In defense of Jesse Crain

It seems that these days, Jesse Crain has been the favorite target of the Twins' fanbase, bloggers, media and potentially his manager (if one reads between Gardenhire's words) as a result of the latest unsuccessful road trip on the East Coast, which resulted in elimination of the Division lead for the Twins and having the team tied in first place with the Detroit Tigers. Jesse Crain has been looked at as the sacrificial lamb, who needs to be cut from the team, to solve the Twins' woes, and his last name more times than not, appears on the internet hyphenated with "Wreck". Does he deserve the outcry for his dismissal? He must, since he is pitching in the rhythm of 6.88 ERA, has walked 5 and struck out only 12 in 17 innings and his WHIP is an ugly 1.588. Or doesn't he? Let's dig deeper into the numbers:

  • Jesse Crain has been unlucky. His (opponents' batting average on balls in play, BABIP) is .346, which is inflated and will regress to the league norm of .295, resulting in lower WHIP and more effectiveness.

  • Speaking of effectiveness... Jesse Crain has been effective (did not allow an earned run) in 12 of his 17 appearances this season. I understand that this might look like a surprise to some. If we look closer at 5 appearances he has been ineffective, 4 of them came with 3 days rest and one with no rest. Here is how opponents hit against Jesse Crain, based on how much rest Crain has before he pitches:

    • No rest: .444/.500/.889 (1.389 OPS)

    • 1 day rest: .286/.286/.357 (.643 OPS)

    • 2 days rest: .176/.176/.235 (.412 OPS)

    • 3 days rest: .417/.481/.917 (1.398 OPS)

    So, Jesse Crain has been effective other than when he pitched with no rest or 3 days of rest. This could be explained by the fact that his fastball has been his most ineffective pitch. A hard thrower like Crain needs some rest to command his fastball but not enough rest so that his fastball becomes too flat (which has been a general complain about Crain). So it looks like how and when Crain is used affects his stuff and not that "Crain has lost his stuff" per se

  • So is a manager or a pitching coach supposed to be a seer and guess that when Crain has too much rest he is not himself, so they use him with less rest? Not exactly... Here are Crain's career numbers (opponents hitting) with various days of rest (same as above, but career, not only 2010 and just OPS, not slashlines):

    • No rest: .669 OPS

    • 1 day rest: .719 OPS

    • 2 days rest: .636 OPS

    • 3 days rest: .817 OPS

    Clearly, Crain has always been less effective when rested 3 days. His manager and pitching coach should have known that and not have allowed it to happen. They should set him up to succeed and not fail. As far as the discrepancy of the no rest numbers between 2010 and career go, it could be an artifact due to that single (the one of the 5) bad outing with no rest this season (5/18 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 HR) and just the sample might not be enough. The 3 days rest day, based on the career is significant

  • So how much has Jesse Crain hurt the Twins in 2010: Not that much. His total win probability added (WPA) for 2010 is = -0.02, which is close to zero. Players like Cuddyer (WPA = -0.96, which is losing a game practically) and Drew Butera (WPA = -0.78) have hurt the Twins more. Could this be because Crain was good only when the game was not close? Let's look at the numbers. This is how opponents hit against Jesse Crain in 2010, in high leverage, medium leverage and low leverage situations:

    • High Leverage: .231/.286/.385 (.670 OPS)

    • Medium Leverage: .313/.353/.438 (.790 OPS)

    • Low Leverage: .333/.378/.690 (1.068 OPS)

    In other words, Crain has been very good when the game was close and not so good in mop-up role and really has not cost the Twins games this season.

What can one do to make Crain successful? I know that it might appear counter intuitive to many, but the above suggest:

  • Use him only with 1 or 2 days rest

  • Do not use him in mop up situations

  • And Crain, truthfully, has pitched much better than his ERA suggests this season, really... (His FIP is 2 points less than his ERA, btw, for the ones who like that metric.) He just has not been used in the right manner and failed when used in the wrong manner. So it is unfair to him to be the sacrificial lamb for the Twins' struggles...