Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Runaway Crain (Never Coming Back?)

Twins fans are growing increasingly frustrated with Jesse Crain. The right-hander has been abysmal this season, owning a ghastly 7.31 ERA and 1.56 WHIP through 16 appearances. Seemingly every time he's taken the hill for the Twins this season, Crain has seen his straight fastballs laced into the outfield gaps or over the fences. He's a mess.

This is, of course, not the first time we've seen these types of early struggles from Crain. Last year on this date, his ERA stood at 8.25 and his WHIP at 1.58. Crain continued to pitch poorly into June, and midway through that month he found himself demoted to Triple-A with a bloated ERA and nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (13).

As most are probably aware, Crain's minor-league stint did him some good and he returned to the Twins as a different pitcher in July, posting a 2.91 EA and 30-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 34 innings after returning. After being knocked around with consistency early in the year, Crain rattled off 17 consecutive scoreless appearances during one stretch in August and September.

The strong showing down the stretch was enough to convince the Twins that Crain was worth bringing back at a relatively expensive $2 million price tag. Now, the righty is struggling early again. Opponents are hitting .303/.352/.576 against him. He's yielded three homers and nine doubles in 16 innings. Recently, things have only looked worse; over his past four appearances he has allowed five runs on six hits (two homers) while walking two and striking out only one of the 14 batters he's faced.

Quite frankly, Crain appears to have no business being in the big leagues. While his velocity is fine -- Crain's fastball is averaging 94.3 miles per hour, which is where it's been for the past several years -- the lack of movement on his pitches is allowing opposing hitters to elevate the ball and drive it with authority.

The Twins have stated that they'd like Crain to start putting more sink on his pitches and they seem to have a point, as only 30.2 percent of batted balls against him are going on the ground (his previous career low in this category was 40.6 percent) while 50.9 percent are getting hit in the air (previous career high was 42.2 percent).

The Twins made a significant investment in Crain during the offseason and there's no doubt that he has the raw stuff to succeed as a big-leaguer. But sending him to the minor leagues to get straight isn't an option this year, and as the numbers listed above indicate, there's no reason to think he's on the road to significant improvement.

The Twins' recent promotion of Jeff Manship to the big-league roster gives the Twins 13 pitchers, an ominous sign for the struggling Crain. When J.J. Hardy is ready to come off the disabled list this weekend, we may see the righty reliever designated for assignment, with numerous right-handed options existing in Triple-A.

Right now, Crain looks to be headed the wrong way on a one-way track. It might be too late to get turned around.


Steven K. said...

He's actually had a bit of bad luck; his FIP is more than two runs lower than his ERA. His strikeout and walk rates are both better than his career norms, and he's been getting unlucky with his HR/FB rate (xFIP).

He's been bad this year, yes, but there are signs that point to him being able to turn the corner.

Nick N. said...

When you let opposing hitters put the ball in the air as much as Crain does, I hardly consider it "unlucky" that he's given up as many extra-base hits as he has.

Sure, he'll probably turn it around eventually, but the Twins don't really have the luxury to sit around and wait for him to pull it together when they have clearly superior options available in Triple-A.

Frankly, I'm tired of Crain. It is unacceptable for a reliever being paid this much to be this terrible for half of every season. Even if his luck evened out and he started pitching to his xFIP (which is 4.83), I wouldn't want him in this bullpen.

Travis said...

Even given his late turn around last year, I was very surprised to see the Twins keep him around in the off-season. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt every time he takes the mount thinking that this will be the turning point, but he keeps letting me down.

I did some research on FanGraphs and I thought it very interesting that his best year was 2006 (1.2 WAR) followed by 2008 (0.5 WAR) and 2009 (0.4 WAR).

In 2006 he thew his fastball 67.6% of the time, 2008 was a bit down at 61.5% of the time and 2009 he was at 61.8% of the time. This year? He's at 54.5% (easily his career low) which I can only guess is a reaction to how hard he's been hit.

Oddly enough though he's gone to his slider more often this year (35.2% of the time compared to 25.5% in 2006, 26.3% in 2008, and 21.9% in 2009). This shouldn't come as a surprise though as his slider has easily been his most effective pitch at the major league level.

Some other odd things I found - His clutch numbers in regards to WPA are actually better this year (0.13) than his best seasons (-1.07, -0.7, -0.99) which surprised me. So in regards to that stat, he's actually pitched better in clutch situations than his career would indicate.

To sum up, Crain has never been a very good reliever and he continues to not be one. He really doesn't have a place on this team and to be honest I would be indifferent to see him go.

Karl said...

Crain's struggles are symptomatic of a larger concern.

Besides Rauch, Guerrier and of all people Brian Duensing - the Twins bullpen is not the percieved strength we all thought it would be.

Rauch, Guerrier and Duensing are the 3 guys I trust coming out of the pen so far this season. They have a combined 1.91 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP over 47 innings.

Crain, Burnett, Mahay and Mijares are combining for a 4.56 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP over 53.1 innings.

If you average the two groups out - it seems the Twins pen is doing fine. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Half the time they are getting elite performance and half the time they are getting replacement level performance.

