Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why is Harrell out and where do the Astros go now?

So the news that Lucas Harrell is out of the rotation brings up some significant questions. Let's do this in order:

Why is Lucas Harrell out of the rotation?

Well, he's been bad. He's made an AL-leading 19 starts. He has also walked a league-leading 53 batters. In 103.2IP, he has allowed 114 hits, 53 walks, "good enough" for a 1.61 WHIP. In the first 235.2IP of his career: 2010-2012, he allowed 15 home runs. In 2013 he has allowed...15 home runs. Coming into this season, his HR/9 was 0.6. This year? 1.3.

He had walked 3.9 batters per nine innings coming into this season. This year? 4.6 batters per nine innings - 3rd-worst among MLB pitchers who have thrown 100IP. And his strikeouts are down almost a strikeout per nine innings from last year. When he gets ground balls, he's fine. But 16.7% of the flyballs he allows leave the yard, up from 9.7% last year.

There are only three pitchers in Major League Baseball who have thrown at least 100IP and has posted a below 0.0 WAR: Jason Marquis (-1.6), Jeremy Guthrie (-0.5), and Lucas Harrell (-0.2). For crying out loud, Wade LeBlanc only has a -0.1 WAR. Of course, it only took eleven outs for LeBlanc to establish himself as Below Replacement Value.

I know WAR isn't the Last Word on "pitcher value," but it is a worthwhile statistic. Here's another one: The Astros are 6-13 when he starts. He's getting 3.90 runs of support per game.

Oh sure, he's had his moments. In June, he made six starts, throwing 36.1IP, allowed 32H/13ER, 29K:10BB. He allowed a .654 OPS with a .264 BABIP. 61% of his pitches were for strikes. That's a solid month, even if the Astros were 2-4 in those starts, because of Bad. They scored zero or one runs - in a game - in three of those six starts.

(One of) the problems is his fastball. In 2012, Harrell posted a 13.4 wFB (Fastball Runs Above Average), meaning his fastball was, um, good. This year he has a -9.8 wFB. That's a, um, dramatic drop (Full disclosure: Pitch F/X at FanGraphs is not as dramatic a difference.)

So, to recap: Last year? Good Lucas Harrell. This year? Bad Lucas Harrell. Or at least Not 2012 Lucas Harrell. Batters are not swinging at as many pitches, they're making more contact, he's getting behind batters more, and they're not swinging and missing as much. Right now? The batters are better than Lucas Harrell is.

Is this the end of Lucas Harrell?

I don't think so. The Astros don't need a 5th starter for a while. The Astros have two days off next week - tomorrow, and Thursday. Which means that Bud Norris throws at St. Louis on Tuesday, Jordan Lyles on Wednesday, Dallas Keuchel on Friday, Erik Bedard on Sunday, and then it's the All-Star Break. He's not really even being skipped, he's just available out of the bullpen because of the way the next two weeks' schedule works.

The Astros have 12 games after the All-Star Break until the Trade Deadline. That's at least two - maybe three - starts.

Does this enhance his trade value?

Maybe moving him to the bullpen - for the time being - is the equivalent of calling a bunch of short passes to raise the confidence level of your quarterback. Get a few outs, get your confidence rolling, take some rest, some film work with Doug Brocail (this might be the most underwhelming clause of a sentence ever blogged).

Ah. But did you read the Game Recap from Friday (when he walked everybody and gave up long balls)? Harrell sounded like a guy who doesn't have his head on. Regard:

I'm trying to find a time when (my season) was really good...I haven't been good all year. It's been a pretty bad year and I haven't thrown the ball well at all. 

Why would you run a guy who is thinking like that out there the next time around, especially if you don't have to?

Today, he sang like a bird:
It was just one of those things where you don't really think it's the best thing but it's just one of those deals where it is what it is...I was shocked. I was really shocked... I'm tied with Felix Hernandez for 10 starts with one run or less in all of baseball. I think that's kind of tough to move a guy like that down to the bullpen. But they make the decision so it's their call...I feel like I've been pretty durable and I've given a lot. 

If you're an opposing GM, do you want to trade for Lucas Harrell? Harrell is pissed. Good for him. Now fix it.