Crain signing necessarily long

Committing to a non-elite reliever for three years usually shows a lack of foresight. But this year, that might be a good thing.

Jesse Crain is essentially a mail-order bride.
That’s no knock on his pitching skills, but rather a reflection of his status of a non-elite reliever who just signed a three-year contract. The White Sox longed for immediate company; Crain needed long-term security. After a couple years, they’ll be saddled with each other’s flaws, and the only way out will cost them. That’s generally how these things work. Or so I’ve heard.
But somehow, I’m not feeling the typical shame associated with it.
For one, when you have to rely on the free agent market to fill in the gaps, you’re vulnerable to getting caught on the wrong side of the supply-demand scale. Once Joaquin Benoit signed his three-year deal with Detroit and other relievers held out for the same amount of security, it became clear the Sox were either going to have to pony up, or take a risk on a rebound candidate. The “all-in” nature of the White Sox offseason quickly eliminated the latter option.
Then there’s this: Crain is 29 and coming off a career year, and he signed for three years, and I’m assuming $13 or $14 million. Scott Linebrink had settled into his decline phase by the end of the 2007 season at age 31 — and the White Sox signed him for four years and $19 million.
Folks, we’ve seen awful signings. This ain’t it.
It just ain’t safe either, but that almost makes it better, because it means the Sox continue to carry out their offseason strategy. It’s not an elegent plan. Plainly put, it’s costly as hell and just as risky, but once you get past those two factors, it’s totally legit.
As dumb as it might be to give a guy like Crain three years, it would be even less sensible if Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf chose to shower Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Edwin Jackson with cash, then had their sphincters tighten up when considering a guy who will make a much smaller dent on the payroll. The Sox spent way too much money to grin and bear a fatal but correctable flaw.
If the Sox are going to be fiscally irresponsible – some might say reckless – they may as well do everything in their power to make it pay off. At the very least, we should adopt the same mindset and enjoy the honeymoon. They’re too far gone to turn back, and that could be the best news we’ve had all offseason. With Crain in the fold, it’s so stupid it just might work.
******************************
Crain the pitcher has a lot of promise. It’s strange to talk about the potential of a six-year veteran, but Crain transformed rather dramatically last year, going from a fastball-slider guy to a slider-fastball guy:

  • 2009: 61.7 percent fastballs, 22.8 percent sliders.
  • 2010: 42.2 percent fastballs, 46.3 percent sliders.

The unprecedented pitch selection gave him unprecedented numbers, both encouraging (a career-high strikeout rate) and worrisome (career-low groundball rate), and it sparked his second-half surge in which he became the key to the Minnesota bullpen.
The White Sox and their fans saw how nasty that pitch can be on Sept. 14, when his slider-fueled strikeouts of Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez with the bases loaded effectively dashed their playoff hopes. His slider ranked among the league’s best at season’s end.
That Crain hasn’t always been around. With the Twins, he’s shown a tendency to lure fans into a false sense of security, then falter painfully enough to not quite trust him fully.
So in that sense, he’s basically a great replacement for J.J. Putz. And that’s all the Sox need — somebody to pitch well most of the time, and for a full season. Ever since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2007, he’s only hit the DL once, and for the minimum amount of games.
If Crain meets expectations, he’ll take pressure off Sergio Santos as he tries to adjust back, and will give the Sox time to properly evaluate Gregory Infante, the only “stuff” guy they have in their back pocket. This signing is expensive and a risk, but it fits a need perfectly.
And hey, if nothing else, the Sox won’t have to face him anymore. Lifetime vs. Crain:

  • Paul Konerko: 2-for-18, one walk, 10 strikeouts.
  • A.J. Pierzynski: 2-for-13, one walk.
  • Alexei Ramirez: 1-for-10, one strikeout.
  • Mark Teahen: 0-for-9, five strikeouts.
  • Total: .156/.222/.278 over 100 plate appearances.
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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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parkernutws05

“They’re too far gone to turn back, and that could be the best news we’ve had all offseason. With Crain in the fold, it’s so stupid it just might work.”
I couldn’t agree more. If going all in is the strategy don’t half-a$$ it. Kerry Wood apparently has an offer on the table as well. It will be interesting that is for sure.

