Thursday, December 08, 2011

LaTroy Hawkins Is a Survivor

The surprise isn't that LaTroy Hawkins is still pitching in the major leagues. The surprise is that anyone would sign a 39 year old pitcher that isn't left-handed. If reports are correct, Hawkins has signed a one year deal with the Angels for $3 million pending a physical. If the deal becomes finalized it will mean an eighteenth season for Hawkins with his ninth different team. It will also be his fifth free agent contract. All this comes to a pitcher who started out with the Twins as one of the worst starting pitchers ever.

It was fortunate for LaTroy Hawkins that the Twins didn't simply discard him after the 1999 season. Instead, the Twins converted Hawkins to the bullpen where they found he was pretty decent. How bad was LaTroy Hawkins as a starter? He made 98 starts at the beginning of his career covering 521 and a third innings. In those innings, he gave up 357 earned runs. on 680 hits. Ouch. His ERA in those starts was 6.16 and his hits per nine were 11.73. He also gave up 1.48 homers per nine innings during those starts.

His 1999 season was historically bad. The 129 earned runs he allowed that season led the league and is the fourth highest total for any pitcher in history in a season with less than 180 innings pitched. And yet after that season (arbitration?), he got a raise of over $600,000 dollars! Hawkins hasn't started a game since.

Hawkins became the closer of sorts for the Twins in 2000. He didn't get a whole lot of opportunities as the Twins were awful that season. But he did save fourteen and posted a 3.39 ERA. He was still the closer in 2001 for the Twins but he had a bad season. Despite 28 saves, his ERA was close to six and his WHIP ballooned to over 1.9 that season. But by 2002, the Twins had installed "Everyday" Eddie Guardado as the closer and Hawkins found himself as a set up guy. Hawkins had a very good season in 2002 as the Twins reached the ALCS that season (a loss to the Angels). Hawkins had six vulture wins that season and was credited with 13 holds. He was even better in 2003 for the Twins when he compiled an ERA of 1.86, picked up nine vulture wins and earned 28 holds along with two saves.

2003 was Hawkins last year with the Twins. He was granted free agency after that season and he signed with the Cubs to become their closer. His overall stats for the Cubs in 2004 don't look too bad. His 2.63 ERA that season to go along with a walks per nine of only 1.5 look great, as do his 25 saves that season. But he yielded ten home runs and blew nine saves as the Cubs came in a disappointing third place that season. He became the target of boo-birds in Wrigley. He began the 2005 season even worse and the Cubs and they traded him at the end of May to the Giants for David Aardsma and Jerome Williams (two familiar names!). He did not do well in San Francisco to finish out that season.

After the 2005 season, the Giants traded Hawkins to the Orioles for Steve Kline. Kline was out of baseball after the 2007 season. Hawkins is still going. Hawkins didn't have a great season with the Orioles in 2006 but he picked up 16 holds. He filed for free agency after that season and was picked up by the Rockies and considering Coors Field, he didn't have a bad season in 2007. He picked up 18 more holds and finished with an ERA of 3.42.

After Hawkins' season with the Rockies, he was a free agent again and the Yankees signed him. That was a disaster and Yankees traded him to the Astros for an obscure minor league player. But Hawkins excelled for the Astros in 24 appearances there. He was also superb for the Astros in following season (2009) which led to his free agent contract with the Brewers in 2010.

Injuries and ineffectiveness sum up Hawkins' experience for the Brewers in 2010. It was a horrible and a lost season and Brewers' fans must have been wondering what the heck the Brewers were thinking when he had an important role in the Brewers' 2011 bullpen. But he had a great season in 2011 during the Brewers playoff run. His twenty holds for the Brewers in 2011 were a big part of their success. And then he had a very good post season, pitching four innings without giving up a run. The Brewers will need to replace his innings somehow as it appears that the Angels have signed him.

Hawkins can still deliver a fastball around 92 MPH. But he doesn't blow anyone away. He only missed 5.1 percent of bats last season. But he's increased his ground ball percentage and throws a lot of first pitch strikes. He's never been the best reliever in the world and he's had a couple of bad seasons. But you have to give the guy props. After beginning life as one of the worst starting pitchers ever, LaTroy Hawkins has had a long and profitable career. Seventeen seasons has only added up to 15.3 total WAR, but after his next paycheck he'll have earned $41 million dollars. Not a bad reward for a survivor.


Thomas Slocum said...

An uneven career shaded fairly heavily towards the dark side. In those 17 seasons, LaTroy has had no more than 7 good to fairly good years, perhaps another 3 that were so-so, and 7 that were somewhere between just plain bad and historically bad. Fortunately for LaTroy, all but one of those came early in his long career (the outliers being his first year as a Brewer that you pointed out and his half season as a Yankee, which he rescued with the Astros). Normally you'd expect that a long but less than spectacular career would either be a catcher or a left-handed pitcher. I suppose there's some benefit in knowing what you're likely to get when signing a player but paying a long-reliever/role player 8-10 times the minimum seems a bit out there. Hard to believe that none of those last 7 teams didn't have a young fire-baller who might have benefited from a year or two in a low pressure role in the pen (sort of like Earl Weaver liked to do).

William J. Tasker said...

Oh, agreed. Why pay $3 bills for a league average player when you can get the same thing from a youngster for $500,000. But still, Hawkins has survived and that's on him, not on the boneheads who sign him.

Unknown said...

Another bonehead move by the Angles.3 million dollars for an old average and I mean average pitcher. Stupid.Stupid.Stupid.