As most of you know, the Phillies selected Jim Ed Warden in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft, held at the Winter Meetings earlier in December. It should be said right away that for every Johan Santana, there are probably 50 Chris Booker’s taken via the Rule 5 draft. In the baseball economy, a $50,000 dollar gamble is a drop in the bucket, even for the smallest of small market teams. Pat Gillick has a history of using the Rule 5 draft to pluck diamonds from the rough, with the most famous case being the pickpocketing of George Bell from the Phillies when he was with Toronto. Every year, you hear substantial amounts of rumors surrounding the draft, proposing names that could be taken, trades that could be made, and normally, the event fails to live up to the hype. With the changes made to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, prospects who normally would have been eligible this year were given an extra year of protection to their team, and thus, a thin crop of players available. Josh Hamilton, the troubled former Devil Ray alum, made the most headlines, but the Phillies were active, taking Warden and catcher Adam Donachie in the major league phase, then trading Donachie to Baltimore for former Phillies farmhand Alfredo Simon. I’m going to take a look at Warden here, and possibly Simon at a later date.
Looking at history, it should be immediately noted that the odds of Warden sticking all season are less than 50/50, and the odds of him actually being a positive contributor is probably 30/70, at best. This process is a crapshoot, and every once in a while, you strike gold, but more often than not, it’s just another piece of coal. I follow the minors pretty closely, and not just the Phillies system, but I hadn’t ever heard of Warden prior to him being drafted. He was a 6th round pick in 2001 by Cleveland, drafted out of Tennessee Tech University, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. I don’t have access to his college stats, but since his first year of pro ball was way back in 2001, I think we have enough data to draw some conclusions.
Based on scouting reports, Warden is a tall (6’7), wiry (195 lbs) righty that throws with a sidearm motion. Sidearm and submarine pitchers appear to be making a comeback (ok, not REALLY, but they still exist), but it’s important to realize what comes with a sidearm pitcher. Most guys only thrive against batters from the same side as they throw. Righties (like Chad Bradford) tend to dominate right handed batters while struggling against lefties, and vice versa (see Myers, Mike) so they need to be deployed properly. Warren’s overall minor league stat line is quite extensive, and looks like this:
187G, 371.1 IP, 8.10 H/9, 5.14 BB/9, 8.51 K/9, and 0.87 HR/9
At first glance, he gives up a tick less than 1 hit per 9, walks waaay too many batters, has a solid K rate, and is a tick or two above average in terms of home run suppression. I’m more interested in his recent track record, as he only started 1 game since the beginning of 2004, when he became a reliever exclusively, which is surely the role the Phillies see him playing. So, his 2004-2006 stat line looks like this
146G, 186.1 IP, 7.40 H/9, 4.59 BB/9, 9.04 K/9, and 0.87 HR/9
Ok, we’re getting somewhere now. He allowed about a half a hit and half a walk less per 9, he upped his K rate a tick, and his HR/9 rate was identical. He still walks waaaay too many guys, but his hit rate is tolerable, and his K rate is solid. Thanks to the slice of heaven known as minorleaguesplits, we can take a deeper look at his 2006 performance. If someone knows where I can find minor league splits for 2005, please let me know. So, here is Warden’s 2006, and also the league average for the AA Eastern League, just for comparison’s sake
EL Average: 3.23 BB/9, 7.37 K/9, 0.76 HR/9, .252/.323/.381 allowed
Warden: 4.42 BB/9, 7.17 K/9, 0.46 HR/9, .171/.304/.259 allowed
Ok, so let’s look at it. Warden still walks waaaaay too many guys (you’re picking up on a trend here, right?), his K rate is about league average, home run suppression is better than average, and his OPS allowed was a good deal lower than the league average. Not too shabby, really. But, here is where Warden’s numbers really come alive. As I mentioned above, guys with a “funky delivery” (TM, Wheeler) usually are able to tame hitters from the same side, and Warden is no exception. Look at his 2006 splits v LHB and RHP
vs LHB: 25.0 IP, 6.12 H/9, 6.84 BB/9, 8.28 K/9, 0.72 HR/9, 24:26 GB to FB ratio
vs RHB: 34.0 IP, 4.76 H/9, 2.65 BB/9, 6.35 K/9, 0.26 HR/9, 51:26 GB to FB ratio
I think we’ve found Mr Warden’s niche…..he really can get out right handed batters. Having never seen him throw a single pitch, my guess is that he drops down in his motion, and creates very violent tailing motion in to right handed batters, and because of this, gets a lot of balls in on the hands and generates a lot of weak swings. He doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, but has a nearly 2:1 GB to FB ratio, which is very impressive. Against lefties, like most sidearmers, he’s more prone to hard hit balls because of the natural tailing motion, this time the ball coming back across the middle of the plate. He probably has a decent changeup, which he throws to lefties, and when he makes his pitch, can generate plenty of swings and misses, but when he gets under the ball, he leaves it up in the zone. Couple that with the tailing motion away from a lefty, and you get a lot more solid contact against.
So what does this mean? If Warden is used strictly as a situational righty, he can probably stick at the major league level. Bring him in to face Miguel Cabrera, but don’t let him face Mike Jacobs. Bring him in to face Ryan Zimmerman, but don’t leave him in to face Nick Johnson. Etc, etc, repeat. Now, does Charlie have the sense to use Warden in the proper spots? That’s left to be seen. If he is used in these spots, he can be successful. Warden will be 26 on opening day and turns 27 in May, so he isn’t really a “prospect”, but this is the way you build a solid bullpen, not by giving out free agent contracts to guys like Joe Borowski and Keith Foulke. The odds of Warren sticking are 50/50, the odds of him succeeding are 30/70, but with the Manuel Factor, probably more like 20/80, but who knows, Gillick may have caught lightning in a bottle here.