Jon Rauch has gotten a lot of credit for how well he has pitched lately. In his last 29 games, he has a 0.86 ERA along with a 0.571 WHIP and has been hands down the most reliable pitcher in the bullpen. But to date there has been very little speculation on if the Mets will try to re-sign Rauch for the 2013 season.
I was a vocal critic of the decision to sign Rauch to a $3.5 million deal for this season and he is still unlikely to be worth the contract, at least by FanGraphs dollar values. Currently, Rauch has earned $2.3 million according to FanGraphs and is likely to have earned over $2.5 million by the end of the season. For a pitcher who earned negative dollars in 2011, this has been a nice comeback season for Rauch and whether or not you think the Mets should look to re-sign him, no one can deny that it is a reasonable question to ask.
Rauch had consistently lost velocity on his fastball, with his average heater down to 89.5 last year. In April, it looked like the trend was going to continue, as he averaged 88.8 mph with his fastball. Yet in August, Rauch’s fastball checked in with a 91.5 average velocity. While his increased velocity has not translated into a lot of strikeouts – he has a career-low 5.66 K/9 – it has made him tough to hit, as batters have a .193 AVG against him.
For the year, Rauch has a 2.88 ERA, nearly two runs better than a season ago in Toronto. Yet xFIP is not nearly as impressed. His 2012 xFIP is 4.55 or nearly identical to his 4.56 from a season ago. Last year, Rauch had a HR/FB rate nearly 3X higher than it is this season. This year, Rauch has a BABIP 60 points lower than in 2011. Also, his strand rate is a career-worst 60.8 percent.
If we go by xFIP, we think we have a pretty good handle on what type of pitcher Rauch is at this point in his career. Here are his yearly xFIPs, starting in 2009:
4.57, 3.98, 4.56, 4.55
Actually, outside of a career-best of 3.71 in 2008, this is pretty much been the pitcher Rauch has been since 2004. His success depends on how well he does on things that a pitcher does not have total control. In 2012, he is succeeding thanks to a .216 BABIP and a 4.4 HR/FB rate. That’s a pretty nice 1-2 combo. He’s not giving up many hits and he’s not allowing many homers given his fly balls. The former is even more impressive given that no has accused the Mets defense of being particularly good this season.
As a general rule, a “normal” BABIP is around .300 but there is enough variety that for a veteran player you are much better off looking at his career rate. Rauch has a lifetime .273 BABIP so he has demonstrated the ability to post lower than normal BABIPs throughout his career. But his .216 mark here in 2012 is an extreme outlier.
Meanwhile, a “normal” HR/FB rate is around 10.0 but the same caveats with veteran players that exist with BABIP apply here, too. Rauch has a career 8.0 HR/FB rate. This season he has a 4.4 mark, which is again an outlier, but not nearly as severe as his BABIP. We have to look no further than 2010 for a similar HR/FB rate season for Rauch, as he posted a 3.7 mark that year.
As good as Rauch’s numbers here in 2012, he could be doing even better if he has a normal strand rate. A “typical” rate is around 70 percent while Rauch has a lifetime 73.1 percent mark. Yet, as stated earlier, this season his LOB% checks in at 60.8 percent. Rauch is allowing fewer runners to get on base in 2012, but a greater percentage of those that do reach end up scoring.
Given all we know about Rauch – the increased velocity, his ability to pitch in the late innings, his career tendencies to post lower than normal HR/FB rates and BABIPs – should the Mets re-sign him for next year?
In my opinion, the Mets got as good of a season from Rauch as they could have possibly hoped for and he still was not worth the contract they gave him. His peripherals were identical to a season ago and no one would be remotely considering this question if he had a 4.85 ERA like he did in 2011. But because relief pitchers throw such few innings, yearly fluctuations in ERA are not a surprise despite the overall stability of his DIPS components.
If we combine Rauch’s 2011 and 2012 season, we see a 3.88 ERA over 102 IP. That’s a 105 ERA+ or essentially a league-average pitcher. One could certainly make the case that his 2011 season was an outlier for his recent performance and that his increased fastball velocity this year merits extra consideration. And I would not argue either of those points.
Yet I don’t see how those two factors equal another $3.5 million contract, much less one with a raise that he should rightly expect if the club thought he was worth this much after his dismal 2011 season. Perhaps if money was no issue, it would be worth spending $4 million an 8th inning guy that his manager still does not trust to retire LHP in key spots.
But that’s not the position that the Mets will find themselves in the offseason.
Rauch has had an outstanding year in his role here in 2012 and Mets fans should be grateful. The skeptics – chief among them me – should admit that Rauch turned in a much better season than we anticipated. But it still wasn’t worth $3.5 million and it’s not worth it for a team with a limited budget to bring him back hoping he repeats his 2012 results rather than his 2011 output.