Is Starting Aaron Crow a Good Idea?

As Jack Moore covered earlier, the Royals today acquired the services of Jon “The Ox” Broxton. Purportedly, the idea was that adding a reliever was less expensive than finding a starter — which is true — and that they already had a pitcher in the pen that could move to the starting rotation next year — which is more debatable.

The thing is, they might actually have a pitcher in the pen that could start. But it’s probably not Aaron Crow.

Of course, it makes some sense to try Aaron Crow as a starter. He was drafted in 2009 as a starter out of Missouri in the first round, and he started all the way through the minors until he made the bullpen out of spring training last year. In terms of how long ago he was a starter, Crow is the most ‘ready’ to start. That still doesn’t mean that he’s a great option.

After Crow’s success in the pen, it’s tempting to pencil him in for just a little less success in the rotation. He struck out more than a batter per inning, which was good enough to overcome his iffy control (4.5 BB/9) because he enticed more than half of his contact on the ground. SIERA liked him a little more (3.27) than FIP (4.11), but it was a nice season in the pen.

Tom Tango has given us the rule of 17% — strikeout rate decreases by 17% when a reliever moves to the rotation. If we treat the rule as gospel, Crow could manage a 20.3% strikeout rate as a starter. That would go up against an 11.7% walk rate, as Tango also states that walk rate is flat in the move.

If you look for players that struck out around 20%, walked around 10%, and kept about half of their contact on the ground next year, you get some interesting names. Gio Gonzalez (22.8% K, 10.5% BB, 46.7% GB), Derek Holland (19.2%, 8.0%, 46.4%), Ubaldo Jimenez (21.9%, 9.5%, 47.2%) and Ricky Romero (19.4%, 8.7%, 54.7%) provide the nice part of the neighborhood. A.J. Burnett (20.5%, 9.9% and 45.2%) is the warning sign.

It still seems to make sense to move Crow to the rotation. Except that Jeremy Greenhouse also pointed out that velocity changes with a move in roles. He reliably found that pitchers lose about 0.7 MPH when they become a starter. Crow had a 95 MPH heater, which could suffer a mile-per-hour drop and still be fine.

But there are outliers on Greenhouse’s graph. Joba Chamberlain lost about 3 MPH. Phil Hughes lost almost as much. Hong-Chih Kuo and Brett Myers did as well. Scouting reports on Crow coming out of college had him sitting 90-93 with late-fading velocity. His velocity also faded late this past season, sitting more at 93-94 than 95. Will Crow find anywhere near the same success if he sits under 92 MPH as a starter?

His pitching mix is somewhat limited. He uses his fastball and slider about 85% of the time. What happens when he has to use his curveball more? Or his changeup at all? In order to reduce platoon issues and get through the lineup more than once, he may have to use his secondary pitches more. That may not be a good thing.

Crow’s history does not suggest that he will be a good starter, either. In Double-A, Crow struck out only 16.7% of the batters he faced, and still walked 10.9%. He did get groundballs (63.4%), but the strikeout-to-walk ratio negated much of that benefit. Relieving gave him the velocity boost that he needed, and the ability to drop the changeup, which is a fringe pitch at best. Double-A starters with a 4.74 FIP don’t usually make good major league starters.

If Crow is a two-pitch pitcher without a history of success as a starter, is there another reliever the Royals use that might be a better fit in the rotation? What about His Mexcellence, Joakim Soria?

Yes, Soria has less velocity then Crow. If he loses more than 0.7 MPH off of his 91.4 MPH fastball, it may not work. But he has also shown that he can be successful with less velocity. In 2008, his fastball was only coming in at 90.9 MPH, and he had a 3.25 FIP.

Mostly, that’s because Soria is not your typical two-pitch reliever. At different times in his career, he’s used his slider, curveball and changeup more than 10% of the time, and all four of his pitches are above scratch by linear weights pitch type values. He has the arsenal to help him get through the order multiple times.

Of course, this might be going too far. Soria hasn’t started since Triple-A, in 2005, and he wasn’t effective then. And we saw what happened this year when he lost just a little bit off his fastball. Maybe he’s not a great candidate for moving to the rotation.

Then again, is Aaron Crow in the rotation a good idea either? In terms of value to the team, of course it makes sense to at least try, but it doesn’t seem likely to work out.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

23 Responses to “Is Starting Aaron Crow a Good Idea?”

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  1. Jon says:

    I agree that Crow may be better suited to relieve.

