Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brian Lawrence?

Consider the source, but John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports the following:

Brian Lawrence, a free-agent starter the Mariners had some interest in signing, seems to be leaning toward signing with Philadelphia.

This is a report that comes out of left field, so to speak, but it is a pleasant surprise to hear all the same. I wrote this about Lawrence waaaaaay back in November of '05:

Lawrence will be 30 in April, so what you see is what you get with him by now. His first two years in the league were good, but they were in 2001 and 2002. Lawrence has been a below average starter the past three seasons (ERA+ of 94 in 2003, 97 in 2004, and bottoming out at 80 in 2005), but he does still have value. He has thrown at least 195 innings the last 4 seasons and fits in nicely at the back end (4th or 5th guy) of a rotation.

Not particularly insightful baseball commentary on my part, but I'd like to think the general sentiment (Lawrence works as a guy you take a flier on for the back of the rotation) hit home. Unfortunately, since November of 2005 this has happened:

Washington Nationals right-hander Brian Lawrence appears done for the season after undergoing surgery yesterday to repair what the team called "extensive" tears of both the labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

I can not imagine that "extensive" tears of both the labrum and rotator cuff in one's throwing shoulder are fun injuries to bounce back from, but Lawrence claims he is fit and ready to go heading into spring training. Without breaking down Lawrence's career in too much detail (that would come after he signs here...which is far from a sure bet, as you'll come to realize if you read on), I do think that there are four reasons why adding Brian Lawrence to the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies is a fine idea:
  1. The Price is Right - There is no way that Lawrence will command a 2007 salary in excess of the deal that Antonio Alfonseca (1-year, $550,000 base, $550,000 more in innings-based incentives) is set to sign with the Phillies. There have been rumblings that a few of the teams in on Lawrence have only gone so far as to offer him a minor league deal - the demand for pitching may be sky high, but teams are only willing to go so far when the pitcher in question is coming off "extensive" tears of both the labrum and rotator cuff.
  2. The Time is Right - The Phillies currently have six quality major league starters on their staff; if they signed Lawrence, it would be as the seventh starter/swing man in the bullpen. Coming off such an "extensive" injury, it would be foolish for a contending team to rely on Lawrence in any kind of meaningful way (say as a 4th or 5th starter). If the Phils signed Lawrence, they could use him out of the pen to exploit particular matchups rather than expect him to take the ball every fifth day and run with it; this would also allow the Phillies to closely monitor Lawrence's innings early on in the season. A Lawrence signing would also free up the Phillies to really get serious about dealing one of their excess starting pitchers, if that is the route they decide to take.
  3. He is the Anti-Ryan Franklin - This should be reason enough to sign the guy. Brian Lawrence may actually be the Bizarro World version of Franklin - the Franklin signing looked like a disaster from the start last year for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which being the fact he was an extreme flyball pitcher. Lawrence has a career GO/AO ratio of 1.70 and had numbers at the top of the league in the category in both 2001 and 2002 (2.01 and 2.21 respectively). When going well, Lawrence is capable of throwing both a plus slider and a plus sinking fastball for consistent strikes. From the Phillies perspective, adding a guy capable of inducing a rally killing double play groundball to the bullpen is a giant plus. Lawrence's slider/sinker combo would make him an effective big league pitcher if used properly out of the pen. Enough about Lawrence's crazy groundball tendencies, let's not lose sight of what is really important here - the opportunity to bash Ryan Franklin any chance we can get. It never gets old!
  4. Brian Lawrence: Potential ROOGY? - In his career, Lawrence has had all kinds of trouble getting out lefties (career 1.57 WHIP against portsiders). This stat makes it hard for any team to justify giving him another chance as a starter in the big leagues. Fortunately, if used properly, Lawrence could never have to see a southpaw at the plate ever again. Instead, he could be deployed as a RighthandedOneOutGuY (see the ROOGY?). Lawrence has a career WHIP of 1.12 in 511.1 innings pitched against righties; to put that in perspective, only 4 starters had lower overall WHIPs last season (Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halliday, and Mike Mussina). The conversion to the pen, specifically as a ROOGY, could tack on years to the end of Lawrence's career.
One last note of caution concerning Lawrence: For a guy so reliant on throwing sliders of varying velocities, the shoulder injury represents a major, major concern. If for some reason Lawrence can not throw the same set of pitches he did pre-injury, he could become a terribly ineffective pitcher very quickly. If as many teams are as interested as the newspapers say, then it would not be a stretch to say that Lawrence has been given a clean bill of health and is throwing pain-free. However, nobody will really know how his slider will feel until after he starts dialing it up in game-time situations.

Of course, this entire discussion could all be a moot point as this whole rumor could be based on a misunderstanding by Hickey. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been the team hottest on Lawrence's tail for a long time now, so it is not a stretch to imagine that Hickey simply confused the two Pennsylvania baseball teams.



Blogger GM-Carson said...

I too thought that the reporter simply mixed up the Pirates and Phils.

I'd be ok with a Lawrence signing if we didn't already dish out mucho dinero to Eaton. In fact signing Lawrence would have been cheaper and probably just as effective as signing Eaton.

6:13 AM  

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