The Howry signing

Continuing their quest to upgrade their bullpen, the Giants signed Bob Howry to a one year, $2.75 million contract today. That Howry had to settle for such a modest deal shows how much power ERA still has in determining pitcher value in the marketplace.

From 2004 to 2007, Howry was one of the game’s better setup men, posting a FIP between 3.07 and 3.73 in each year, and doing even better than that in ERA – 2.47 to 3.32. He doesn’t walk anyone and strikes out a fair number of hitters, which is a good combination for an 8th inning reliever. Nothing about that changed last year, and his 4.54 K/BB rate in 2008 was actually the highest of his career.

However, Howry posted a 5.35 ERA last year for two reasons – his home run skyrocketed to 1.66 HR/9 and his BABIP was .354. Both of these are more about bad luck than any drop in Howry’s skills – his FB% was the same as always, but more of those flyballs just went over the wall. In 70 innings, that kind of variance is going to happen. That doesn’t mean we should expect it to continue, though.

Marcel projects Howry to post a 4.17 FIP in 2009, and that’s factoring in a pretty significant age related regression – it has him adding nearly a walk per nine innings to his total and retaining a pretty decent chunk of the HR issues that plagued him in 2008. It’d be fair to call Marcel’s projection conservative, and I’d suggest that he’s more likely to post a FIP in the 4.00 range.

If a replacement level NL reliever would post a 4.75 FIP, that makes Howry about 6 runs better than replacement, assuming he pitches 65 innings next year. Adding in a leverage factor to account for the extra value of the runs he’ll be saving as a late inning reliever, and Howry’s basically a +1 win reliever.

The Giants just bought a win for around $3 million. Even in this economy, that’s a bargain. Affeldt and Howry are significant upgrades to the Giants bullpen, and for a total 2009 cost of $7 million, the Giants have gotten quite a bit better already this winter.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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China Brown
15 years ago

Ok, so at first I read this, threw up in my mouth a little bit and thought it’s impossible for someone to think Howry is a good signing.

Then I went and looked at his LD% hoping that might explain a massive rise in BABIP but he really did hold steady.

It is true that his controllable numbers did hold, making his year appear more unlucky than bad. It is also true that I spent most of the summer watching/listening to Howry, being utterly unsurprised with each and every gopherball. The bomb he served up to the Hebrew Hammer on the last game of the season really helped the NL playoffs fall into place… which didn’t really work out all that well for the Cubs. So, take everything I say as more of the musings of a bitter and spiteful dude.

Anyway, in my efforts to identify something that could indicate that maybe he’s really just not a good pitcher anymore, I did find something interesting. He’s no spring chicken, turning 36 next summer. His pitch selection and velocity were markedly different in 08.

Year Velocity %Fastballs %Sliders
08 91.2 74.8% 23.1%
07 92.3 86.2% 9.7%
06 92.8 82.8% 14.7%
05 92.8 82.6% 15.6%

So he lost a fair amount of zip on the fastball and decided to go to the slider way more often, potentially to compensate. It seems possible to me to think that this variation explains why he was serving up so many more homers than normal. If he continues losing velocity will he keep going to the slider? I’d say it’s likely since he’s pretty far on the wrong side of 30.