    However, just to pick some nits:

    The outliers you named have all also suffered injuries that may have contributed to their loss of velocity.

    The Royals need to play the lottery a little with their rotation. They have little to lose by experimenting with the move and a ton to gain if it works out. The bullpen is solid to great (if Broxton works out) without Crow.

    The rotation is mediocre now and Crow can only help. If it doesn’t work out, the Royals (with a little luck) will hopefully have Montgomery, Odorizzi, and Lamb battling for spots in the 2013 rotation.

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    • IvanGrushenko says:

      Why not convert both Soria and Crow? Don’t the Royals need five starters?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      That study was from before Hughes got hurt, so at least Hughes wasn’t hurt when he dropped the velo. Myers got hurt? Good point about the rest though.

      As for the rest, yeah it makes sense. I guess I’m just not super hopeful.

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  2. asdfasdf says:

    Yes, but they already have Chen, J Sanchez, Hochevar, F Paulino, and either Duffy or Crow or Soria as the 5th starter.

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  3. Tim E says:

    Wasn’t Soria moved to the pen in part because he could not stay healthy in the rotation?

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  4. ecp says:

    Soria never played in AAA, and certainly not in 2005. He played in Mexico in 2005, along with a few innings with San Diego’s Low A Fort Wayne team. I think sometimes the Mexican leagues are listed as the rough equivalent of AAA – debatable in itself – but perhaps that’s where you get the AAA idea. If you are indicating that he was ineffective as a Mexican league starter, you really have to make some HUGE translations for context before making that conclusion. At first glance his numbers look all right when you consider where he was pitching.

    But anyway – Soria as a starter would be a risky proposition as well, perhaps riskier than Crow. I’m not saying Soria can’t start. Heck, I was on the “Try Soria in the Rotation” bandwagon from the beginning. But his professional experience as a starter is limited to five games. And he has never – NEVER – pitched more than 69 innings in a season. Not even in Mexico. At least Crow was a college starter, and a pretty good one if memory serves, and is a little less far removed from that experience than Soria is from 2005.

    I should also point out that Crow has other pitches, but as is typical of most non-Soria relievers, he uses only his two best out of the bullpen. We’ll have to see what the state of that changeup is. The last I knew of his minor league usage of it was that he tended to throw it too hard.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I was more excited about Soria to the rotation before I actually looked at how long it’s been since he started and how little he’s started. And at least one site has his Mexican work listed as Triple-A work. Not sure it tells us much other than he’s not really ever started in pro ball.

      And Crow’s changeup was dropped for a reason. Nowhere have I seen it referred to as a big league pitch even. If the curve is good enough, he could survive as a three-pitch pitcher, but it does less his upside.

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  5. Joey B says:

    Not a big fan of ‘if it ain’t broke, break it’. I understand trying to max out Crow’s value, but we suffer a similar disease in Boston. We have fans that want to make starters out of Bard and Aceves. The upside being that, even if they are successfully converted, we still need to find two really good setup guys to replace them.

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  6. Clark Addison says:

    Speaking of pitchers coming out of their ears, anyone else think Dayton Moore makes a play for a Braves SP?

    Even in the AL Central , you can’t get away with having J. Sanchez as your #1.

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  7. Antonio Bananas says:

    Crow had lots of success as a starter in college. I’m not sure what level is comparable for competition, high A for him playing in the big 12 maybe?

    His year off really hurt him I think. The independent league didn’t give him much competition and probably hurt his growth. I think he could still be a good starter, he had some mechanical issues in college, a “hook” on his delivery. Didn’t pay close enough attention in the few times I saw him pitch for the Royals to see if he still had it.

    The way I see it, it’s 2012, at best the Royals are .500. Best case for Crow is he’s a solid back of the rotation guy this year and possibly #3 guy in his prime. Worst case is he sucks it up and gets moved to the 7th inning and the Royals pen is even stronger. In theory, a stronger pen makes your starters stronger because they don’t have to pitch until they give up a 3 run bomb when they’re running on fumes.

    They probably planned on their other guys like Lamb and Montgomery developing a little differently than they did last year.

