Sean Gallagher - The Biggest Return Piece in the Rich Harden Deal
When I solicited your views for the Rich Harden trade, the responses were varied amongst both Cubs and A’s fans. Make no bones about it - the A’s dealt a high-risk but high-impact player in Rich Harden and received a group of mediocre to above-average talent blocked at most positions in the Cubs’ system. However, is this such a bad thing? Remember that Harden hasn’t thrown 200 innings in his professional career ever, and the last two years he has lost significant time to injury. As a result, Rich Harden is no longer throwing a breaking ball, instead becoming a two-pitch (fastball/changeup) pitcher. How he gets it done with just two pitches as a starter is beyond me, but it is a testament to his amazing ability.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the package, and as a bonus, we’ll take a look at Sean Gallagher’s pitching mechanics - pulled straight from his recent start for Oakland, where he led the A’s to victory over division rival Los Angeles of Anaheim, striking out seven in his debut…
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote an excellent piece about exchanging Rich Harden for Sean Gallagher here. In it, he makes some solid points about the durability of Gallagher vs. Harden and what would happen should Harden go down. Comparing Harden + his replacement to Sean Gallagher looks something like this:
That brings the combined totals for Harden + Harden Replacements to 180 innings with a 4.25 FIP, compared to the 180 innings we were projecting from Gallagher at a 5.00 FIP. That’s a difference of three-fourths of a run per nine innings, which while significant, adds up to a grand total of about 15 runs over the course of an entire season.
Fifteen runs, or roughly 1.5 wins - that’s the entirety of downgrading from Rich Harden to Sean Gallagher, based on the assumptions I made above. If you don’t like the numbers I used, feel free to plug in your own, but unless you’re very bullish on Harden’s health, you’re going to come to the conclusion that the swap will cost the A’s at most two or three wins between now and the end of 2009, when Harden’s contract expires.
For giving up those two to three wins in the next year and a half, the A’s receive club control over Gallagher from 2010 to 2013 (his ‘08-’09 years are already counted above), control over Murton from 2008 to 2011, control over Patterson from 2008 to 2014, a potentially useful prospect in Josh Donaldson, and they save approximately $8 million in salary.
If you assume that Cameron’s numbers are right (and I do), the A’s trade two to three wins for a ton of cost-saving prospects and league-ready players in addition to dumping $8mm in salary. This is a great trade by any measure! However, the problem lies in the fact that Rich Harden’s star power far outweighs what the A’s will get in Murton/Gallagher/Patterson/Donaldson, and that’s what’s blinding people. For those of you who have read Moneyball (and I hope that’s all of you), it is important to remember what Beane said about trading for and replacing players:
It’s not important to recreate the individual. It’s important to recreate the aggregate.
Beane said that regarding the loss of Jason Giambi, another high-profile player with stellar on-base and slugging percentages that couldn’t be replaced by any one single player. However, by choosing the undervalued parts that Beane could control, he was able to compete without one of the best players in the American League by adding Scott Hatteberg and Jeremy Giambi. Rich Harden is impossible to replace - but the package the A’s received in return does a good job of recreating the aggregate while saving the club money and giving them control over more pre-arbitration players who are league-ready.
A Closer Look at the Return
We’ll focus on two major players in the return - OF Matt Murton and RHP Sean Gallagher. Matt Murton is something of a pariah in Chicago, never getting playing time in the crowded outfield despite excellent on-base percentages in addition to a little pop from time to time. Though Murton has a line drive stroke and hasn’t shown the propensity to hit 25+ HR per year, he is a finished product that adds quite a bit of value to Oakland. His career batting line in the MLB is .294/.362/.448 and the average left fielder’s batting line is .264/.344/.441. All signs point to Matt Murton being a perfectly league-average (or slightly better) left fielder, both offense and defense considered. When you can get this production for close to the league minimum, you should be pretty damn happy.
Additionally, Matt Murton has never played full-time since 2005, and he is probably quite happy to be in a situation where his talents are appreciated. He will get a chance to play full-time in Oakland’s sparse outfield, probably joining the ranks of Carlos Gonzalez and Travis Buck in the long-run, while the other reserves scramble for playing time (Denorfia, Sweeney, Brown, etc).
