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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Better Know a Red #3 - Dave Williams

This is part 3 of our ongoing 25-part series, Better Know a Red. Each post in this series features an in depth(ish) look at a different player from the Cincinnati Reds active roster. Explanations of the various statistics used in this series can be found on my Baseball Statistics Quicksheet. You can find links to that article, as well as all posts in the B.K.R. series in the right-hand sidebar.

This post also marks a new collaboration between the BKR series and fellow Reds blogger Red Hot Mama's Human League series. The Human League endeavors to take a "human" approach to featuring the players, providing a glimpse into the lives and characters that make up the Cincinnati Reds. We plan to coordinate our releases for players moving forward, and to provide reciprocal links. It should be a great complement to the BKR series, which is a primarily intended to be an objective stat-based look at past player performance and future projections.

Today we turn our attention to 27-year old lefthander Dave Williams (click on his name to access his Human League page). The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Williams in the 17th round of the 1998 amateur draft out of Delaware Technical & Community College. The then-19 year old steadily progressed through the Pirates' organization and made his MLB debut for the '01 Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was reasonably successful as a starting pitcher. He seemed to lose his control the following year, however, and was sent down to AAA until 2004, when he returned as a late-season call up. In '05, he was moderately effective out of the back end of the Pittsburgh rotation. The Reds acquired Williams on December 6, 2005 in a trade for media favorite Sean Casey. They expect him to contribute out of the rotation this year.

Historical Stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/PIT-AAA 77.1 6.5 3.5 0.82 0.288 4.19 4.09 5.57 -2.7 --
2004/PIT-AAA 116.2 8.0 2.6 0.77 0.295 3.47 3.40 4.47 13.4 --
2004/PIT 38.2 7.8 3.1 0.94 0.249 4.42 3.85 4.26 2.7 56%
2005/PIT 138.2 5.7 3.8 1.30 0.264 4.41 5.07 5.32 12.6 40%
Unfortunately, not very inspiring numbers last year. While his ERA looked acceptable, it appears to have been helped a bit by luck: his BABIP was a fairly low 0.264. His strikeout rate was below average, his walk rates above average, his HR rates were well above average. The result of all this are an FIP and a PERA (peripheral-based ERA-equivalents) that were unacceptably high. His excellent '04 AAA-numbers hint that all of those peripherals might improve, and quite frankly they must for him to be effective this year. High HR-rates as well as a fairly low ground ball percentage do not forecast a lot of success in GABP this year. Nevertheless, if he can extend his '04 MLB numbers for an entire season this year, Williams could be solid help.

'04-'05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 34 7.4 3.7 2.11 0.287 7.63 6.18
vs. Right 142 5.9 3.6 1.01 0.255 3.67 4.70
Home 86 6.9 3.1 1.67 0.293 5.63 5.40
Away 90 5.5 4.1 0.80 0.229 3.30 4.60
As with Coffey, I'll stress that I like to have multiple seasons worth of data when evaluating splits. Here, we essentially only have one full season, so this really should be taken as just an indication of what he has done thus far rather than a predictor of what we can expect from him. Nevertheless, these numbers are a bit alarming. As a soft-tossing lefty, you at least hope he will be effective against lefthanders. While his k-rates against them were good, he seems to also have made a lot of mistakes; lefthanders hit 7 home runs against him last year in the equivalent of only 25 innings of work. Given the effect this had on his FIP, I am hopeful that this was just an aberration, and that he can at least get his vs. lefty numbers in line with his righty numbers this season.

It is also worth nothing that Williams has been better away from PNC park than at home. A big part of the dramatic ERA difference was the miniscule BABIP he had the good fortune to receive on the road last year, but he also allowed homers at twice the rate at home than away. This is a bit surprising given that HR park factor at PNC is low: 95. I think we're seeing small sample size issues here.

Projections:
Year/Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
PECOTA75 165.0 6.1 3.2 1.20 0.282 4.25 4.63 4.67 19.4 42%
PECOTA 151.0 6.0 3.4 1.31 0.294 4.93 4.89 5.26 6.0 43%
PECOTA25 133.3 5.9 3.7 1.49 0.307 5.74 5.26 5.96 -7.9 43%
ZiPS 131.0 6.6 4.2 1.44 0.283 5.50 5.22 --- --- ---
The projections are not particularly kind to Williams. We may see a slight increase in his strikeout and walk rates, but the projection engines don't predict much improvement in his HR rates. This is at least in part due to the fact that he'll be facing half of his hitters in the HR-prone GABP. As always, projections are just projections, and this certainly does not mean that he won't be a reasonably effective starter for us (see PECOTA75 for a good-case scenario)--he is only 27 after all. Hopefully he'll surprise us. But we should also be prepared for the possibility that he will falter this year, perhaps badly. In the long term, he may best serve the Reds as a lefthander out of the bullpen to replace guys like Mercker and Hammond when they move on or retire. Pitchers' peripherals do tend to improve when they move from starters to bullpen guys. In order to be valuable in that role, however, he'll need to show improvement vs. lefties.

Based on this evaluation of Williams, how would I evaluate the Sean Casey trade? Unfortunately, I can't give it high marks. I was fine with trading Casey, as he was a bit overpriced for his production and we desperately needed pitching. But Williams doesn't look to be much of a return for a guy with a lifetime 0.371 OBP. The Williams trade happened fairly early in the offseason, didn't do much to improve the ballclub, and hurt our flexibility to make additional moves. It looks as though it would have been better to hold onto Casey and focus on a dealing someone else who could bring a better pitcher...perhaps a Wily Mo for Bronson Arroyo-type of deal. To me, this offseason's lack of a deal for a quality pitcher was Dan O'Brien's biggest failure and really demanded his dismissal.

References
The Baseball Cube
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Hardball Times '06 Annual
Wikipedia