unclejimmy

Just wanted to say thanks to all of you on this discussion board for your intelligent and informed comments. As a die-hard Sox fan now situated in Oxford, England, and stuck here for most of the past five years and the coming 10, I need some intelligent commentary on my White Sox’s activities. I’ll chime in when I feel I can, but in the meantime, this is great reading. Thanks again.

buford

I have no concern with the years or dollars. That’s the going rate for relievers now.
I am concerned that he had rotator cuff and labrum surgery in 2007.

pdxsoxgirl

At least the surgery is 3 years out, that seems to be enough time for full recovery. So unless there is a new injury, I see no problem.
He was absolutely nasty after the all-star break last year. Plus that third year has a team option buy-out, so this is two years plus the option.
Let’s hope pitching success it established early and everyone can picke each other up when the inevitable bumps come. I’m a little worried about Santos, he looked pretty lost late last season.

buford

I thought it was a 3-year contract. But if it’s 2 years with a team option for the 3rd year, this is even better.
With older relievers signing 3-year contracts, I wonder why Crain at 29 would settle for the 3rd year team option.

buford

On second thought, if it’s 2 years at $6M per year with a $1M buyout, Crain gets a bigger chunk of cash than his peers and then can re-enter free agency again at age 31.

dalton

The shoulder has clearly been tested since the surgery. He’s not in danger of re-injuring it simply because he injured it before. I know I keep referring to my rotator cuff surgery, but I do so not to bring attention to it, but because I have first-hand experience with a serious injury under competitive conditions, and the recovery process, etc. The dude’s shoulder, three years out, is fine.

pdxsoxgirl

Hey thanks for sharing the personal experience. That really confirms what I’d observed with pitchers and recovery from injury. Look at Freddy Garcia. The shoulder was not an issue last season; other things, but not the shoulder.

dalton

Usually the repaired shoulder is better than new: Fully reattached tendon; bone fragments or spurs removed; bone shaved to allow for freer movement, etc.
Every time I press a weight, I am conscious of my shoulder and how it feels. And eight months after surgery (and four months back into weight training), it feels fine. I just limit the volume to stave off tendonitis (as I’ve written before). Same way trainers/PT/pitching coaches limit pitches thrown to keep a lid on any potential flare ups. Tendonitis doesn’t mean a tear is coming, either.
Crain will be fine. Now, if his arms falls off in April, forget I ever wrote this.

ricksch

You’re right, Sox had to make a move like this. All in means all in.
I’m sure they would have liked to have gone only two years but this is typical of the contracts offered.
Kenny has to keep dealing but he sure seems intent on getting it done.

djroomba

I think sometimes with the depth that the White Sox have in the minor leagues (little to none) that they are a couple serious injuries away from really falling apart. Every year I shutter to think about the Charlotte and Birmingham position players.
What I like about the activity this offseason is that many of the recent contracts are staggered to come off the books year after year. Buerhle next year, Jackson the following.
I think the one downside of the ALL IN feeling is the boot this might be giving Buerhle next summer. I heard something that he has given them 150mil more than his contracts. I want him to go out when he is ready not because we didn’t put seats in the stadium after going ALL IN.

dalton

I know the Sox are “all in” for 2011, but I look at the roster and I believe it is constructed for a championship run in 2012 as well. I don’t think this is a one-and-done roster.

tdogg

I agree. I’ve said for a little while now that I think they’ll looking at the 2011 AND 2012 window.

dudeman

Actually, both Buerhle and Jackson are entering the final year of their contracts.

striker

There are consequences when you go All In in Vegas, you may go home broke. I wonder if Kenny is giving it one last push before he bows out (if unsuccessful).

dalton

Not sure whose wrath would be more vicious: The wife’s when you slink home having lost the family farm or SoxMachine posters if Chicago doesn’t win 142 games and sweep the playoffs, with every player on the roster posting a 4 or higher WAR…

joncolosimo

Good article. I recently wrote about Crain’s 2010 season, at joncolosimo.com.
Here’s an exerpt, and something that Sox fans should be worried about: “The problem with Crain’s 2010 season is that it was book-ended by two brutal stints. From the start of the season (April 5th) until June 5th, Crain pitched 24.2 innings in 25 games, giving up 15 ER. In that period he had a 5.47 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Crain also ended the season with similarly awful numbers. From September 1st to October 1st, he pitched 11.2 innings in 11 games, giving up 7 ER, for an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.69. If you combine the bookends, you get 36.1 innings pitched in 28 games, a 5.45 ERA, and a 1.47 WHIP.”
Visit my site for more, but basically during the bookends he was throwing his fastball more often than his slider…something the Sox will need to closely monitor.