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    • wily mo says:

      the issue with crow as a starter is really the changeup more than any wrist hook thing. i picked him up in my dyansty league and then googled him a bunch and wasn’t really encouraged and traded him off again. (A) the reports on the changeup were almost unanimously “he worked on it a lot, it’s still bad, little hope”, and (B) he had those pesky arm troubles in the second half last year. supposedly they were minor, but “sore arm” is never what you want to hear.

      personally i expect him to get a shot in the rotation, show flashes, throw one brilliant game that gets everyone excited, but kind of be mediocre or even struggle overall, eventually get sent back to the pen and then either before or after that get hurt. just one man’s prediction

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  8. Paul says:

    Joakim Soria will not be a starter. Period. He has enough trouble staying healthy as a reliever. Let it go.

    Aaron Crow as actually a lot better in the first half of last season because he was two seamer/slider only. If he can command those two pitches as a starter the way he did in the first half out of the pen, he can be a two pitch guy. I think they screwed him up having him work in the CB. Everybody knew the slider was coming in the first half and they still couldn’t hit it. I think he has the nastiest slider in baseball. Again, he has to command the FB, but I really hope Dave Eiland let’s him go with the bread and butter. If they force him to throw crappy pitches that don’t get people out, just keep him in the bullpen.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      The problem with being only a fastball-slider guy, as a starter, is that the slider has perhaps the worst platoon split of any pitch in baseball. So he’ll have trouble with lefties unless the curve is legit. So if he was worse in the second half because he was throwing his curve more…

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      • Paul says:

        Fair points, but his slider is just different. I believe the depth of the pitch is evident if you look at the Pitch F/X data over at TexasLeaguers (and of course video highlights will show it). But you’ll have to just look at the first half because the pitch was not as good in the second. That and his FB velocity dropped. It is well known in KC that he pitched through injury for about the first six weeks of the second half. That and working on a pitch that’s always been on the shelf just made him a different guy.

        He gets tons of movement on the two seamer and it is truly a disappearing slider. I just think that if he can command the FB, he’s one of only a handful of guys who could be more or less a two pitch guy as a starter.

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  9. Fiery Furnaces says:

    Nice article Eno. It’s nice to read about KC in this light. But I think moving Soria or Crow to the rotation will not help the situation. The Royals bullpen was good, not great, and weakening the latter stages of it would throw a lot of risk in there. Not to mention that Teaford & Mendoza who both looked passable to better in Sept as starters. Also not to mention several prospects who could get a look. Losing Kyle Davies & Jeff Francis will help their rotation more than anything.

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  10. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    As a Nats Fan it is still hard for me to wish A Crow well. Nonetheless, he was pretty darn good in College. He could pull it off! Oh wait, it is a decision on pitchers by KC. Seems like the Royals always fail on pitching even when they draft a pitcher in the first round. I wish them well, but I am not putting money on A Crow doing well and sleeping well with that decision.

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    • rbt says:

      I guess that’s why Dayton Moore, as a rule, doesn’t draft pitchers in the first round. He has always said that he prefers position players there and that he feels good pitchers can be found later in the first few rounds. I don’t know why he made an exception for Crow, and as a Royals fan, I hated the pick at the time.

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  11. ezb230 says:

    i don’t know if crow can hack it as a starter, but i don’t see a lot of specifics about him here that says he can’t. i see a generalization – starting is harder than relieving. i can name a lot of decent 3 starters with two plus pitches and a middling third option. i don’t see the harm in trying him out as a starter (assuming he can handle the workload, and his history suggests he can). he can always go back to the pen if it doesn’t work out, and his value shoots up if it does.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      One rather large specific: he wasn’t good as a starer in the minor leagues.

      Another one: he has only two pitches and one of them has a large platoon split. Not too many fastball/slider guys in the majors that are starting. If the curve is legit, maybe.

      But then you go back to the fact that he wasn’t good as a starter in the minor leagues.

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  12. Joey B says:

    “Sure. But it’s much easier to find good setup men than good starters. Much cheaper, too.”

    Yeah, I’ve heard that before. But the thing is, the RS had only 3 really good RPs out of the their BP. We gave about 180-200 innings to some fairly mediocre guys. I understand the value of a good starter over a good RP, but unless we really get backed up in the RP department, it just seems like you might be replacing one hole with another hole, compounded the possibility of having created two holes.

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  13. Lance says:

    Soria was getting by on smoke and mirrors last year. He hasn’t been the same pitcher he used to be for two years now. He entirely lost his big curve ball. He’s fragile. No way he makes it in the rotation.

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