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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cormier DFA'd, Brad Salmon promoted from AAA

Today, the Reds designated veteran LHP Rheal Cormier for assignment and promoted RHP Brad Salmon from AAA to replace him in the bullpen.

I'm going to make a separate post about Salmon tomorrow, because before I get to him I feel compelled to bitch for a moment about Cormier. The Reds acquired Cormier from the Phillies in exchange for RHP Justin Germano. Germano, who came to the Reds in the excellent Joe Randa trade of '05, was a starting pitching prospect with an admittedly average ceiling, but nonetheless a guy who could make a legitimate bid for the #4 rotation slot starting this season (and he is still just 24). Certainly not an untouchable, but far from a throw-away player.

Cormier, on the other hand, was a veteran left-hander with a sparkly 1.59 ERA. But in my evaluation of that transaction, I noted the following concerns:
  • He was 39 years old.
  • His strikeout rate had been dropping (irregularly) since 2003, and was, at that point, down to woeful 3.4 k/9 in 34 innings.
  • His walk rate had very steadily increased since 2003, and was currently a worse-than-average 3.4 bb/9. That made for a 1:1 k:bb ratio, which is awful.
  • His BABIP on the season was an incredibly lucky 0.219, which was the primary reason his ERA was so low. FIP predicted it to be 4.35.
  • (in the comments) The hype about his ability to get right-handers out was more hype than reality. His 3-year average split for lefties (7.0 k/9, 3.3 bb/9, 0.62 hr/9, 3.90 FIP) was better than his split for righties (5.2 k/9, 2.7 bb/9, 0.90 hr/9, 4.31 FIP).
Given this all this, I wrote:
But from my vantage point, his numbers clearly indicate that the 39-year old is about to implode. He might be better than Brian Shackelford this year, but I'd happily take Shackelford over Cormier next season. This extension nonsense doesn't make any sense to me.
The result? Just 17 IP in 27 games this and last season for the Reds, allowing 10 runs (5.29 ERA). Today, John Fay wrote:
The deal will go down as one of Wayne Krivsky's worst. I can't blame him for the making the trade. Cormier had a 1.59 for Philly when the Reds acquired. You can chalk up the fact that he didn't pitch well for Reds -- 0-1, 4.50 ERA -- to bad luck.
Can't blame him for making the trade? Look, I'm just a 29-year old guy with an internet connection and a basic understanding of baseball statistics. I have no formal training of any sort in player performance analysis, have no ability to evaluate talent in any other way (I can barely tell one pitch from another when I watch games), and played only one season of little league ball (8th grade -- and I SUUUCKED). Heck, I don't even watch more than 10-15 regular season games a year, and only attend three or four. I'm hardly an expert.

So if it was this obvious to me that Cormier's pitching skill had declined severely last season, why wasn't it also obvious to the Reds? Yes, I fully acknowledge that numbers don't always tell the whole story. This is especially the case with young players, where playing time and competitive level are not always consistent, and players can still make big jumps in their development in a short period of time. A knowledgeable scout can see things in a player that the numbers just don't pick up (see, for example, my massive underestimates of guys like Phillips & Ross last year). But when you're dealing with a guy with a long track record like Cormier, and the numbers are this clear on his decline--and this was as obvious a case of a fluke season as you can get (see also Mays, Joe 2001 and Franklin, Ryan 2003)--you absolutely have to pay attention to them.

Krivsky didn't.

(btw, the fact that I just let myself play "I told you so" in such over-the-top, borderline arrogant fashion means that I am hereby also requiring myself to fess up in similarly grandiose fashion to at least two substantial misses in judgment by the season's end. Hopefully they will be misses in the same direction as Phillips and Ross...Matt Belisle is a leading early candidate, though I'm not sure I've stuck out my foot and voiced my skepticism about him very well yet).

Photo by AP/David Kohl