Saturday, May 22, 2010

Concerning Bob Howry

A few days ago, when it was first announced that the Cubs would be signing Bob Howry, our colleagues at Another Cubs Blog did a great job of criticizing the general outrage towards the signing:
In Howry's 3 seasons with the Cubs, he threw 228.2 innings, allowed 29 home runs, struck out 202, walked 49 (12 intentional) and hit 16 batters. That's a 3.78 FIP. To put that into a little perspective, Carlos Marmol's FIP since 2008 is 3.60. Yes, Carlos Marmol over the last 2+ seasons has been .18 runs per 9 innings better than Bob Howry was with the Cubs.

I don't expect most Cubs fans to understand this. FIP? F*** that s***, bro. ERA all the way, b***! OK. Bob Howry's ERA's with the Cubs 3.17, 3.32 and 5.35. He struggled in 2008. There's no doubt about that. It wasn't a good season. He did rebound a bit in 2009 though. Cubs fans ignore that and focus only on 2008 because, well, they're brains aren't large enough to process information they don't want to process. Howry's ERA with the Giants last year was 3.39 and his FIP was 3.85. Carlos Marmol last year? 3.41 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Yep.
I whole-heartedly agree with mb21's assessment. Howry is a good, not great, pitcher, and the Cubs will have him on the cheap, which is excellent.

I would like to throw one caveat in with the discussion, however. As well as Howry has been in his career, there is that off-chance that, at the age of 36, Howry is beginning to show signs of the end. For example, his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) over the last six years:


xFIP is really, in my opinion, the best, all-in-one evaluator of pitching talent because it normalizes defense and it normalize HR/FB rates. With that in mind, things are certainly trending the wrong way.

It must be noted, however, that each of these seasons constitute about a full load of innings for a reliever, except 2010, where he has thus far pitch only 14 innings (which is not much at all).

Secondly, it is also worth noting how his luck has been over this stretch. For pitchers, the best metric for evaluating luck is LOB%, or Left on Base Percentage:


While he was quite lucky in 2004, he's been twice as unlucky in 2010. In other words, the 2010 data really is not worth the HTML on which it is printed. (LOB% tends to normalize very close to 70%, regardless of a pitcher's skill or ability.)

Summary
Bob Howry is not a great pitcher, by any stretch; nor is he The Solution to bullpen "problems." But, I think it's a nice signing with low costs. There is a potential that, with age, Howry will be less effective than we might hope; but I seriously doubt he will be significantly terrible or that we'll have to cut him.

If the Cubs were serious about bolstering their bullpen, they should follow the guidelines I outlined in the comments at Cubby-Blue:
That being said, I still think that if the Cubs really wanted to improve their bullpen they would:

1. Hire John Smoltz, make Marmol the roving bullpen ace.

2. Move Lilly or Silva to the pen, make Big Z start again.

3. QUIT HAVING GRABOW PITCH TO RIGHTIES! GOOD LORD! HE'S A LOOGY FOR CHRISSAKE!

4. Still add Howry, because -- like Maria noted -- we can pay him next to nothing and cut him on a whim.

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