Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kenny's Pet Peavy

Wow. I didn't see this one coming.

The talk of Chicago the past 36 hours has been the White Sox's trade for Jake Peavy. And really, it's an interesting story on multiple levels. For starters, the Sox have apparently landed a top talent who could help them compete for the World Series this year. Another intriguing aspect is that Peavy rejected a deal to Chicago earlier this year. And, oh by the way, he's injured and can't pitch right now.

My initial reaction to the deal was actually a negative one. Clayton Richard (who was one of four players the Sox traded away in the deal) has actually pitched very well recently. About a week ago I heard Sox pitching coach Don Cooper say that the Sox as an organization would "fail" if it couldn't turn Richard into a "front-of-the-line rotation" pitcher. So at the very least I was thinking that Richard could be a solid #4 or #5 starter for the remainder of this season--and maybe help the Sox make the playoffs.

So admittedly, I didn't like the idea of trading away a potentially solid starter in Richard (plus three minor leaguers) for an injured NL pitcher who played half his games in a pitcher-friendly park. I also didn't like the idea that Peavy had turned down the Sox in May. I figured if he wasn't 100% on board, then why pick him up?

But then I remembered something very important: Kenny Williams made this trade. And Kenny Williams has proven time and time again to be the best GM in Chicago since Jerry Krause.

In analyzing this current Peavy trade, I actually go back to the year the White Sox won it all--2005. Back then, the crown jewel of the White Sox's farm system was a starting pitcher named Brandon McCarthy. And boy, did we keep hearing about how great he was and how highly Sox management thought of this kid. In fact, if he had been in any other organization, he probably would have been starting in the bigs in 2005. But the Sox were so good that year, McCarthy spent much of his time in Triple-A. I remember actually feeling kinda sorry for the guy. But I knew his time would come.

When 2006 came, the Sox did ship out Jon Garland, but they ended up bringing in Javier Vazquez. So really, there wasn't an automatic opening in the rotation and McCarthy went to the Sox bullpen. He was pretty average that year, but he was still really young. And I knew, along with all Sox fans, that his time would come.

At the end of 2006, the news came that the Sox were trading away Freddy Garcia; and so there it was--in 2007 Brandon McCarthy's time would come.

Except for the fact that before 2007 even arrived, the Sox shipped out McCarthy as well. And I, along with all Sox fans, was stunned.

Shortly after the McCarthy trade I heard Kenny Williams being interviewed on the radio by Mike North (who is also a Sox fan). North was questioning the trade and basically getting at the same point most other Sox fans wanted to know: How could you trade away Brandon McCarthy, a guy we've been hearing about for years, for two minor leaguers?

In the course of Williams' answer, he of course mentioned how high he was on the prospects the Sox were getting; and in reference to McCarthy's future, he thought he'd go to the Texas Rangers and be "serviceable."

As soon as the word "serviceable" came from Williams' lips, my ears perked up and North immediately interrupted his answer, saying (and I paraphrase): "Wait, wait, wait... We've been hearing from you for years that McCarthy would be a future ace and now you're saying that he'll be serviceabe?!? Serviceable?"

At this point I'm laughing my butt off, mainly because I thought it was hilarious the way Mike North was saying "serviceable." But given a mulligan on the question, I figured Williams would recalibrate his word choice and sing higher praise for the departing Brandon McCarthy--after all, why not?

But no, he repeated himself, responding in his usual calm way: "Yes, I think he'll be a serviceable pitcher for them."

If I recall, North kept repeating the word "serviceable," and I kept laughing. But on a serious note, in a matter of a few seconds I went from believing that McCarthy had a legit shot at becoming a #1 or #2 starter within the next 3 years to thinking that he might be doomed to a career ERA above 4.00. In a matter of moments, I had gone from thinking "These prospects we traded for better be good" to thinking "It might not even matter if these prospects are good."

Nearly three MLB seasons later, McCarthy has been plagued by injuries (currently sitting on the DL) and his ERA has consistently been above 4.00. And as for the Sox? Well, they got John Danks back in that deal--and he's well on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the AL.

So as I look at this Peavy/Richard deal, my guess is that Kenny Williams doesn't agree with Cooper's assessment last month that the Sox will "fail" if they don't turn Richard into a #1 or #2 pitcher. I think if Williams saw that type of potential in Richard, he doesn't do the deal. My hunch is that he's seen too much inconsistency for too long in Richard. (Paul DePodesta, of Moneyball fame and who works in the other front office involved in the Peavy trade, has posted his take on the trade here.)

So what about Peavy? How will he do for the Sox? Well, we keep hearing how he was the 2007 NL Cy Young Award Winner, but I think that type of talk is setting the bar a little too high. While Peavy has pitched well on the road some seasons (including his Cy Young year), over his career his road stats away from PETCO are a 3.84 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP. Those numbers are actually pretty close to what John Danks has done this season (4.00 ERA and 1.31 WHIP).

It's hard to predict exactly when Peavy will return to the mound--and it's especially hard to predict how he'll do the final few weeks of a season while adjusting to a new environment. But if I were to guess how Peavy will do over the next three seasons, I'd say that he would be about as good as John Danks. In fact, my prediction is that Danks will actually be better than Peavy in terms of ERA, WHIP, and games won from 2010 to 2012. (Side note: Sometimes it's fun to go back and look at how such projections start to play out. For instance, I just took a trip down memory lane over at the UPL Blog where we discussed Braun, Bruce, Votto, and the Upton brothers in May 2008.)

Up top I mentioned that I didn't like it that Peavy had rejected a deal to Chicago earlier in the season. Well, I've since learned some more info about that. First off, Peavy didn't say "no," he said "not yet." I can appreciate the fact that he liked living in San Diego and didn't want to give up on his team so early in the season. Second, I give kudos to Kenny Williams for being patient with Peavy, and for making it very clear to him that he was very much wanted in Chicago. Furthermore, there are some rumors now that Williams tried to deal for Peavy last July. So in the end, it seems that Williams finally got his guy.

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