dalton

Good stuff. “I find your ideas interesting and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.”

buford

You need to segregate September and October:
September > Games/10 Innings/10.2 Earned Runs/3
October > Games/1 Innings/1 Earned Runs/4
Crain didn’t have a bad September 1st to October 1st. He just had a bad October 1st.

knoxfire30

This all in stuff is a hell of a lot of fun!
Crain is a solid and recently durable bullpen arm, he is a perfect addition to a pen that needed someone exactly like him. I hope the sox take on another bullpen arm maybe a lefty like Joe Biemel but wow what an offseason so far. Buy you ozzie plans now people, haha

dalton

I know! I’m geeked about this next season and I’m having a blast coming to this site everyday (Thanks, Jim!) and bantering with the other posters.
I went through a long stretch (years) where I didn’t follow the Sox as closely as I did growing up, but for the past few years, I would check the box scores every morning, read the recaps, and have found myself more immersed in my childhood love for this team than ever.
This blog feeds that love and joy, even if you Sabermetricians keep throwing the cold water of logic and reason onto my wild imagination and sense of loyalty to the Paulies and Buehrles and Pacioreks of Sox lore.

bigfun

I generally agree with this post, although I’m not sure that Crain is that much more of a known commodity than the so-called rebound candidates. Teams are letting the market beat them right now. There is no shortage of middle relievers in baseball and some smart teams are going to get guys for peanuts a month and a half from now.
That said, I asked my Twins fan friend last night what he thought and he seemed to think it was a pretty solid move:
If you asked me to guess what he’d make in October I would have predicted about 2yrs/11-12mm. Of all the relievers getting a 3 year deal this winter, he’s probably the most deserving. It just comes down to whether or not you think any reliever is worth a 3 year deal.
I don’t really like the overall philosophy of this offseason, but it has been internally consistent and they are looking like a very good team in 2011.

knoxfire30

Gotta love the fact that if this signing is a failure we can call it a Crainwreck…
yea i stole that from a minnesota board but i think its pretty funny

Shinons

Aw nuts, you beat me to the obligatory pun. I was going to make mine “Kenny’s insane in the Crainium.”

dalton

Sorry, but that Crainwreck has Dunn Saled.
OK. I’m finished now.

LS_SoX_FN

So, on aaron gleeman’s blog crain is referred to as a primary setup option for us. On hardball talk they say something like “he might even find himself closing”.
I have a hard time not taking such little digs personally. Is it just me, or are we drastically underestimating the talent we STILL have in our bullpen even after the loss of Putz and Jenks… I feel like if at any point this year, crain is our primary set up option or closer, something has gone seriously, seriously wrong.
2ndly, i understand people are hesitant about signing deals of these lengths for relievers. Perhaps im a kenny appologist, but we have seen what happens when you leave the bullpen to the kids. We KNOW what happens when there arent reliable vets at the back end to keep the ship from sinking with other people cant find the strike zone. I feel like this has been proven year in year out… YOU HAVE TO SPEND MONEY ON YOUR BULLPEN! or the rest of your money is wasted…

dalton

“YOU HAVE TO SPEND MONEY ON YOUR BULLPEN! or the rest of your money is wasted…”
Agreed!
If the bullpen hadn’t melted down like it did down the stretch, who knows? Sox might have won the pennant.

striker

You have to have a good bullpen or your money is wasted. Spending doesn’t guarantee success.

dalton

Of course not. “And past performance is not a guarantee of future success.” We had a good bullpen for the most part in 2010.

bigfun

Sure, as long as people remember that the bullpen isn’t on the same level as the starting pitching and the lineup (and it was the latter that mainly did in the 2010 pennant hopes).

bigfun

The problem is finding these “reliable” vets. Almost all relievers (all except the very best) experience significant fluctuation in their numbers year to year. It’s much harder to project than a starter or a position player.
Teams that scout and develop well, like the Rays, have good bullpens year in and year out, with both veterans and young guys. Teams that fall into the “reliable vets” trap end up with Linebrinks.

