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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Santos out, Stone in

Via Josh Katzowitz, via Shun, the Reds announced today that they designated Victor Santos of assignment. He will be replaced by 32-year old RHP Ricky Stone. My response was, "Stone? I didn't know he was pitching for Louisville." Stone, a local kid (can I call someone a kid when they're older than me?) who was born in Hamilton, pitched for the Reds in 2005. But I hadn't heard heads or tails from him since his departure that year. Apparently, he spent last season working in the family business and hanging drywall. He managed to walk on to Louisville's roster this year, and now has the good fortune of playing again for his home town team. Good for him--let's get re-acquainted:

Ricky Stone was a 4th-round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1994 amateur draft right out of Hamilton High School. Among other players drafted in his round was a right-handed pitcher named Daniel Peter Graves out of the University of Miami, drafted three slots ahead of Stone by the Cleveland Indians.

Stone made his pro debut in the Pioneer league at 19 years old, which is pretty impressive for a prep selection (at least, these days it would be), and he held his own as he split time between starting and relief. He didn't exactly skyrocket through the minors, but reached AAA-Albuquerque by age 23. Unfortunately, he would languish there, not putting up particularly good numbers in the desert highlands (runs park factor there is a completely absurd 1.30--by comparison, Coors' Field is 1.12), and eventually left as a 6-year minor league free agent following the 2000 season.

The Astros signed him, and after putting up solid numbers for AAA-New Orleans, Stone finally made his pro debut in 2001 at age 26. He would go on to post two very solid seasons in the Astros' bullpen from 2002-2003 before struggling in 2004 with Houston and San Diego. The Reds signed him prior to the 2004 season and gave him a shot, but he did not pitch well.

Recent Stats:
Team Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP R/9 ERA FIP
2002/HOU 27 77.3 7.3 4.0 1.05 0.290 4.19 3.61 4.40
2003/HOU 28 83.0 5.1 3.4 1.19 0.243 3.90 3.69 4.91
2004/HOU-AAA 29 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.00 0.250 4.50 4.50 3.20
2004/SDN-AAA 29 5.3 3.4 3.4 3.40 0.335 8.49 3.38 8.48
2004/HOU 29 19.0 7.6 3.3 2.37 0.339 5.68 5.68 6.04
2004/SDN 29 32.7 6.1 2.5 1.65 0.309 7.43 6.89 5.07
2005/CIN-AAA 30 14.0 9.6 1.9 0.00 0.270 2.57 2.57 1.70
2005/STL-AAA 30 16.3 8.8 1.1 0.00 0.267 2.76 1.65 1.60
2005/CIN 30 30.7 4.4 2.1 2.35 0.342 7.04 6.75 6.29
2007/CIN-AAA 32 42.3 5.7 1.5 0.64 0.187 1.91 1.70 3.34
I included Stone's good seasons in Houston for reference. Unfortunately, looking at his peripherals and DIPS, indications are that Stone was probably a bit lucky to perform at the levels he did those years, particularly in 2003. His FIP was in the mid to high 4's both years, and his BABIP was a very lucky 0.243 in '03. That finally caught up with him in '04, especially when his HR/9 rate skyrocketed to absurdity.

Looking at these five seasons worth of data, the picture that emerges is that of a pitcher who has seen his strikeout rate and his walk rate steadily decline since his peak at age 27. This season, returning from whatever he was doing last year, Stone's peripherals have continued in this direction. He has shown amazing control and has kept the ball in the park to a degree not seen since before his big league debut. But he has also shown a rather low strikeout rate, which is bound to get worse against big league hitters. How has he produced his 1.70 ERA? His BABIP is 0.187. Now, Louisville may be playing some great defense. And it is true that pitchers can have an effect on BABIP, especially when they are dominating the way a big league veteran might versus AAA hitters. But a sub-0.200 BABIP screams of tremendous good fortune, and is unlikely to be repeatable against major league hitters. In short, while I love the fact that a local guy is pitching for the Reds, and while I will absolutely root for him to succeed, I wouldn't expect much from Stone. The best we can probably hope for is a pitching line similar to his 2003 season, when he posted a 4.91 FIP.

Ultimately, Stone's promotion indicates a few things to me. First, Kirk Saarloos and Gary Majewski have fallen pretty far down the Reds' depth list to be passed over by Stone. And second, the Reds' front office probably doesn't understand defense-independent pitching statistics.

On Victor Santos

Before I close, a few words about Santos. In my piece on the Reds written for The Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview, I wrote that "Stanton, Saarloos, or Santos could help stabilize the pitching staff." For a time, it seemed as though Santos would do just that. His final numbers, unfortunately, did not show the improvement I thought they might with his conversion this year from a starter to a reliever, primarily because his walk rate soared even as his strikeout rate surged to the highest of his career. In that way, Stone is probably going to be a mirror-image of what Santos did for the Reds. Low walk rate, but also very low strikeout rate. Perhaps less frustrating to watch, but not necessarily better.

Santos's final numbers as a Red, assuming he does not accept a demotion to Louisville or clear waivers: 5.06 ERA, 7.2 k/9, 4.3 bb/9, 1.4 hr/9, 4.83 FIP. Good luck to him--hopefully he can catch on somewhere else and continue his career.