Aardsma: Apart from the Alphabetical Advantage, What's the Deal?

I have to be honest, when the Google Alert arrived saying “red sox trade for pitcher,” David Aardsma‘s not exactly who I was expecting. To say the least. But Theo and the gang saw something in him, so I guess it’s worth a brief Q&A on the trade.

Q: Who the hell is David Aardsma?
A: A Chicago reliever, but you knew that. A Denver native – that you probably didn’t. As for the actually important stuff, he’s a former first pick of the San Francisco Giants, a 6 foot 4 Rice product. Regrettably, he appears to have been rushed, reaching the majors in 2004 after a mere 18.1 innings in the minors. The Scouting Notebook for 2005 (lord, how I miss those things) talks about him as a potential closer, but one suspects that such talk has abated in the wake of a couple of years of less than stellar performances. If my math is right, he’ll be 27 going into the season.

Q: What kind of pitcher is he?
A: A hard thrower, both by reputation and – to a certain extent – by results. The book says that he’ll touch 96-97, and while the 2005 scouter had him throwing a hard breaking ball along with his fastball, last year’s Baseball Prospectus claims that he’d narrowed the focus down to pretty much just the heater. Depending on the command of and movement on that fastball, of course, a single pitch repertoire can be a serious issue – unless you last name is Rivera and you hail from Panama. Aardsma at least has shown the ability to strike people out, however, with a lifetime 8.44 K/9 which spiked at 10.02 per last year.

Q: So what’s the catch?
A: Pretty much what you’d expect: control. Despite the attention to the fastball, Aardsma has yet to demonstrate acceptable control on a consistent basis. In 96 total MLB innings, Aardsma’s walked 55 to his 90 strikeouts. Not good.

Q: What did we have to give up to get him?
A: Two non-drafted young pitchers, Miguel Socolovich (21) and Willy Mota (22). I don’t have much on either kid, but they’re not among the BA Top 30 prospects and neither has made it to AA. According to Kevin Thomas, “Socolovich pitched 11 games in low Class A Greenville last year (2-2, 6.65) and 14 in short-season Lowell (5-4, 3.56). Mota was an outfielder for four years before converting to pitcher last season (5-3, 2.60 in 17 relief appearances with Lowell).” While you never know, neither of these kids has exactly lit it up.

Q: Where does he fit in the bullpen mix?
A: Presumably he’ll audition for a 6th or 7th inning role, with a theoretical upside of hard throwing right handed set up man.

Q: Anything interesting in his splits?
A: Well, he came out of the gate quickly last year. In April, he held a 1.72 ERA, and had K’d 23 in 15.2 innings, only (for him) walking 6. They also tell us he shouldn’t be used against the Cubs: in 1.1 innings against them, they’ve hit .667 of his offerings scoring 9 runs in the process. Also of note: he was much better at home than away last year, 2.08 ERA/.210 BAA vs 11.40/.382.

Q: Is he more effective facing lefties or righties?
A: Don’t have the career numbers in front of me, but last year it was six of one, half a dozen of another. Lefties hit him for less power, but got on base a ton (.448), while righties walked less but tatooed him to the tune of a .560 slugging percentage.

Q: All in all, what do you make of the trade?
A: A fairly harmless transaction, with a modest
potential upside if Aardsma matures as he closes in on 30 as some pitchers do.

Q: Will it work out better than the last swap with the White Sox, which exchanged serviceable if burnt out David Riske for Javier Lopez?
A: Who knows. It is worth noting, however, that while Riske has generally outpitched Lopez, he’s been better than four times as expensive. And that in an admitted 20+ fewer innings, Lopez allowed exactly the same BAA as Riske. The latter strikes more out while walking fewer, however.

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