Earlier in the week, the Pirates finally traded closer Joel Hanrahan, moving him to the Boston Red Sox for at least three players. The trade is still not official, and bizarrely, we still don’t know who all is in the trade. We do know that one of those players is Mark Melancon, who the Red Sox acquired last off-season from the Astros, where he was the closer.
In 2012, both Hanrahan and Melancon regressed. So let’s compare the two relievers using their averages over the past two years.
Joel Hanrahan 2011-2012: 96.4 MPH, 24.2 K %, 9.8 BB% (14.4 K%-BB%), 46.5 GB %
Mark Melancon 2011-2012: 92.8 MPH, 21.3 K%, 7.6 BB % (13.7 K%-BB%), 54.04 GB %
Ben Cherington’s trade for Melanchon and his trade for Andrew Bailey shows his love for proven closers, and it has really cost him. If you allow for the two to regress to the mean of their past two seasons, Hanrahan is obviously a better pitcher according to everything but GB % (Hanrahan is ever better according to HR % over the last 3 years, with Melancon around 2.5%, while Hanrahan is around 1.8%). However, Melancon is 27, Hanrahan is 31. Melancon isn’t a free agent until after the 2016 season, while Hanrahan is a free agent after the 2013 season. I would say that the two relievers are about equal in value, which is perhaps generous, as Melancon’s three extra years will provide more value than Hanrahan’s one year, and that is even if you assume that Hanrahan sits at his averages in 2013. He saw a drop in velocity, ground-balls, and strikeouts, while watching his walks and homers go up. To me, he really could be this year’s Heath Bell. Changing teams while seeing a large regression in his peripherals, Hanrahan could find the AL East very rough, just as Melancon did. As far as we know, the Pirates also got two more players for Hanrahan.
Jerry Sands was part of the big Dodgers and Red Sox trade. In 70 MLB career games, Sands has held his own, with a 100 wRC +.
When not in the Majors, he has been destroying the offensive friendly PCL with a OPS + of about 129 in 2011-2012. Unfortunately, most of that success, especially the average (but some of the power as well) came in the extremely offensive friendly (122 Park Factor over the last two seasons) Albuqueque Isotopes ballpark. His road .778 OPS is about PCL average (.776 OPS in 2012). Considering he has played most of his career at LF, RF, and 1B, this is a problem. To give you an idea of what a league average PCL hitter is, here is the PCL hitters that had a 98-102 wRC + in a single season from 2008-2012:
102: Dan Robertson, Julio Borbon, Grant Green, Alcides Escobar, Doug Bernier, Andy Beattie
101: J.B. Shuck, Tim Wheeler, Conor Gillaspie, Mike Hessman, Luis Figueroa, Esteban German, John Lindsey, Shawn Garrett
100: Adrian Cardenas, Taylor Harbin, Luke Montz, Mark Saccomanno, Jason Bourgeois, Brooks Conrad
99: Adron Chambers, David Lough, Tommy Manzella, Michael Abreu
98: Alex Liddi, Logan Schafer, Scott Cousins, Jordan Parraz, Daniel Descalso, Brad Coon
Other than Alcides (and we will see if his high 2012 BABIP is real), that is a list of mainly spares, minor league veterans, and bench players. While Sands is a patient hitter with a good walk rate, he also strikes out a lot, and his .131 MLB ISO in his short stint in the Majors would be worse than almost every single starting 1st baseman in the Majors (it is above Yonder Alonso’s, but he played his home games in Petco Park, even though his ISO on the road was actually a touch worse. To be fair, I wasn’t a huge fan of Alonso before he was traded to the Padres).
Before 2012, when FRAA ranked him as an below average fielder, Sands was rated as a good outfielder. However, considering he is just a corner player (and not a valuable corner, like 3rd base), this doesn’t matter a whole lot. He put up some good speed scores in the minors, but it hasn’t translated into the Majors. It is not like he has ever been much of a stolen base threat in his minor league career either, with 28 career stolen bases in the minors (but he has been efficient, with just 4 caught stealings). While he hadn’t shown massive splits in Albuquerque, his short time in the Majors made him look like a platoon bat that should only face left-handed pitching. Considering the Pirates were pretty bad against left-handed pitching last year (90 wRC +, 21st in baseball), if he can actually hit lefties in the Majors, he could at least provide some value by hitting left-handed pitching.
When I saw Stolmy Pimentel, the other name in the trade, earlier this year via Dominican Winter League stream, he was really impressive, with a 95 MPH fastball and a change at 84-85 MPH. However, the 22 year old right-handed pitcher hasn’t exactly been dominant in the minors. He really struggled in A+ and AA in 2011, but his repeat of AA in 2012 was more successful, getting his FIP under 4 in 111.2 innings. Even though the strikeout rates have been really mediocre, that kind of stuff is always enticing, even if he is stuck in a bullpen role.
As you can tell, I really like this trade for the Pirates. I don’t think slotting Melancon in as the closer for Hanrahan will be a big regression. The Pirates get a possible platoon bat in Sands, although I am not a big fan. They also get Pimentel, who I am more excited about than Sands. Obviously, we will have to see how the rest of the trade shakes out (according to reports, the Red Sox should get another player while the Pirates should get another one as well), but with the current Hanrahan for Melancon/Pimentel/Sands setup, it makes a lot of sense for the Pirates, and not much for the Red Sox.