RHP Sean Gallagher is the real return piece that people want to look at, especially after his great debut in Oakland last night. Gallagher combines a 93-96 mph four-seam fastball with a two-seam sinker, a straight change, devastating 12-6 curveball, and a newly added slider. Here’s what his Pitch f/x player card looks like, courtesy of Josh Kalk of The Hardball Times:
|Type||Movement in x (in.)||Movement in z (in.)||Initial Speed (MPH)||Number Thrown||Percent||Versus RHB||Percent||Versus LHB||Percent|
As you can see, Gallagher works like most RHP - primarily fastball/change to LH batters and fastball/slider to RH batters. He throws his curveball to both batters with some regularity, though, which is a testament to his confidence in the pitch in addition to the quality of the late break. I like his approach, as he throws a significant percentage of fastballs to both hitters and trusts his best pitches, rather than dabbling in a lot of off-speed work.
In 2008, Sean Gallagher spent 29 innings in AAA, striking out 30 batters, walking only 9 and giving up 2 home runs. His career in the minors has been a major success - he has struck out just over a batter per inning (482 K in 480 IP) and has shown major durability despite large jumps in innings pitched (Gallagher threw 151 innings at age 19 and 164 innings at age 20 - both high totals for such a young pitcher).
Complaints about Gallagher tend to focus on the same things - his mild velocity (prior to his jump in fastball velocity in 2006) and his bad body (6′2″ 220 lbs). Sounds a lot like Dana Eveland, doesn’t it? Though Gallagher has a reputation for running out of steam late in the season, there is the fact that he is just 22 years old and the Cubs have imposed a large amount of innings on his young arm - something they are unfortunately known for doing despite history indicating that it might not be such a great idea. For my money’s worth, I see a pitcher with an above-average fastball and curve who has been durable and strikes out a ton of batters with a mild control problem (though it is trending down, a very good sign).
Thanks to reader xv84, I’ve figured out how to synchronize and combine two pitches from the same pitcher. I won’t waste any time showing you it, because it’s positively awesome:
This is a sequence of Sean Gallagher vs. Chone Figgins in the first inning of the A’s / Angels game yesterday. Gallagher ran a fastball in on Figgins at 95 mph on an 0-1 count, speeding his hands up, then threw a nasty looping curveball on the outside corner of the plate nearly 20 mph slower, sitting him down. Poor Figgins never had a chance.
However, there are a few things I don’t like in Gallagher’s delivery. The first is the timing of his pitching arm at footstrike. Compare James Shields to Sean Gallagher in these two images - right when both pitchers start to turn their shoulders:
As you can see, Gallagher’s arm is not vertical when the shoulders turn. However, neither is it below the horizontal plane of his acromial line, so it’s not terrible. However, this will increase the distance that the forearm lays back in external rotation and will increase the load on his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).
Tempo-wise, Gallagher is a lightning-fast 16 frames from maximal leg lift into footplant, which is excellent. Nothing to change here! Furthermore, Gallagher features the late stepover into footplant that I like, as it aids in fast rotation of the hips ahead of the shoulders:
Gallagher significantly “scap” loads his arm behind his back, but keeps the elbow at or below the level of the shoulders. He has a great high glove finish at the shoulder in the deceleration phase:
He does feature a bit of pitching arm recoil, but his arm does a pretty good job of uniformly decelerating across his body, so I think it’s fine for the most part.
Overall, though I don’t like his timing at footstrike/shoulder turn, Gallagher has otherwise pretty solid mechanics. I’d rate them at a tick above average, or Good.
In conclusion, I think the A’s got a good deal. That’s not to say that the Cubs got a poor return, since Patterson is blocked by Theriot/Fontenot/Derosa, Donaldson is blocked by Soto, Murton is hated by the organization, and Gallagher is nothing more than a fourth/fifth starter to the Cubs, depending on Rich Hill’s ability to throw strikes. Both teams did well here, and I just don’t understand the people that say that Oakland got ripped off here.
For more in-depth analysis of pitching mechanics, check out Driveline Mechanics.