Peavy to White Sox, Take 2

A quick look at his splits between home and away shows that over his career he’s been absolute nails inside the friendly confines of Petco Park, but only quite good elsewhere. Here are his stats, home and (away).

PA: 2936 (2615)

ERA: 2.83 (3.84)

WHIP: 1.09 (1.30)

K/BB: 3.67 (2.55)

BABIP: .288 (.289)

The ERA and WHIP really tell their own stories–Petco is well known for suppressing offense. The K/BB is a surprise though, and suggests that Peavy literally pitches differently when at home. Maybe he tenses up outside of Petco, knowing that mistakes are going to be punished a lot harder? Maybe it’s a comfort issue, and he’s just more at ease in his home park? I don’t get it. Is it possible that there’s a reverse Coors effect going on in Petco, and breaking balls move more there? Something to figure out in the future, I suppose, but over significant sample sizes (see the # of plate appearances above) the difference is tough to ignore.

Looking at it another way, check out the slash lines for Peavy’s opponents: in San Diego they hit .219/.280/.333/.613, which is about what Dewayne Wise has done in his career. Away from San Diego, they hit .246/.316/.419/.735, which isn’t great by any standard (sorry Dewayne), but a far cry from his dominance at home.

Looking at Peavy’s whiff rate shows another disturbing trend. Since 2004, Peavy has gotten swinging strikes 12.2%, 12.3%, 11.8%, 10.8%, 10.3% and this year 9.9% of the time. And while proponents of the deal will counter by pointing to his strikeout rate, which ticked above his career average this year (10.1 punchouts per 9 innings), this was driven by a dramatic jump in his looking strikeout rate. Having averaged around 5.75% since 2003 (and having never been above 7.02%), this year 9.25% of the batters Peavy has faced have walked away shaking their heads at the umpire. An in-depth (and excruciatingly long) look at pitch f/x would give us a clearer indication of how much of this has been driven by umpiring, but it’s very rare to see such a significant jump in looking strikeout percentage without a good deal of umpire driven luck tossed in.

Possibly more important, the White Sox are in the middle of the playoff race in the AL Central sitting only 2.5 games behind Detroit, and 2.0 behind Minnesota, and while the Tigers and Twins both added pieces (Washburn and O-Cabrera, respectively), the White Sox just got rid of two players playing roles at the ML level thus far this season, Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, while picking up an Ace who isn’t guaranteed to ever step on the rubber in 2009. Looking through the short term lens, it’s tough to say the White Sox will be improved this season due to this trade. In the longer term, having already discussed the issues inherent in Peavy’s change of address, the players Kenny Williams sent to the Padres are significant.

Clayton Richard has already shown he is capable of performing as a #3 pitcher in the major leagues, good for 2.1 WAR (wins above average) so far this year through 14 starts, along with a 4.38 FIP. That’s not eye popping, but it holds serious, serious value and the Padres control him cheaply through 2014.

Aaron Poreda profiled as the top pitching prospect in the White Sox system coming into 2009 (#3 on their prospect list as compiled by Baseball America). He brings bigtime heat, sitting in the mid 90s, and touching triple digits. He’s also got a solid slider, which has shown signs of improvement, and a get me over changeup. He’s got #2 and possibly #1 starter stuff (if the slider continues to improve), but there are whispers he could end up a dominant presence in the pen due to stamina questions. The Padres plan to move him into their AAA rotation, per Paul DePodesta. Thus far in an extremely small sample size (11 innings) he’s shown bits of the good and bits of the bad, pitching out of the White Sox bullpen he’s striking out more than a batter per inning, but he’s also walking 6.5 per nine innings. Somewhere, Edwar Ramirez is smiling.

Adam Russell is another power arm for Kevin Towers’ stable the 6’4″, 250 pound right hander was moved to the major league bullpen, and performed admirably (though the reported stats don’t show it). In 22 innings, he was saddled with a 5.19 ERA due to poor luck on batted balls–his low 13.4% LD%, which would point to a BABIP of .254, yielded up a BABIP of .361–he gave up nearly 50% more hits than would be expected given how few line drives he was giving up. His FIP (which is the number you should be paying attention to instead of ERA) was a solid 3.32. Russell has a big league fastball that reaches 95, and an occasionally plus curveball. He varies his arm slot, which adds deception, but can also get him out of whack mechanically (leading to bouts of wildness). His lack of a solid changeup will keep him in the bullpen (limiting his value) but expect good things from him, as he gets to pitch half of his games in Petco from now on.

Finally we come to Dexter Carter who possesses another (say it with me now) power arm. With a fastball that has touched 96, a bigtime swing and miss curveball, and a passable changeup, Carter has dominated the minor leagues, ringing up 143 batters in 118 innings, while issuing just 32 free passes. He’s looked at as a possible front end starter, or premium bullpen arm.

Jake Peavy is a great pitcher, who may only be a sort of great pitcher in U.S. Cellular Field against all AL opponents, and probably won’t contribute much this year (if anything). The 4 prospects given up all have significant upsides (and two are contributing right now). This won’t turn into an A.J. Pierzynski for Liriano, Bonser and Nathan type trade, if only because Peavy won’t ever be confused for A.J. Pierzynski. But don’t be surprised if Peavy isn’t all the southsiders expect, and more than one of Poreda, Clayton, Russell and Carter turn into solid big league players or better.