Sean Marshall By the Numbers: A Quality Appearance Ratio Evaluation

Across Reds Country, fans are preparing to celebrate the season.  In my home, presents are around the Christmas tree, visions of sugarplums are dancing in my children’s heads, and I am scratching my head trying to decipher the unusual moves Walt Jocketty has made, and those he has not.  The definition of trade is “an exchange of items” or, in baseball lexicon, an exchange of players.  Any general manager can be a party to a trade, and none of them can say with surety that a trade is a good one.

In my mind, the Mat Latos trade was valuable from a Reds perspective.  Even though Cincinnati parted with promising prospects and a starting pitcher of questionable value, they received a player who should be one of the cornerstones of the starting rotation for the next few years.  The single drawback for me was the loss of Brad Boxberger, an exciting young reliever that I envisioned competing for a  job in spring training this year.  But as many have stated, in the end, he is just a reliever…

Now this week, Walt has completed a deal with which I am less comfortable.  In this episode, our fearless leader sent Travis Wood to the Chicago Cubs along with Dave Sappelt and Dayton Dragons second baseman Ronald Torreyes in exchange for reliever Sean Marshall.  I hate to say goodbye to Wood who seemed a solid young pitcher, but in truth, the Reds have been blessed with a number of bottom of the rotation guys who may be viable fill-ins in the case of an injury, but probably won’t give the Reds the opportunity to win a championship, should it come to that.  In other words, he was a viable trade chip.  Torreyes is young, just 19 years of age, and is a solid, if unspectacular defensive second baseman.  He fields balls well within his range with accuracy but rarely stretches his athletic ability to catch balls that may not be a “sure out”.  At this tender stage in his career, he needs to go all out and expand his range to the best of his ability, and in the games I observed, he did not do that.  At the plate, he has shown great talent putting balls in play and reaching base.  In just 67 games with the Dragons, he hit for a .356 batting average, with an OPS of .855.  While these numbers are amazing, it seemed as the year progressed, that Class A pitchers figured him out and his average dropped progressively month by month.  In June he hit .395, in July with a few more games played his average was .386.  In August he came back to earth but still hit a solid .321 though his OPS fell to a less spectacular .785.  But in September he hit .285 and then during the playoff series where the Dragons played the Lansing Lugnuts.  Torreyes went 2-11 and was not an offensive factor in the series.

Torreyes is listed as 5’9″ but, as often seems to happen with smaller players, height numbers tend to be exaggerated upward at an exponential clip.  What I saw from the second deck at Fifth-Third Field is that Tucker Barnhart, who is listed as the Dragons shortest player at 5’8″, looked taller than Ronald to me.  He is certainly a lot smaller –  listed at a mere 140 pounds compared to Barnhart’s 175.  He will certainly fill out as he matures but I would be shocked if he gets much taller and that height disadvantage diminishes his career opportunities.  He is a good player, but at his size, he will need to be great to advance to the Major Leagues.

That leaves me with a final sticking point from the Reds side of the deal.  Who are the Reds going to play in left field?  I know many love the gritty determination of Chris Heisey and look at his pinch hitting success and speculate that it will translate into everyday success.  I love speed and contact and Dave Sappelt showed a lot of the former but struggled with the latter.  In my mind he was a better left field fit for the same reason Drew Stubbs is the best choice in center – speed is a commodity.  It disrupts the flow of the game for the opposing pitcher.  Now, Sappelt has been traded away and the Reds are left with three outfielders, two proven starters and one a solid reserve.  Walt Jocketty must now make a move for a competent left fielder or the team will be far to thin at this position.

Now we come to Walt’s reward.  Throughout the season, I tracked National League Central relievers with a statistic I called the Quality Appearance Ratio.  The QAR is a value that defines the confidence a manager has when he steps to the mound and gives the ball to a member of the bullpen.

Criteria for a Quality Relief Outing (QRO)

  1.   Reliever allows no inherited runners to score.
  2.   Reliever records at least one out.
  3.   Reliever allows no runs to score or maintains a 3.00 ERA in extended outings.

Criteria for a Failed Relief Outing (FRO)

  1. Reliever allows an inherited runner or runners to score.
  2. Reliever records no outs.
  3. Reliever does not maintain a 3.00 ERA for the relief outing.

As this table reveals, Sean Marshall is firmly ensconced among the leading relief pitchers in the National League Central Division including the closers.  76% of the times he was asked to step to the mound, he did his job.  His rate of failure is just 19%.  It is hard to ask for more of any pitcher.

For this trade to be successful, we must assume one thing.  Sean Marshall will be the closer in 2012.  If he is not, then the Reds overpaid for his services.  The logic trap that the Reds have fallen into was alluded to at the beginning of this post.  If Boxberger’s value is insignificant because he is “just” a reliever; then is a reliever who the Reds will control for a single year before bidding him a fond farewell as he tests the free agent market in 2012; worth a MLB starter, a MLB ready outfielder and a quality Class A prospect?  One of these trades will prove to be valuable, and I suspect it will be the trade for Latos more than this transaction but both should improve the team this year with but a single hitch.  Walt Jocketty still needs to secure the services of a quality starting outfielder.  He does not need to be a star, but he does need to be a solid contributor.  A perfect example of the type of player the Reds should be contemplating is Seth Smith of the Colorado Rockies, made expendable with the acquisition of Michael Cuddyer.  He would offer a serviceable bat and glove, far surpassing Jonny Gomes or Chris Heisey, but with an affordable price tag.  2010 showed how close the Reds are to championship baseball, 2011 demonstrated how far the team has to go.  Here’s hoping with one more move the Reds reach the promised land!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Be safe so you can root for the Reds drive to the Series in 2012!  Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz