12 January 2010
After the bullpen struggles of 2009, the Diamondbacks wanted to add a couple of veteran arms for 2010. The latest addition is 36 year old Bob Howry, a durable right-handed pitcher who pitched with the Giants last season, who signed a one-year, $2M deal. Howry had a respectable 3.39 ERA and a nice 1.1147 WHIP over 63.2 IP. What should we expect from Howry in 2010?
Bob Howry has had a solid 12 year career, pitching for the White Sox, Red Sox, Indians, Cubs, and Giants, with a career ERA of 3.66 (125 ERA+). He has some experience as a closer, including 28 Saves with the White Sox in 1999, and a total of 66 in his career. For five of the last six seasons, his ERA has been below 3.40 - his only really poor season was his last in Wrigley Field, where his ERA soared to 5.35.
But there are some warning signs for 2010. First of all, Howry's strikeout rate has dropped for four consecutive years:
Another danger sign is that Howry's walk rate in 2009 was his highest in years, 3.3 BB/9. The low strikeout rate and high walk rate led Howry to have a FIP
of 3.85, but a xFIP
of 4.95. The xFIP rate is high because Howry only allowed 5 HR in 63.2 IP, even though he had a high 51.3% fly ball rate. But despite lots of fly balls, only 5.1% left the yard, well below the league average (~10-11 %) and Howry's historical rates (8-9 %).
Finally, the Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) for Howry was only .238, much lower than his career rate (.281). So we have a pitcher who struck out fewer batters while walking more, but kept his ERA low with unusually low Hit and HR rates.
Another concern with Howry is how he was utilized by the Giants in 2009. Howry began the season as the Giants' primary set-up man, pitching in the 8th inning or later in 18 of 21 appearances through May and June. One way of quantifying Howry's usage pattern is by looking at the Average Leverage Index (ALI)
. The Leverage Index is a measure of how important a particular game situation is, based on the score, inning, outs, and runners on base. The average LI is 1, while about 10% of game situations (high importance) have an LI greater than 2. Howry's LI when he entered each game can be found on his Baseball Reference Game Log
page. Over his first 22 appearances, Howry's ALI was 1.54, meaning that he was mainly being used in crucial situations. However, he allowed 11 ER in 19.1 IP, and the Giants began to lose confidence in him.
Over his next 20 appearances (June 6 - August 5), Howry was used in low leverage situations (ALI = 0.54), getting only 1 Hold over two months. However, he did pitch better during this stretch, with a 2.86 ERA, and gradually earned a more important role.
Over the next month (8/6-9/6), Howry had an ALI of 1.59, including three games where he entered a tie game in the 9th inning. The results weren't that bad (3 ER in 13 IP), but Howry began having control problems, walking 7 batters over 7 IP from August 22 to September 6th. From that point, Howry was again used sparingly (ALI = 0.63), as Dan Runzler, Sergio Romo, and Jeremy Affeldt were given the crucial innings in front of closer Brian Wilson.
So what can we conclude from Howry's usage in 2009? Howry was given two stretches to pitch in high leverage situations - one at the beginning of the year (April-May), and again in August, and both times he was eventually dropped to a less critical bullpen position. The first demotion occurred after he gave up 11 ER in 19.1 IP, and the second after walking 7 in 7.1 IP.
Although Howry has had a long successful career as a relief pitcher, there are clear signs that his effectiveness has decreased. His strikeout rate has dropped for 4 consecutive years, and his walk rate took a jump last season. His respectable ERA in 2009 was aided greatly by low BABIP and HR rates. In addition, he was unable to maintain his job in high leverage situations with the Giants last year, so it may not be realistic to expect him to handle the 8th Inning for the Diamondbacks in 2010. An ERA over 4.00 is a distinct possibility.