2013 Dodgers in Review #39: RP J.P. Howell

90topps_jphowell2.18 ERA / 2.89 FIP 62.0 IP 7.84 K/9 3.34 BB/9 0.7 fWAR (A-)

2013 in brief: Solid reliever out of the pen. Death on lefties and reasonably effective against righties.

2014 status: Signed for two years and $11.25 million with a 2016 vesting option for $6.25 million.

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Everyone thank Lobo for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Howell. Thanks, Lobo!

Unlike most of the relievers signed by Ned Colletti last offseason, the general reaction to J.P. Howell‘s signing was not so much “Why did Colletti overpay another reliever?” as it was “Well damn, guess that means Paco’s going to Albuquerque.”

The reason? Well mainly because in a market where Randy Choate got a three year deal from St. Louis, Howell’s one year contract at just $2.85 million seemed totally reasonable. But more than that, Howell was a guy who filled a serious need in the Dodger bullpen. With Scott Elbert exhibiting reverse splits (and not throwing a single pitch for the 2013 Dodgers) and Paco Rodriguez being effective but unproven, the team was in dire need of an effective LOOGY. And given that lefties hit just .200/.306/.306 against Howell in 2012, he seemed like a good fit.

Howell ended up getting into 67 games for the Dodgers and was, well, quite good. I know that 0.7 WAR doesn’t seem like much, but only 60 relievers in baseball put up more (and only one Dodger, the otherworldly Kenley Jansen). Oh, he also got a two game suspension for throwing Arizona coach Turner Ward over the dugout railing, but no biggie. In the playoffs he was also effective, with his lone blemish being a solo home run given up to Shane Robinson in Game 4 of the NLCS.

What was great about Howell’s season was that he was that he didn’t pitch like a true LOOGY. In roughly the same number of plate appearances, Howell held lefties to a .161/.225/.227 TSL and righties to a line of .218/.312/.296. For a guy we expected to simply be a straight LOOGY that was a pleasant surprise, and a welcome turnaround from his 2012 when righties hit .242/.340/.456 with 5 homers against him.

Which brings me to the main reason for Howell’s improved performance in 2013, his drastic decrease in HR rate. In 2011 and 2012 combined, J.P. gave up 12 home runs in 81.0 innings, 9 of those coming against right handed hitters, good for a 19.2% HR/FB rate in 2011 and a 17.1% rate in 2012. Meanwhile, in 2013 Howell gave up just 2 longballs in 62 innings, one apiece to righties and lefties, bringing his HR/FB % all the way down to 4.3. So what caused this dramatic decrease in HR rate? Let’s take a look.

The first thing to note here is a slight drop in Howell’s overall FB%, from 31.3% in 2012 to 27.7% in 2013. But that 2013 rate was only slightly less than his 2011 rate of 28.6%, despite giving less than half as many homers in 2013 in double the innings pitched. So his FB rate doesn’t seem to be the likely cause.

So what about the parks? Well Dodger Stadium and Tropicana Field appear roughly equal in their affect on home runs, so I doubt that was the culprit either.

Level of competition? The AL East is known as an offensive juggernaut after all. I’m going to learn towards “no” on this one, as most of Howell’s home runs given up in 2011 and 2012 were to lesser players. Of the 12 home runs he gave up in 2011 and 2012, just 4 were given up to guys who could be considered true home run threats (Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion), with the rest given up to players with middling or non-existent power.

Was he just giving up longer fly balls? Well it’s kind of hard to tell for sure, but looking at the Fangraphs Interactive Spray Chart Tool, it appears that there was no appreciable difference in fly ball distance between Howell’s 2012 and 2013 seasons (there is no data available for the 2011 season). So that’s another possible cause eliminated.

This leaves just one possible explanation, Howell’s sinker. According to Brooks Baseball, Howell used his sinker 42.94% of the time in 2011 and 2012, compared to 58.55% in 2013. On top of that, he increased the velocity on his sinker from 86.82 to 88.05 MPH; in fact, 2013 saw Howell increase the velocity on all of his pitches.

howell_velocity_2010-13

Coupled with the slight decrease in his walk rate, it appears Howell managed to both up his velocity AND improve his control this year, a surefire recipe for success. Furthermore, the sinker is, of course, known as a groundball pitch, so his increased usage of the pitch is a great sign that 2013 results were a result of more than just luck.

So now the question is, can he keep this up? Well, in my opinion at least, the answer is most certainly yes. I was surprised to find out that Howell will only be 31 in April, so there’s a good reason to believe that he can keep up that velocity in 2014 and 2015. And at just about 5.5 million for the next two years, Howell looks to be a solid bullpen arm for at least the length of his new contract.

There’s certainly more evidence that he’ll be effective than there was with League last offseason. And with Rodriguez fading badly down the stretch (to the point of being left off the NLCS roster entirely), a quality lefty arm like Howell is sure to be a valuable addition to the 2014 club. Looks like there’s at least one Amish man who’s keeping up with the times.

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335 comments
DodgerBytes
DodgerBytes

Does the fact that Beckett is suppose to have a normal Spring Training and makes $15M in 2014 get in the way of a Tanaka signing?

Or do we just put Beckett on the slow track back and see what Haren can do, etc.