Basically half the time the Twins pen is making it very difficult to stay in games.

Nick N. said...

Besides Rauch, Guerrier and of all people Brian Duensing - the Twins bullpen is not the percieved strength we all thought it would be.

The Twins entered yesterday's play with the second-best bullpen ERA in the AL. I'd say it's been a strength.

Karl said...

Nick -

My argument is not with the bullpen in general. Obvious rudimentary stat analysis tells us in comparison to AL teams - the Twins pen on average is doing well.

The argument is when we trot out anyone but Rauch, Guerrier and Duensing we are getting replacement level performance - about half the total pen innings so far.

It is convinient to say as a whole the Twins pen is doing fine.

A similar lump statement can be made that the Twins C, 1B and 3B combo are leading the AL in batting average for all C, 1B and 3B combos. Does that mean that Nick Punto/Brendan Harris are performing at an elite level because of the company they keep?

SoCaltwinsfan said...

Karl -

You could also say besides Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer, the offense hasn't been the perceived strength we thought it would be. Or besides Liriano, Pavano and Baker, the Twins rotation isn't the perceived strength we thought it would be. You take away the top three of any group, and suddenly they don't look so good. Who exactly has performed poorly in the bullpen for the Twins other than Crain? Mijares has a 4.26 ERA, but he's only pitched six innings. Mahay has struck out 13 batters in 11 innings. Burnett has struck out 19 batters in 19 innings and has a ERA near 3.00. Neshek only pitched 4 1/3 innings, but he only allowed four base runners.

Ryan said...

Karl -

You argue that grouping players together in a statistical analysis makes bad players look better, Punto in your example of 1B, C, and 3B. The same can be said when you group solid pitchers in with bad ones.

You like to mention the combined stats of Crain, Burnett, Mahay and Mijares. But if you just look at the stats of Burnett and Mahay they have an ERA of 3.25, which is very respectable. By grouping them in with Crain and Mijares you make them sound like they are having bad seasons.

You are guilty of the same statistical fallacy as you accuse Nick of when he says the bullpen has been good as a whole.

That being said, Crain has been total garbage.

Nick N. said...

The argument is when we trot out anyone but Rauch, Guerrier and Duensing we are getting replacement level performance - about half the total pen innings so far.

Plenty of teams don't have a top three as reliable as that trio. Similarly, few teams have a guy at the bottom of their bullpen who has been as effective as Alex Burnett. Mahay has been pitching very well in general and Neshek/Mijares have been dealing with injuries. Overall, I wouldn't say bullpen depth is an issue for this team. If you're expecting reliable arms 1-through-7 in the 'pen, your expectations are too high. Crain has been the only real disappointment among Twins relievers up to this point.

Karl said...

Nick, Ryan, SoCal

Valid points - well stated.

I guess my only intent was to say simply this:

At this point in the season I really only trust Rauch, Guerrier and Duensing. Everyone else scares me to death.

It is hard to quantify this in a "Sabr Friendly" forum such as this without painting certain instances with broad strokes.

None the less - yes Crain has stunk. Good feedback, this being my first comment here - after a long time lurking. I enjoy the back and forth.

Dave said...

Runaway Crain; what a great piece of writing!! Tying in a local band makes it even better, that is pure gold. I am replacing my current name for Crain (the CrainWreck, previously known as blow the game Crain) with Runaway Crain. Hope you don't mind my thievery...

What boggles the mind is why this organization continues to claim that Slama isn't ready while trotting out Crain day after day. Really? How many games must Crain flush down the drain, before he is forever banned?

Travis said...

I honestly don't see them making a change until they get a wake-up call. Maybe the day that Detroit takes over first? Although it will be interesting to see who they send down when Hardy comes off the DL. They are carrying 13 pitchers currently and I don't see that continuing even into this weekend.

Nick N. said...

Good feedback, this being my first comment here - after a long time lurking. I enjoy the back and forth.

It was a good comment. Your input is valued, I hope you'll keep chiming in.

Tying in a local band makes it even better, that is pure gold.

I was waiting for someone to comment on the (entirely too forced) Soul Asylum reference!!

Aaron K said...

Bottom line is that Anthony Slama deserves a shot at Crain's spot in the bullpen.

B Dubz said...

What's the difference between Jesse Crain and Juan Morillo, the fireballing, no-control reliever we picked up last year on waivers and was ultimately released?

Exactly. Nothing, except we're paying Crain $2 million!

Still can't we lost Breslow on waivers in getting Morillo. Bill Smith fail!

Anonymous said...

It is funny that people still call him Jesse Crain around here. I started calling him Juan Rincon a while back and it is easier that way for me.

Nicholas said...

I agree with Nick N, When you look at players such as, Slamma who will be amazingly good when they get experience in the majors I think its time to let Crain go and try out a player who couldn't do any worse then Crain.

Anonymous said...

Crainwreck pitched two good innings against the Brewers over the weekend and earned the win on Sat.

Both innings were pressure situations. Maybe a sign things are turning around.