Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
During the offseason, baseball teams make several transactions in an effort to build the best roster they can possibly have. In doing so, they’ll make trades, sign free agents, and claim players on waivers, while also cutting ties with some of their own players. It’s a constant shuffle, and sometimes the decisions they make are not easy.
Because I’m such a helpful person, I’m going to try and make the Royals’ job a bit easier. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling a few players on the Royals’ roster who the front office may consider releasing in order to create space for other incoming players. I wrote a similar series of posts last year, including this one on Noel Arguelles, who was recently re-signed to a minor league deal to remain in the organization. The deadline for tendering a contract to players who don’t already have a guaranteed contract is December 2nd, and the Rule 5 Draft will take place about a week later, so many of these decisions will need to be made somewhat soon.
I’ll give a brief analysis of the player’s contributions before making a recommendation to the Royals of whether to cut him (meaning non-tender, designate for assignment, trade, etc.) or keep him.
First up in this series is former first round pick and local product, Aaron Crow.
After being drafted in 2009, Crow disappointed in his only minor league season before debuting as a reliever in Kansas City in 2011. He was excellent in the first half of the season, posting a 2.08 ERA in 43.1 innings, along with 44 strikeouts and only 30 hits allowed, which earned him a trip to the All-Star Game. Regression wasn’t kind to Crow after that, unfortunately, and he finished the year allowing 25 hits and 9 runs in his final 18.2 innings.
The next two seasons were still adequate, though nothing outstanding for a reliever: 112.1 IP, 84 ERA-, 8.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9.
Then in 2014, the wheels fell completely off.
Crow’s strikeout rate plummeted to 13.9%, and he didn’t counter that with a drastically lower walk rate, issuing free passes to 9.8% of the batters he faced. He allowed 10 home runs in 59 innings, and his 107 ERA- was the 11th worst in the league among qualified relievers. And judging by Crow’s peripherals, he was even worse. His 141 FIP- was the worst in the league. I’m not the biggest fan of judging pitchers solely based on FIP, but it does tell a part of the story.
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As I mentioned, Crow racked up far fewer strikeouts, and part of that is attributable to a strikingly lower velocity on his fastball. Between 2011-2013, Crow’s fastball averaged around 94.5 MPH. In 2014, his fastball averaged about 92 MPH. His fastball was never his best pitch, but it also was at least a potential weapon for him. The swinging strike rate went from about 5.3% down to 2.7%. Crow did generate a few more whiffs with his two-seamer (4.7%), but he didn’t have enough movement to make up for his decreased velocity.
Despite throwing two different fastballs, Crow was still mostly a two-pitch pitcher, relying on his slider almost as often as the hard stuff. Unfortunately, that too had less velocity, down almost 3 MPH from 2013. While the 15.8% swinging strike rate wasn’t awful, it was roughly 8 percentage points lower than it had been for the rest of his career, and when batters did make contact, they did a bit more damage. It was still a good pitch, holding opponents to a 62 wRC+, but he simply allowed to much hard contact, and batters weren’t chasing it as often, which put him in too many undesirable counts.
It all added up to a disastrous 2014 campaign that included a brief trip to the minors in August, before rejoining the club once rosters expanded. Ned Yost leaned upon Crow in too many high leverage situation, and the Royals were burned on multiple occasions because of it.
The Royals obviously strive to have an elite bullpen, and Crow can no longer be considered an elite reliever, so before considering the finances of it, keeping him around would seem to make little sense. There are a handful of minor league relievers who could likely perform at a similar level, if not exceed Crow’s production. And once you consider the cost, the choice should become much easier.
Crow received $1,475,000 in 2014, and he is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility. MLB Trade Rumors projects his 2015 salary to be approximately $2 million. Paying any middle reliever that much money could be a stretch for a small market team, so paying a middle reliever that much money to perform poorly would be incredibly unwise.
Final decision on Crow: Cut him. If the Royals are able to find a team desperate for bullpen help in the next couple of weeks, it might be possible to work out a trade, but otherwise, the team should plan on non-tendering Crow next month. Andy McCullough has heard that the Royals are still considering keeping Crow around for at least another season, but with the cost of the bullpen already increasing rapidly, handing Crow that kind of salary would be a poor use of resources. While I’m sure it would be difficult for Dayton Moore to cut ties with one of his first round picks, it’s time for both parties to move in different directions.