3oooooooo

Maybe there is some value in what Crain can provide to us in Twin strategy vs. Sox, pitch-calling, signals, etc. after being under the Gardenhire administration for seven years.

dalton

If for no other reason than the fact he won’t be mowing down our hitters anymore, he’s a benefit to us regarding the Twins.

rhubarb

Gardenhire has already taken that into account.

dalton

How so?

dalton

A-ha! Gardenhire is an evil genius.

djroomba

Im sick of this taking a player from one team to have the ace in the hole, and this goes for all sports.
Heavily overrated, Im just guessing the Twins will have our number as always, and then after they win 90 games, can bow out in the first round against the Yankees.
The Yankees who do not have an overwhelming bullpen.

dalton

Are you suggesting that some other guy will put on a Minnesota uniform and be magically transformed by the Twins logo across the front to become a bane to Sox hitters’ existence?
I’m sure KW didn’t look at the 156/.222/.278 line Jim noted above and think, “I sign this guy and all our worries against the Twins are over!”
And if the Twins win 90 games and the division, as you have guessed, then how many will Chicago win with our improved roster?

djroomba

I hate to be the barer of bad news, but would you rather have Nathan and Morneau or Dunn.
I ask this because without a beatdown from you guys on the cyber metrics, I don’t know if thats the heavy push needed. The Twins were banged up last year too.
Also, with Crain most likely closing games (and a scary fly ball rate) I still think the Sox are going to be playing second fiddle to the Twins.
Not to say they cannot do it, but I would bet the Twins take 90 over the Sox. Doesn’t mean barring injury that the Sox don’t have it, all we have in Dec. is paper.

dalton

Is Crain being brought in to close? He’s never been a closer. Thornton or Sale have to be considered closing options before Crain.
I agree that his flyball rate could present real trouble at the Cell. Especially with his purported ‘flat” fastball.
Morneau or Dunn? Is Morneau moving to DH? It’d Dunn/Konerko v. Morneau/Thome (or someone else).

striker

Relievers are hard to gauge because ERA generally doesn’t work in their favor. One bad outing (1IP 4ER) and 3 good outings (3IP 0ER) can still result in a 9.00 ERA.
In 2010 Crain pitched in 71 games. Here is the breakdown of games by ER.
0ER – 60
1ER – 4
2ER – 3
3ER – 3
4ER – 1
So 60/71 or 85% of the time he takes the mound he doesn’t surrender a run.
64/71 or 90% of the time he takes the mound he surrenders 1 ER or less.
From an innings perspective:
0ER Outing – 58IP
1ER Outing – 3.1IP
2ER Outing – 3.2IP
3ER Outing – 2IP
4ER Outing – 1IP
So 58/68IP or 85% of the innings pitched he doesn’t give up a run in that outing.
It’s like relief pitchers need the equivalent of the Quality Start. Scoreless Outing, and Scoreless Outing Percentage.
Or better yet, to gauge all pitchers come up with the % of innings they pitch and get scored upon.

dalton

Fantastic post. Excellent breakdown. How long before there becomes QRA (Quality Relief Appearance) becomes an official stat? Gotta be better than the Hold stat.

sars

there’s already leverage index, which, per hardballtimes:
“…is measure the relative importance of a given situation that a player performs in. Essentially, is the player performing in a critical situation that will affect the outcome of the game (e.x. 9th inning, 3-2 game) or a situation that doesn’t matter much (e.x. 9th inning, 10-1 game)?”

dalton

…and how did Mr. Crain do according to this statistic?
Twins fans are yukkin’ it up here over the Sox signing Crain: http://myespn.go.com/s/conversations/show/story/5924567

lorenzobandini

>>How long before there becomes QRA (Quality Relief Appearance) becomes an official stat?<<
As soon as Stats LLC finds a sponsor!
http://newyorklife.stats.com/fb/protection.asp?type=overall

striker

Over the past 3 years combined:
0ER – 146g/193g or 76%
1ER – 29/193 or 15%
2ER – 10/193 or 5%
3ER – 6/193 or 3%
4ER – 2/193 or 1%
Jenks:
0ER 125/164 76%
1ER 18/164 11%
2ER 15/164 9%
3ER 6/164 4%

dalton

And since often Jenks was closing, those runs given up could be considered more crucial or more damning. After all, a blown lead in the 7th is easier to overcome than one in the 9th, in terms of # of at bats left.

bigfun

Seems to me like these numbers would be more predicated on usage than performance.
I would think that Gardenhire probably had a quicker hook with Crain, who before this year wasn’t terribly reliable, so he would have had fewer earned runs (which are a bad way of measuring relievers anyway). Jenks, especially before this year, would have been left in longer, turning some of those 1ERs into 2ERs and 3ERs.

