Thursday, December 20, 2012

Interest In Joel Hanrahan Finally Developing

Interest in Joel Hanrahan seemed to be limited at the Winter Meetings, with the rumor mill remaining quiet throughout, however the market for the current Pirates closer finally appears to be developing.  Check out details after the jump.

Hanrahan’s name was floated in a pair of reports prior to the Winter Meetings; one in a trade with the Dodgers for left-handed starting pitcher Chris Capuano and the other as part of a multi-player deal with the Mariners, which would have seen Hanrahan and Garrett Jones moving to Seattle for John Jaso, Justin Smoak and Hector Noesi. There have been further rumors since with the Red Sox and Tigers both being mentioned as potential suitors, with a swap with Detroit for Rick Porcello being touted by many – although the Tigers do not appear to be keen to deal their young right-hander straight up for the closer.

What has to be recognized is that Hanrahan’s value is at its lowest since he became a Pirate. Neal Huntington bought low, with Hanrahan being seen more as a throw in when Lastings Milledge was acquired from the Nationals. However, as Hanrahan has developed into one of the game’s more reliable closers, he has also become more expensive and now just a year away from free agency. At $7M-$7.5M he’s expensive for a non-closer, so many teams may be put off if they already have an option locked in to finish games next season. Furthermore, there will be very little reason for the Pirates or any other club to make a qualifying offer to Hanrahan next winter – meaning that there will be no draft pick compensation at the end of his deal – so at this point he is essentially a one year rental.

Over the 2012 season, Hanrahan picked up 36 saves from 40 opportunities over 63 appearances. He had a 2.72 ERA, however both his SIERA of 3.80 and FIP of 4.45 indicate an element of luck - highlighted by a .225 batting average on balls in play as well as being fortunate with stranding runners on the basepaths (89.7 LOB%). Daniel Rathman of Baseball Prospectus looked at Hanrahan’s trade value and noted the increased slider usage along with the drop in velocity of his fastball. Opposing hitters combined for a isolated power of .210 off of his fastball last season, highlighting why the value of his heater went from well above average (11.1 runs) to slightly below average (-0.5 runs).

Hanrahan also had trouble when facing right handed hitters last season, showing an extreme reverse split. His FIP against left-handers did increase to 3.69 in 2012 from 2.24 in 2011, however his FIP when pitching to batters on the right hand side of the plate was 5.31 last season, mainly due to a rapid increase in walks. After trending downwards over each of the previous three seasons to a 4.6 BB%, Hanrahan walked 15.4% of right-handed hitters in 2012, which dropped his K/BB ratio to 1.25. That said, given his career numbers it’s likely that Hanrahan will have a more conventional split next season if he can harness his control, which will in turn reduce his FIP.

FanGraph’s version of wins above replacement valued Hanrahan as 0.4 wins below replacement level, while he had a 1.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference and 0.6 WARP according to Baseball Prospectus. Nonetheless, the value of relief pitching, especially closers, is typically very different to starting pitchers and hitters so his value will be dependent on how much teams value his closing experience. The Pirates front office are reportedly looking for starting pitching instead of upside in return for their closer, which could well be a more realistic goal considering his projected 2013 salary along with the fact that Hanrahan is entering the last year of his deal. However, while the Pirates do apparently have an interest in Chris Capuano and he would provide solid value in return, it’s a move that would likely be received with disappointment by the fan base.

Joel Hanrahan has looked likely to be moved all winter and a market is finally developing, with the Red Sox and Dodgers appearing to be the more likely suitors at this point. While the asking price of the front office may be a major league starting pitcher, a prospect should really be sought as Hanrahan’s salary could then be spent on a free agent. The return may not be as high as it would have been if the closer had been moved prior to this winter, however longer term value should be the preference given that there are still viable options for the rotation on the free agent market.