Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blast From The Past: Bryan Harvey

I remember Harvey well. He was that dominant fireballing closer who just fell off the map in the mid nineties. I decided to find out a little more and look a little closer at Harvey's career. There's no better way to start my Blast From The Past series than with a fireballing country boy flameout from my childhood.

After leaving rural Catawba County for UNC-Charlotte in 1981, Harvey spent only a year in school. Harvey quit and went back home where he retread tires for a living and moved with his wife into a mobile home. He then worked as a furniture delivery man, playing softball in his spare time. In 1984, a former teammate called him and asked him to play in a semi-pro tournament that day. Word got around of Harvey's dominance that day and the Angels invited him for a tryout.

In 1985 he made his pro debut at Quad City in Single-A. He started out with a bang, going 5-6 with a 3.53 ERA, but striking out 111 in only 81.7 innings. His walk rate was a little high, but since no one was gonna hit him, it didn't really matter. The next year, in high A ball, he continued handing out free passes, strikeouts, and very little else. In AA Midland in 1987, he notched 20 saves while cutting back his walks, increasing his strikeouts to 13.25 every 9 innings, and lowering his ERA to 2.04. On May 16th of that season, he made his major league debut in some mopup duty for the Angels. His first batter was Cal Ripken, who struck out looking. Next he faced another future Hall of Famer, retiring Eddie Murray on a grounder to third. Then there was a taste of vintage Harvey. He walked Fred Lynn, threw two wild pitches and then stranded Lynn at third.

By 1988, Harvey was set to be a big factor in California's bullpen. Harvey adapted to the big leagues remarkably well, posting 17 saves, a 2.13 ERA, and 67 K's to only 20 BB's. He allowed earned runs in only 3 of his first 26 games that year, and his ERA wasn't higher than 2.47 all season. He finished 2nd to Mark McGwire in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Over the next two years, Harvey saved 50 more games for California, striking out batter after batter, but issuing far too many walks to be among the elite.

In 1991, however, Harvey turned a corner of sorts. Harvey finally exhibited some control, and it resulted in one of the greatest relief seasons of all time. He saved 46 games with a 1.60 ERA. Most remarkably, however, is that his ERA never got as high as 1.89. He never struggled with his control once during the season, and finished 5th in the Cy Young race. Through July 7 of that year, he pitched in 32 games, getting 22 saves in 39 innings, striking out 49 to only 5 walks. Harvey remained dominant in 1992 but was injured, limiting him to under 30 innings. Due to his injury, California left him unprotected in the expansion draft, whereupon he was selected with the 20th pick by the Florida Marlins. Harvey would be the bright spot of the Marlins' inaugural season, notching 45 saves with a 1.70 ERA. In 1994, though, the injury bug would rear its ugly head yet again, limiting Harvey to only 10.3 innings. He tried to return the following April, but after surrendering a 3 run homer to Glenallen Hill, Harvey blew out his elbow and left his season debut without getting an out. The pitch to Hill was the last Harvey would ever throw in a Major League Game.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery, the 34 year old Harvey returned in 1997 with a shot at Atlanta's bullpen in spring training, but suffered an untimely rib injury which kept him from making the roster. I remember being disappointed, because as a Braves fan I was convinced we had a real hidden gem in our camp that year. I was 13 at the time, so I didn't know to be skeptical of his health. He later latched on with the Marlins system again, but never reached the big league club.

In his career, Bryan Harvey made over $18 million in total salary, which isn't too bad for an old boy from Soddy-Daisy, TN. He saved 177 games, and averaged 10.42 K/9 over his career, a very impressive total. It's a real shame Harvey couldn't make a comeback, because he was one of the hardest throwing relievers of his era. He could really dial it up, and he was one of the best relievers in baseball when healthy. I guess he went back to Catawba County, but I'll still think of him whenever I see K-Rod whiffing hitter after hitter in that Angels uniform. I suppose if his son Kris ever reaches the bigs for the Marlins - he was last seen hitting homers, striking out, playing crappy defense, and doing not much of anything else in the low minors last year - I'll be reminded of Bryan as well.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Moneyball 2007: Arizona D-Backs

Which teams are getting the most bang for their buck this year? Using Baseball Prospectus' MORP and depth charts, here's a team by team look, including any players expected to get at least 35% of the playing time, and the '07 salary will only depict what that team is forking out:
Note: DW refers to deadweight players - guys who won't play much but will be paid like they do.

ARIZONA '07 Salary '07 MORP
C: Miguel Montero ~$300,000 $10,250,000
C: Chris Snyder ~$300,000 $6,325,000
1B: Conor Jackson ~$350,000 $8,750,000
2B: Orlando Hudson $3,900,000 $16,550,000
3B: Chad Tracy $2,750,000 $11,825,000
SS: Stephen Drew $300,000 $13,125,000
LF: Eric Byrnes $4,575,000 $9,700,000
CF: Chris Young ~$300,000 $15,950,000
RF: Carlos Quentin ~$300,000 $12,500,000
SP: Brandon Webb $4,500,000 $20,425,000
SP: Randy Johnson $2,000,000 $7,550,000
SP: Livan Hernan. $7,000,000 $5,575,000
SP: Doug Davis $5,500,000 $8,575,000
SP: Edgar Gonzalez ~$300,000 $6,725,000
CL: Jose Valverde $2,000,000 $6,700,000
RP: Juan Cruz $1,437,500 $4,975,000
RP: Jorge Julio $3,600,000 $3,225,000
RP: Bran. Medders $390,500 $2,950,000
RP: Brandon Lyon $1,500,000 $1,600,000
DW: Tony Clark $1,000,000 $1,125,000

Total salary for key players: $42,303,000
Total MORP for key players: $174,400,000

This is what happens when you build from within and build really, really well. The value passes the cost before you even get out of the infield. Montero is a very good prospect and Snyder is a very capable backup. Conor Jackson isn't a worldbeater at first base, but he's not terrible. Orlando Hudson's defense is invaluable and probably the biggest reason for Brandon Webb's breakthrough last season. Speaking of Webb, PECOTA thinks he'll be this good for a while. That's awesome news for the D-Backs, and it makes overpaying for the last 2 years of Randy Johnson's contract a little easier to swallow. Josh Byrnes is one of the smartest young GMs in the game, and the prospects will keep rolling in after this year. You've got guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton, Micah Owings, and my sleeper Joey Side coming along in that system.