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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Better Know a Red #11 - Brandon Claussen

In part 11 of our 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we profile the Reds 26 (for a few more days) year old left-handed starting pitcher, Brandon Claussen. Claussen was signed by the New York Yankees in the 34th round of the 1998 amateur draft out of Howard College, Texas. For a late-round pick, Claussen had surprising and immediate success, showing a staggering 7 k/bb rates in rookie, low-A, and A-ball his first year. He worked up the system quickly, and in 2001 was pitching brilliantly for AA-Norwich when arm trouble hit. He missed the 2002 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but went to AAA in 2003 and had good success there, albiet with much reduced walk rates.

The Cincinnati Reds acquired Claussen along with Charlie Manning for Aaron Boone in 2003 right after Jim Bowden's departure, a move that ultimately resulted in the New York Yankees winning the World Series. Claussen broke in with the Reds in 2004, and in 2005 he pitched his first full season with the big league club with decent success. This year he is considered our #3 starting pitcher, and as such the Reds are counting on him to pitch fairly deep into ballgames and keep the team in games.

For additional biographical information, please see Red Hot Mama's profile on Brandon Claussen in her Human League.

Historical Stats (Please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for explanations and definitions of the statistics used in this profile):
2003/NYY-A+ 22.0 10.6 1.2 0.00 0.286 1.64 1.25 3.05 2.9 --
2003/CIN-AAA 15.2 9.5 3.6 1.78 0.321 7.47 4.84 6.60 -3.7 ---
2003/NYY-AAA 68.2 5.1 2.4 0.53 0.228 2.75 3.61 4.62 8 --
2003/NYY 6.1 7.4 1.5 1.48 0.345 1.42 4.18 --- --- ---
2004/CIN-AAA 100.1 10.0 4.2 0.90 0.317 4.66 3.69 4.78 4 --
2004/CIN 66.0 6.1 4.8 1.23 0.317 6.14 5.20 5.19 -8.9 42%
2005/CIN 166.2 6.6 3.1 1.30 0.290 4.21 4.65 4.85 14.9 36%
For some reason, it seems to me like Claussen has been around forever, but last year was his first full year in the major leagues. The difference between his ERA and his FIP & PERA indicates that he was a bit lucky, though his BABIP was not unusually low. In the minor leagues, Brandon Claussen has always been a strikeout pitcher. Even as recently as 2004, he posted 10 k/9 inning numbers in AAA. Unfortunately, he hasn't reached anywhere near those numbers in the major leagues. His walk rates have been inconsistent, particularly since his surgery, but he has shown that he is capable of displaying good control in the minors and did get his walks under control last year with teh Reds.

His HR-allowed rate is a recent phenomenon, and seems to correlate well with his time in the major leagues. Claussen is a fairly extreme flyball pitcher; 36% of all balls hit into play off him last year were hit into air. The reason for the increased HR-allowed probably has a lot to do with the ability of major league players to hit for power and less to do with some sort of change in Claussen's pitching strategy, though I haven't seen this addressed anywhere. By and large, however, one has to declare his 2005 campaign a success and hope for further improvements this season by the still-young southpaw.

'03-'05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 48 7.7 3.7 2.06 0.294 5.61 5.90
vs. Right 184 6.2 3.5 1.07 0.300 4.54 4.64
Home 127 6.8 3.5 1.34 0.294 4.60 4.93
Away 110 6.1 3.5 1.22 0.306 4.81 4.89
As with all players with limited major league experience, these splits should be treated with little more than a grain of salt. In terms of innings, they are dominated by the 2005 season. Nevertheless, Claussen was roughed up so badly the year before that the 2004 season is more influential than you'd otherwise expect. Since we're dealing with a limited sample, I'll treat these numbers as an indication of how he has performed, rather than an indication of his tendencies. Even so, these data are interesting.

First of all, the left-handed Claussen has performed better against right-handed batters. While he has struck out lefties at a higher rate, they have hit an absurd number of home runs off of him--11 homers in ~50 innings against lefties, vs. 22 homers in ~150 innings against righties. I don't expect this trend to continue, but I think it is reasonable to suspect that Claussen enjoys no particular lefty/righty advantage.

Overall, Claussen has pitched about equally well at home and away. However, looking at his individual year splits tells a different story. In '04, he pitched quite well at home (3.96 ERA), but was miserable in away-games (8.80 ERA). In '05, it was just the opposite. He struggled at home (4.81 ERA), but was very effective on the road (3.48). Given his tendencies as a fly ball pitcher, he is a poor fit for GABP, which allows an above-average number of home runs. Therefore, I would expect to see him continue to perform better on the road in this and coming years. Nevertheless, I strongly hope that he can improve his performance at home to be the consistent guy in the middle of the rotation that we all hope he can become.

PECOTA75 179.7 6.5 3.0 1.20 0.286 4.14 4.49 4.58 23.7 39%
PECOTA 171.3 6.4 3.2 1.31 0.294 4.70 4.72 5.04 11.5 40%
PECOTA25 154.7 6.3 3.4 1.45 0.305 5.43 5.02 5.64 -3.1 40%
ZiPS 156.0 7.1 3.5 1.21 0.289 4.85 4.55 --- --- ---
Despite his relative youth, the projections are not forcasting much of an improvement for Claussen this year. None project any real improvement in his peripheral stats, and this translates into a predicted performance much like that of last best. I am not sure what Claussen did to strike out so many batters in AAA, and I realize that AAA-strikeouts do not always translate into strikeouts for the better MLB hitters. Nevertheless, he has struck men out at high rates at every level except the big leagues. If he can recapture some of that magic and get his strikeout rate up in the 8k/9 inning range, all of the sudden we are looking at projected FIP's in the low-4's. The Reds really need that sort of performance out of him over the next few years.

Baseball Archive, The
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Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
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CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Hardball Times '06 Annual