider. It’s really an almost perfect combination.
Andrew Miller is a little more complex than Chapman or Jansen, in that he throws mostly sliders and has two different fastballs. He’s like a Twix, a combination of three great things: chocolate, caramel, and cookie. Frankly, picking between them is an impossible decision. Lucky for me, I can have all three. Lucky for hitters, they only have to face one.
Despite vowing that this week’s questions wouldn’t involve the Phillies, I do want to ask about one former player. Carlos Carrasco has emerged as a top starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, after arriving in the Cliff Lee trade. A lot has been made in past years about the number of prospects shipped out by the Phillies in blockbuster trades. Is Carrasco the best player to have been traded away during the 2007-2011 runs, and should the team regret it at all?
Schickling: I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve watched the Phillies flounder for the past five years, and I’ve concluded that the Phillies didn’t really give up all that much in all those trades they made. Not one player has turned into a bona-fide superstar. Not Kyle Drabek, Jonathan Singleton, or Michael Taylor. Travis D’Arnaud has shown flashes, but has been hurt too much to really make a difference. Meanwhile, Carlos Carrasco has been very good for the past three years, accumulating 10.5 fWAR in 464 innings.
But on the list of most valuable traded Phillies (with the acknowledgement that Carrasco isn’t yet 30 years old and could still move up), he falls to number 3. Number 2 is J.A. Happ, who was traded along with Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar for Roy Oswalt in 2010. Gose has a career 81 wRC+ in 1250 PAs which, as they say in the business, is very bad. Villar was mediocre for the Astros for three years, but had a surprisingly good 2016 with the Brewers, in which he produced 3.0 fWAR. Happ, meanwhile, has been a league average or better pitcher for 5 years for the Astros and Blue Jays, and to me that’s better than 3 years of above average pitching.
Number one has to be probably the first significant player the Phillies gave up in a trade: Michael Bourn, who was traded with Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo for Brad Lidge way back in November 2007. Geoff Geary pitched 84 innings of mediocre relief for the Astros in 2008-2009, never to be heard from again. Mike Costanzo only had 21 PAs and a negative-67 wRC+ for the Reds in 2012. When you think about it, negative-0.4 fWAR in only 21 PAs is actually kind of impressive. But, while the other two players traded with Bourn have been of little use to the Astros, Bourn became a league average hitter after one season and with his vaunted baserunning and centerfield defense, accumulated nearly 20 fWAR in 2009-2012 years between the Astros and the Braves. That, my friends, is the best players the Phillies traded away in the Golden Years.
Guenther: Anyone that would willingly trade their Cliff Lee memories to have Carlos Carrasco on the 2016 Phillies has no soul.