Friday, November 29, 2013

Exit Music (For A Player): Lucas Harrell

We're taking a look at the Astros who are still on the 40-Man Roster as part of our off-season Exit Music (For A Player) recap of 2013. Read the archive here. Today we take on Lucas Harrell.

Acquired: Selected off waivers on July 8, 2011 from the Chicago White Sox.

36 appearances / 22 starts - 153.2IP
ERA: 5.86; FIP: 5.42; xFIP: 4.97
1.71 WHIP. 69 ERA+
Baseball-Reference WAR: -1.6; FanGraphs WAR: -0.9
K/9: 5.21; BB/9: 5.2
2013 Salary: $500,700

Oh I've been waiting for this. And Black Friday is as good a time as any to get to the season recap of Lucas Harrell. So what the heck happened? Why was he so bad? Before we answer those two questions, we need to see just how bad Lucas Harrell was in 2013 (all statistics below are filtered for pitchers who threw at least 150IP in a season).

Harrell walked 88 batters in 153.2IP - 5.15 batters per nine innings - both of which led all of Major League Baseball. Among 4,664 pitchers who threw at least 150IP in a season since 1962, Harrell's 5.15 BB/9 rate is the 57th-worst. It's the 2nd-worst in Astros' franchise history, rating behind J.R. Richard in 1975, when he walked 6.12 BB/9 (but had an FIP almost two full points lower than Harrell).

Only two pitchers in Astros' history posted a WAR below 0.0: Lucas Harrell and Brandon Backe, who in 2009 matched Harrell's -0.9 (both numbers courtesy of FanGraphs, B-R was not as kind as FanGraphs, giving Harrell a -1.6). Harrell had the highest WHIP in Astros' history over a season (again, min. 150IP), at 1.70.

He had the 5th-highest HR/FB rate in MLB for 2013, at 14.4% - still 3.0% lower than Dallas Keuchel. Harrell's 5.42 FIP is the 4th-worst in Astros History, behind Jose Lima (2000), Brandon Backe (2008), and Woody Williams (2007).

Things started out well enough for Harrell in 2013. He took the loss in G2, throwing 6IP, 6H/1ER, 4K:2BB while Yu Darvish retired 26 straight Astros to begin the game. The next outing? 4.1IP, 7H/8ER, 2K:5BB, 3HR. But then he had four straight starts of at least 5.2IP and a maximum of 2ER. Then another 8ER outing against Detroit. And it spiraled from there. He got bumped from the rotation, got into a fight with Jordan Lyles, came back to the rotation, went back to the bullpen. It was bad.

High-Water Mark:
Going with June 30 vs. LAA. Threw 7IP, allowing 6H/1ER, matching a season-high with 7K and walking just two batters.

What Went Well:
*Harrell's best calendar month was easily June, when he allowed 32H/13ER, 29K:10BB in 36.1IP. Minus a disaster 7H/7ER, 5K:4BB outing in 3.1IP vs. St. Louis, he had four quality starts, and even with that madness against the Cardinals averaged a 55 Game Score.
*His cutter was less bad in 2013 than it was in 2012. In 2012, FanGraphs rated his cutter a -3.4, which "improved" to a -0.7.
*In the rare instance that he was ahead in the count, opposing hitters slashed .195/.204/.305 against Harrell. But in 329 Plate Appearances, Harrell got to an 0-2 count...28 times.

What Didn't:
*It all starts with his fastball. In 2012, FanGraphs posted his wFB (Fastball Runs Above Average) at 13.5. In 2013 his fastball was rated at -24. Out of 96 pitchers who threw at least 150IP in 2013, that's the lowest wFB rating. 2nd-worst was Jason Vargas, whose changeup was at least above average. Sabathia was 3rd, who at least had an above average slider. Harrell didn't have a single pitch rated above 0.0.
*The lack of a decent pitch in 2013 meant that he tried to nibble, and as a result, only 38% of his pitches were actually in the strike zone (down from 44.6% in 2012). Overall, there wasn't much of a reason for batters to be aggressive. They swung at pitches outside the strike zone at a 28.1% clip (down from 29.6%), they swung less overall (39.3% down from 42.8%), and made more contact (86.7% in 2013, up from 85.3% in 2012).
*And when hitters made contact, they hit it in the air. His Groundball/Flyball ratio dropped from 2.54 in 2012 to 1.88 in 2013, which is the result of an almost-6% decline in his GB% and a 5% increase in his FB%. And when opponents hit a flyball, it left the yard 14.3% of the time - up from 9.7% in 2012.

Did You Know:
*Harrell was 10-1 with a 1.09 ERA for Ozark (MO) High School when they won their first state championship in 2004. In the state final, Harrell went 3x3 with a walk and three runs scored as the starting shortstop.
*On June 27, 2012 Harrell became the first Astros rookie pitcher to throw a shutout since Taylor Buchholz did it on May 21, 2006 against Texas.

2014 Contract: Pre-Arbitration. Will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015.
2014 Outlook: Jeebus. It's hard to say. The Astros have to decide if 2013 was an anomaly or the sudden decline of a pitcher who maybe just had a career year in 2012. Without trying to be mean, I feel that if Harrell starts the season in the rotation, then something this offseason went very badly wrong.