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Bugger, I'm awake early. Don't you just hate when you wake up from dehydration? From drinking I meant!

PuigMode sinceJune3
PuigMode sinceJune3

Appreciate the comments... I know I'm stirring the pot with this Kershaw nonsense but as a fan I would always hope my team is thinking of every possible way to make the team better even if it might make us upset to lose some good people and players

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

Are we done talking about Kershaw? Can I go to bed now? 

PuigMode sinceJune3
PuigMode sinceJune3

Question for you guys...BTW Merry Christmas!

If the Dodgers were to win the Tanaka sweepstakes and seeing as they will be stacked Starting Pitching by spring training...Would EVERYONE here be opposed to Dodgers continuing their "Phase II" and dealing Kershaw or an Kemp/Ethier for Prospects...

Thus having a good team plus being able to plan for the future

TheReggieHurley
TheReggieHurley

HEY guys. merry xmas. I got a ticket today turning into my house.... any time a person gets a ticket he feels like it's unfair even if he was blatantly wrong. That's how i feel rite now.....  im pretty short on money rite now cuz of xmas gifts and being a student and all and it's gotten me kinda down. I had  to make a sharp turn into my driveway and the road is pretty small and the cop gave me a ticket for failure to stay in the right lane. I know nobody likes to listen to other ppl complain..... can u guys tells me the unfair tickets that u guys have gotten to make me feel better? 

KMT59
KMT59

So does anyone know why all our points reset to 5

*VND*
*VND*

@PuigMode sinceJune3 trading Kershaw does have a lot of upside. Unfortunately we arent the Tampa Bay Rays, we cant afford to willing do something like that - for publicity sake

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

Of any pitcher with >40 PA, he had a .086/.220/.200 TSL. And he was a righty. WTF

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

@PuigMode sinceJune3 Why in the fuck would we ever trade Kershaw? He may be the second coming of Koufax, and you're thinking of trading him? Seriously?

Lobo
Lobo

@PuigMode sinceJune3 I will fucking lose it if the team trades Kershaw.  A team with as solid a chance as we do to win the WS does NOT need to drastically hurt that chance by trading the best pitcher in the world.  If we were a franchise like the Rays, then yeah, go for it.  But we are not the Rays and we are going for it

Kewldood69
Kewldood69

I'm all for trading Kershaw if he is going to pussyfoot and not sign a new deal. Maximize what you can now.

*VND*
*VND*

@TheReggieHurley one time i got a ticket for being a dick to a cop. pulled me over for no reason, i told him so and i opened up the newspaper (which was in the passenger seat) as he was talking to me. gave me a bullshit ticket for changing lanes without a signal

BIah
BIah

@KMT59 that's just a glitch in the preview.  If you go to someone's profile their points are still there

BIah
BIah

The thing about Kershaw is that I feel like he has a lot more value than just his ability to help us win the World Series.  Having the best pitcher in baseball on our team is something that is exciting for fans.  Out of any pitcher in baseball, I think Kershaw is our best chance to see amazing individual pitcher feats like perfect games and racking up awards and stuff.  Those sorts of things bring a lot of joy to a fanbase.  The Giants fans were ecstatic after Lincecum's no-hitter, even in the midst of a bad season.

It's like how you said you would follow Kemp wherever he goes if he leaves the Dodgers.  Kemp has more value to fans than just his bottom-line contributions to winning seasons.

*VND*
*VND*

@PuigMode sinceJune3 (put me down as one that is willing to trade Kershaw if the price is right. hes just a pitcher)

PuigMode sinceJune3
PuigMode sinceJune3

@Weston Taylor @PuigMode sinceJune3 I would not really WANT to trade him. He's my favorite player on this team. But, if you will have to outbid the world to pay him and not have the financial flexibility to keep having a good team, then I would consider it

PuigMode sinceJune3
PuigMode sinceJune3

@BIah @PuigMode sinceJune3 It just seems that even though money should not be a problem to Dodgers, the smart move financially would be to trade Kemp or Kershaw for REALLY good prospects that would be mainstays in near future and allow them to compete today too

TheReggieHurley
TheReggieHurley

@The Notorious VND @TheReggieHurley LOLOLOLOl. good thing u kept ur dignity. I hate it wen u beg and try to gain their sympathy and they say there is nothing they can do. or... they are doing it to save your life. LOLOLOL

Lobo
Lobo

@PuigMode sinceJune3 @Lobo Yes, it does drastically decrease their chances.  Generally I am absolutely in favor of building for the future, but not when it comes at the cost of a great chance to win the WS.  Yeah Greinke would still be a great number 1 starter but which would you prefer: Kershaw and Greinke twice each in the World Series or Greinke and Ryu?

Kewldood69
Kewldood69

Kershaw doesn't seem like he is looking for the best deal. He knows the dodgers have the most money...

Weston Taylor
Weston Taylor

@TheReggieHurley @Weston Taylor @The Notorious VND I don't expect you to understand...it's just a different world, dude. Try going to work every single day where everyone hates you and you live your life in fear, inside and outside of work. That's what it's like being a cop. Like I said, there are always exceptions to the rule...there ARE non-douchey cops...but the treatment they get from the public is the worst.