Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Aaron Rowand Deal? 

Recently the Phillies and Padres discussed the possibility of sending reliever Scott Linebrink to the Phillies in exchange for center fielder Aaron Rowand. I’m mildly skeptical that the deal will actually happen – the Padres have apparently decided to table talks until Spring Training – but if it did the Phillies would solve some problems and create others for themselves. Here are a few thoughts on what the deal could do and why it probably won’t happen …

What the Padres are looking for is … outfield help. The Padres could definitely use help in their outfield, which is built around slow-footed slugger Russ Branyan in left, the aging Brian Giles in right and the equally aging Mike Cameron in center. The Padres would love to move Branyan to the bench and shift Rowand, a talented defender, into the mix in center field. The move would give the Padres a solid outfield and improve what is already a major strength for the Pads: defense. Last season the Padres led the majors in Plus / Minus, the stat from The Fielding Bible’s John Dewan tracking how teams and individuals play defense, but ranked twenty-eighth in holding runners and keeping them from advancing. Rowand’s enthusiasm and skill in the outfield would be a major help.

Incidentially, I think it is a testament to the Padres Sandy Alderson’s skill as a General Manager that he made the savvy decision to bring Cameron, a fairly unheralded player, in from the Mets. Cameron is a top-notch defender and a solid bat who has never gotten his due. Alderson’s decision shows what a sharp mind he has…Alderson, you might recall from Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, was the man who introduced Billy Beane to Bill James work.

The problem the Padres might have with Rowand is … those who read Moneyball know what a high premium sabremetricans put on the ability to draw walks, something Aaron Rowand is not capable of doing. Rowand is a tough, hard-nosed player and nobody doubts his courage or skill, but his aggressive nature at the plate leaves something to be desired. His career-high in walks is a mere 32 in 2005, when he struck out 116 times. Rowand doesn’t really compensate by bringing much power to the plate either, hitting just 12 home runs in 405 At-Bats in 2006.

The Padres are not an offensive powerhouse, so I am not sure they are willing to trade-off Rowand’s prowess with the glove for Branyan, a player who hit six home runs for the Padres in 72 At-Bats after being rescued from the Devil Rays.

The Benefit to the Phillies acquiring Linebrick is … If you haven’t noticed, there has been a lot of talk about the weakness of the Phillies bullpen this offseason. This is hardly new – there was lots of “the bullpen is in trouble” talk that turned out to be dead-wrong last season – but the ‘pen is a cause for concern. Linebrick would be a major asset. Linebrick has excellent stats and would definitely be able to help Tom Gordon and Ryan Madson. In 2006 he was 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA. His Fielding Independent Pitching ERA was just 3.76, which was very good.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

Linebrick did a nice job preventing home runs and walks and getting strikeouts:

HR/9: 1.07
BB/9: 2.62
K/9: 8.09

Naturally, those low home run totals might be Petco Park - influenced, but Linebrick has done well with the walks and strikeouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio the last three years has been impressive:

2004: 3.19
2005: 3.04
2006: 3.09

Linebrick was probably the best middle reliever in the National League in 2006 and adding him to the Phillies bullpen would be a major victory for the team. However …

The problem the Phillies might have with dealing Aaron Rowand is … Imagine the Phillies going into the 2007 campaign with an infield consisting of Pat Burrell, who is probably over-due for a major injury; Shane Victorino, a talented defensive outfielder who doesn’t have much of a plate presence; and Jayson Werth, a player who didn’t even play any games last season and has a career total of 231 games played between 2002-2006. If that wouldn’t be the weakest outfield in the majors, then I don’t know who has it. The scary thing would be imagining if Burrell went down with an injury. How does Victorino, Werth and Chris Roberson as an outfield grab you?

That said, I’d be surprised if the Padres elected to part with Linebrick, but I am not so sure the Phillies would be that much better off if they made the deal. Rowand isn’t a force at the plate, but the Phillies need him healthy and they need someone in the center field spot to run down flies and get some outs. If the Phillies has a post-Rowand game plan, I’d be more enthusiastic, but that is where we stand.

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