January 18, 2012 at 12:02 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
So in the last 24 hours the Braves reached agreements with the last of their arb eligible players; Eric O’Flaherty, Jair Jurrjens and Michael Bourn. Ben gave the relevant details in a brief posting earlier today here.
Bourn’s agreement is completely uninteresting and pretty much exactly what was expected. Sure, it’s a discount, but in the same way almost all great defensive players have their value discounted in arbitration.
Jurrjens’ figure was about what was to be expected as well. However, it is interesting that his agreement included IP bonuses. I’m sure this has happened before, but I honestly can’t recall another arbitration eligible player getting IP bonuses. This indicates that the Braves are concerned with Jurrjens’ durability coming off his knee injury. You have to believe that Boras was asking for more than the $5.5 Mill base that the Braves ended up giving him, and talked him into a discounted base rate with the bonuses to cover the difference, provided Jurrjens is healthy. However, I wouldn’t read too much into it one way or the other, and I would say it has little to no bearing on whether or not Jurrjens will be traded.
On the surface O’Flaherty’s raise, though substantial, seems relatively ordinary as well. Sure, it was a big jump (last year he made $895K), but EOF did put up insanely good numbers last year. Though that 389 ERA+ that Baseball Reference has him down for can’t actually be correct, can it? So in some sense, sure, he deserves his raise.
However, you don’t pay for past performance and deserves ain’t got nothing to do with it, you pay for current performance. And I’m not 100% sold that EOF will be worth the $2.49 Mill he’ll receive this year. This worry is based on 4 prongs:
First, I think it’s undeniable that O’Flaherty got lucky last year. He did put up excellent peripherals, but a 3.19 K/BB rate with a .2 HR/9 rate, while outstanding, don’t often equate to a 0.98 ERA. Such numbers, even for a groundball pitcher, will usually equate to somewhere around a 2.40 ERA. In my opinion, if O’Flaherty pitches exactly like he did last year, a 2.40 ERA is about the number we should expect.
Secondly, I don’t know that we can or should expect O’Flaherty to pitch as well as he did last year. In the point above, I was saying that given how he pitched O’Flaherty had better results than could rightly be expected. Here I’m saying that we shouldn’t expect him to pitch the same way. O’Flaherty lowered his batting average allowed, lowered his slugging percentage allowed, lowered his walk rate, raised his K rate and lowered his homeruns allowed rate. Basically everything a pitcher can do on his own to improve, O’Flaherty did last year. Not all of that can be sustainable. Sure, he probably made some real, sustainable improvements, but it’s also likely that he never ran into a rough stretch and managed to pitch as well as he possibly could, for virtually the entire year. That can’t be expected from relievers on a year to year basis. There is just too much volatility when you pitch 1 inning at a time. So, I expect EOF’s peripherals to also regress, not just his results.
Thirdly, our infield defense projects to be worse this year. The only change is from Alex Gonzalez to Pastornicky. Now, I’ve seen the kid play, and he’s a good defensive shortstop, defensively he’s certainly at a ML level. But he’s no Alex Gonzalez, few are. Even if Pastornicky keeps his head about him and plays as well as he possibly can defensively, we will take a step back at the most important infield defensive position. Furthermore, Chipper and Uggla will continue to lose range. Our 2nd base and 3rd base defense will almost certainly be, combined, the worst in MLB. So, we’ve gotten worse at 3 of the 4 infield positions. Two because of aging, one because of personnel change. Freeman should be the same slightly below average guy he was last year. Decent enough hands, but poor range. Best case scenario, the Braves are average at SS, well below average at 3rd, way below average at 2nd and below average at 1st. This doesn’t bode well for O’Flaherty, who isn’t a huge K guy and depends on a lot of double plays.
Finally, the presence of Venters and Kimbrel limit the amount of high leverage situations that O’Flaherty can appear in. While this certainly isn’t O’Flaherty’s fault, it does lower his value to the Braves. If O’Flaherty was the 8th inning guy or even the closer, he’d face higher leverage situations, making his performance worth even more. However, he’s not and the whole reason relievers are valuable is because late inning high leverage situations are worth more than earlier inning lower leverage situations. Otherwise they’d just be dudes who don’t pitch much. O’Flaherty, in a well managed bullpen, would be third in the pecking order for high leverage late inning situations. This fact limits how much he can be worth to the Braves.
Now, that all being said, I’m not sure that O’Flaherty still won’t be worth what he gets this year. 2.5 mill isn’t a huge deal, and there are worse things in the world to spend your money on than a reliever coming off the year O’Flaherty just had. I’m certainly glad he’s on the team. I just don’t think it’s an absurdly team friendly deal, like some had been saying earlier today. When you consider the four factors I outlined above, it’s at least possible that we may be slightly overpaying for a 7th inning guy who just had an anomalously good year last season.
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