In Derek’s PI column today, he talks quite a bit about Dan Reichert, whose signing has been mostly glossed over as just another arm for spring training. However, if I was going to rank the Mariners offseason moves, the signing of Reichert to a minor league deal and an invite to spring training would rank behind only the Adrian Beltre and Pokey Reese moves in terms of potential return for dollars spent. Reichert is already a better pitcher than Ryan Franklin, and when combined with Safeco Field and the Mariners infield defense, there’s a realistic chance that he could give the Mariners 150 innings of above average performance. For the league minimum.
The 2005 M’s are the perfect environment for Reichert. As Derek states in the PI piece, Reichert is an extreme groundballer. His career 2.5:1 GB/FB ratio would have ranked 5th in the majors last year. He’s not quite Derek Lowe or Brandon Webb in terms of groundballing, but he’s not that far behind. His sinker/slider combination are excellent at producing a huge number of balls being struck on a downward plane. Command always has been a problem for Reichert, similar to Webb and Lowe, which has limited his effectiveness. However, his walk rate last year in Indianapolis was the best of his minor league career, and he appeared to make real gains at throwing strikes while still keeping the ball from being swatted all over the field. Reichert’s performance from 2004, translated to a neutral major league park, was better than that of Ryan Franklin or Jamie Moyer. If he didn’t improve one bit or gain any extra edge from his environment, he’d still be a quality candidate to fill out the end of the rotation.
But here’s the exciting part of having Reichert on the roster; his strengths are complemented perfectly by by the roster the M’s have built and by the way Safeco Field plays. Most of you are familiar with the hits per balls in play philosophy, where most pitchers gravitate to an average of around 30 percent of all balls put in the field of play (not walks, strikeouts, or home runs) going for base hits. However, not all kinds of hits are equal in BABIP; fly balls only go for hits about 27 percent of the time, while groundballs go for hits around 33 percent of the time. Extreme fly ball pitchers often give up lower than average BABIP, while groundballers post higher than normal averages. However, because flyballs go for extra base hits significantly more often than groundballs, the actual value of one or the other mostly cancel each other out.
Unless, like in this case, you’ve built a roster that can turn a far higher than average number of groundballs in play into outs. Adrian Beltre is right there with Scott Rolen as the best defensive third baseman in baseball, both creating outs with the glove at hall of fame levels. If Beltre continues to defend at his established levels, he’s the runaway gold glove winner in the AL until he stops, with due apologies to Eric Chavez. Pokey Reese is the best defensive infielder in the game, period. Richie Sexson is in the top tier of first baseman defensively. It remains to be seen how effective Boone will be, but at worst, we can expect 3/4 of the infield to play terrific defense. How big of an effect will even just an above average performance from the defense have on Reichert? Consider this:
Based on his career performance, assuming his command reverts to prior 2004 levels and he regresses from where he was last year, he will face approximately 4.5 batters per inning. If he tossed 150 innings, he would face 675 batters over the course of the season. He would walk 83 of those, hit 6 batters, strike out 87, and allow 14 home runs, leaving 485 balls in play. Of those balls in play, 344 would be hit on the ground, leaving just 141 fly balls. Now, a league average defense in a league average park (assuming no “luck”) would allow 160 hits, with a breakdown looking something like this:
Singles: 81 percent or 130 singles
Doubles: 16 percent or 25 doubles
Triples: 3 percent or 5 triples
A pitcher who throws 150 innings giving up 130 singles, 25 doubles, 5 triples, 83 walks, 87 strikeouts, 14 home runs, and hitting 6 batters would be expected to post an ERA around 5.22 in a neutral park. Reichert’s career 5.56 ERA is actually worse than we would expect for various reasons, but component ERA has consistently been a better future predictor of performance than actual ERA, so we’ll use 5.22 as the baseline for Reichert’s performance, assuming that his 2004 improvement wasn’t real and that he’d get no benefit from Safeco Field or the Mariners defense.
Now, factoring in the park, Safeco Field reduces doubles by 10 percent and triples by 13 percent, so just by benefit of the park, we could cut 3 extra base hits off that total, just because of the Safeco effect. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but every base counts.
Now, the defense. This gets a little trickier, since we don’t have tremendously reliable information that tells us exactly how many extra outs we can expect each player to contribute, so I’m going to eyeball this a little bit, trying to err on the conservative side without erring too heavily. Considering the abilities of the Mariners infield defenders, I’m going to speculate that the M’s will be able to convert an extra three percent of his groundballs into outs that average fielders would not be able to get to. The vast majority of balls that are in the margins between fielders are in the holes, where almost all ground balls will end up as singles, not extra base hits, so I’m going to remove the three percent strictly from his singles total, so we’ll knock 10 hits off of his singles total.
The run value of a single is about .49, meaning that for every two singles you prevent, you save one run. The run value of a double is about .7, so after removing the hits allowed to compensate for defense and park effects, we can say that the environment surrounding Dan Reichert will knock approximately 8 runs off his total if he pitches to his career major league numbers. 8 runs doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but lets translate it to ERA over 150 innings to show the full effect.
Reichert’s career performance + league average defense + league average park: 5.22 ERA
Reichert’s career performance + Mariner 2005 defense + Safeco Field: 4.74 ERA
Remember, this is working completely on the assumption that Dan Reichert will pitch just as poorly as he has in the past major league performances which got him run out of baseball. Just because of the help he’d receive from his teammates and his park, we could shave half a run off his ERA, and all of the sudden, he’s every bit as good as Ryan Franklin.
Now, if the improved command he showed in 2004 is real, well, that opens up a whole new range of possibilities. Rather than walking 83 men, at his 2004 BB/9 rate, he’d only walk 67, shaving another 11 baserunners (approximately 5 of those walks turned into balls in play will become hits) and approximately another 6 runs. Shaving another 6 runs off his total puts his ERA at 4.23. The potential is there for 150 innings with a 4.23 ERA for $300,000? That’s one of the best signings of the offseason.
I really want Dan Reichert to make the team out of spring training. I’d love to see him force his way onto the staff and bump Franklin back to the bullpen. At worst, he’s going to provide about the same level of performance, and the potential is there for him to be significantly better. If Reichert is given a chance to make this club and contribute every 5 days, he could turn out to be the steal of the offseason.