3oooooooo

And last season Crain’s inherited-runner score % (baserunners left by previous pitchers who scored and would not affect Crain’s ERA) was pretty good for a guy who was used in many high-leverage relief appearances. Crain’s IS% was 23%. For comparision, last year Putz was at 40%, Santos at 32%, Thornton at 13% (he is amazing). And now that we can laugh about it, Randy Williams was used almost primarily in low-leverage situations, yet he led the team in IS% at 59%. I’m guessing the starters did not treat Randy to any dinners.

bigfun

Dave “He’s just not” Cameron is quick to frown on this and similar signings.
I’m a little more optimistic than him because Crain, with his age and stuff, will probably be better than the average of that group, which includes some just plain terrible signings. But I think Cameron’s overall point is correct.

dalton

Every hitter and pitcher on the Twins is better at his job than every player on the White Sox. Unless he comes to play for Chicago. Then he’s overrated and doomed to fail.
Every transaction they make is wiser and more cost-effective than any transaction made by the White Sox. Unless the Sox get lucky.
Every managerial move made by Gardenhire is better than any move made by Guillen.
Twins’ GM eats at home, shops Costco, and drives an old Mazda pick-up. Kenny dines out every night on Kobe beef and creme brulee, lights cigars with $100 bills, and drives a different sports car every day.
I sure wish I was a Twins fan.

pdxsoxgirl

Bobby Jenks to Boston on a 2 year $12 million contract?!?!?! Didn’t see that coming, did any of you? Talk was the Rays were close to signing him.

dalton

Brilliant signing. I expect him to have a bounce back year and help Boston win the WS. I can’t believe KW didn’t re-sign him. What were we thinking?!?!?!?

bigfun

I don’t know if this post is sarcastic or not but yeah, he could definitely have a bounceback year. Its probably just necessary that he does it somewhere besides Chicago.

dalton

It was sarcastic. I had hoped he’d have a bounceback year… just in the NL. Man, I loathe Boston. Almost as much as the Twins. And those freaking Indians.

buford

“What were we thinking?!?!?!?”
We’re not going to re-sign him because he can’t stay healthy for an entire season evidenced by his 2010 medical problems:
Forearm (ulnar neuritis)
Back (15 day DL)
Calf (does this problem ever go away?)
And he turns 30 in a couple months and his weight will always be a concern.
Jenks can be effective but not from the trainer’s room.

dalton

I was kidding about the sarcasm. See my post earlier about wishing I was a Twins fan. I can see now that if Jenks pitches well this year, there will be someone on this site that will groan about how we should have resigned him.

dalton

I was kidding about the sarcasm? Huh? I meant, I was being sarcastic/kidding about “What were we thinking?”

lorenzobandini

I think it is great for Jenks and I am happy for him. He toiled for many years with below-market pay. I am glad to see he is getting a decent contract.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jenksbo01.shtml
He will make almost as much in two years with the Red Sox as he did in 5 years with the White Sox.

jmsdn58

Wood turns down 1 year 3.5 million with the Sox for 1 year 1.5 million with the Cubs?

dalton

Get outta here. What a fool. It’s not like he chose sunny San Diego, or a pitcher’s park over blustery Chicago, or that he wanted to keep his family close to home. He lives in Chicago. He just chose the worse Chicago team! I don’t get it.
Last week, someone commented that maybe Garland didn’t have the kind of competitiveness necessary to be a champion or a truly great pitcher because he signed for less money to play in LA or wherever. Maybe Wood is cut from the same satin?

buford

Wood wanted to go back to the organization that drafted him and with whom he spent the vast majority of his career. He also has a close relationship with Hendry.
And he spent tens of millions of Cub dollars while on the disabled list. So this time he gave them a discount.
I always thought Wood was a straight shooter. And I find his actions here admirable.

Shinons

+1 for satin.