…. Swap meet

The Giants traded LaTroy Hawkins for Steve Kline, a 33-year old left-handed middle reliever. Kline’s been durable and modestly effective, while Hawkins, a pitcher in need of something Rags was unable to give him, remains in search of his former self. The Giants are saying that Klline is a replacement for the recently departed Scott Eyre. Are they right?

Kline boasts a career WHIP of 1.35, a modest number, and allows a somewhat large number of walks, 30 in 61 innings last season. In fact, his walk to strikeout ratio is the reason he’s bounced around so much in his career (the Giants are his fifth team in a career that began in 1997). He’s allowed fewer hits than innings his last five seasons in a row, and in his career he’s allowed 538 hits in 584 innings.

But his inability to strike guys out means more pressure on the team defense, the next reliever, and himself. Last season, Eyre posted a career-best WHIP of 1.33, almost identical to Kline’s career number, but still posted a 2.63 ERA, mainly due to his ability to strike guys out even after allowing a walk. Kline, by contrast, allowed just 11 more hits, so…. well, let’s just do a side by side:

Scott Eyre 68.1 IP 48 H 20 ER 3 HR 26 BB 65 SO 2.63 ERA
Steve Kline 61 IP 59 H 29 ER 11 HR 30 BB 36 SO 4.28 ERA

If it’s not obvious what his inability to strike out guys produces, take a look at Eyre’s 2003 season, when he struggled to finish guys off:

Eyre 2003 57 IP 60 H 21 ER 4 HR 26 BB 35 SO 3.32 ERA

If you’re not striking hitters out, you’re allowing them to put the ball in play, and since they’re gonna post (depending on luck and defense) a .300 batting average on balls in play, you’re gonna see something like an extra ten hits or so for that missing 30 strikeouts. Given the importance of the innings and situations most relievers see, Kline’s poor strikeout rate will be a problem. He also allows a lot of home runs, so, in my opinion, he will not be an adequate replacement for Eyre, regardless of the fact that he’s a lefty. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the level Eyre elevated himself to last season represents a new level of performance either, but….

A quick glance at their career stats shows us that while Eyre and Kline have identical career K/IP rates (.76), over the last four seasons, Eyre’s jumped up to .83 while Kline has dropped to .61. Over the last two seasons, Eyre’s been even better, at .95, which is just shy of elite. If Eyre has found a new performance level, the Giants will watch him pull a Nathan, at which point his contract, (3 years, $11 million) will turn out to have been pretty damn reasonable. Makes me wonder whether Sabean looks at any stats at all.

Kline, by the way, earned $2.5 million last season. I haven’t seen what he’s set to make this year, but the difference between Eyre’s $3.6 million (averaged out) and Kline’s $2.5 hardly makes this “exchange” look worthwhile.

I’ll tell you, it’s hard to sit here and not just rip Sabean and Magowan for doing things like this. They want to tell us how they have to keep the payroll below $90 million or whatever, but they’ve wasted something like $50 million over the last four or five seasons on absolutely terrible deals, deals that hamstrung the team completely in their efforts to field a competitve team.

How am I supposed to see the benefit of saving a million dollars a year for a left-handed reliever (who led the NL in holds with 32, for a terrible team, by the way), when Sabean flushed $5 million dollars down the drain two seasons ago on the worst hitter in modern baseball history? Or how about the $28 million dollars we’re giving to Alfonzo, who is so bad the team can’t find a spot for him on the field?

And now we have to let Eyre leave, maybe right after finding himself, because of a million dollars? What kind of way to run a team is this? Sabean actually thought signing Loaiza was a good idea? Are you kidding me? What about the $18 million the team gave to Reuter two seasons ago? Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

Overpaying for established veterans (which is to say, for proven mediocrity), and then poor mouthing your inability to sign quality major league talent is the single biggest flaw this organization has, it’s been going on for years, and it’s getting worse, not better. How a team could field a $90 million dollar team (7th largest in all of baseball) and not have one young talented player at any position is more than disappointing, it’s a travesty, a faliure of monumental proportions.

One more thing…. The Giants probably would have been better served to buy Schmidt out and used that $10 million to get themselves some real, young pitching, or even better, they could have tried to get into the Beckett sweepstakes (don’t tell me the Marlins wouldn’t have been interested in some of the Giants prospects), or they could have gone after Burnett, or Barry Zito, or they could have tried to get two solid, young pitchers for the $10 million. Standing pat with this team, a team that was 13 games under .500, scored the second fewest runs in the entire National League, and allowed the 11th most runs is a slap in the face to the almost 4 million fans who fill PacBell every year.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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