Wednesday, December 08, 2004

2005 Dodgers: Elmer Dessens

The signing of Elmer Dessens by Los Angeles yesterday was fairly unexpected. Dessens arrived in LA on August 19, 2004, coming from Arizona in exchange for toolsy Jereme Milons, a "toolsy" 21-year-old outfielder who'd spent most of the year in low-A Columbus, where he was fairly underwhelming. Dessens was acquired in the wake of the revelation of Darren Dreifort's most recent injuries, as the Dodgers had noticed his solid performance since switching to the bullpen with Arizona. Yesterday, he was re-signed to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million with a $1.3 m option for 2006 or a $250,000 buy-out.

Dessens has always been more on the control side of the spectrum than the power side. His K rate normally hovers about 20% below league average while his walk rate is normally about 25% better than league average, which combined with his dead-average home run rate have made him very, very league average over the years. His career Defensive Efficiency Ratio numbers also show nothing significantly different from league average. Looking at a period of just the past three years, this overwhelming sense of complete averagitivity holds up.

When Dessens was switched to the bullpen in 2004 after being used only as a starter since being a swingman with the Reds in 2000, his numbers saw a substantial improvement. As a reliever, his K rate shot up to league average while his walk rate became about 60% of league average. These factors made his fielding independent pitching index drop to 4.11, comfortably below the 4.31 league average. The Baseball Prospectus reliever report had him pegged for a 4.00 Fair Run Average on the season, based on the runners he inherited and bequeathed to others. However, relievers in the current era fare better than starters; FIP correlates with ERA, where major league average for relievers was 4.15 in 2004, and Fair Run Average is based on run average, where MLB relievers averaged 4.56. Either way, we can probably expect Dessens to be marginally better than league average.

How valuable is a slightly above average reliever who can go a couple innings at a time? Since becoming a reliever on May 10 last year, Dessens pitcher 71.2 innings, including three not very successful spot starts. Let's pro-rate that usage to figure he's good for 85-90 innings a year. If his run average is about 4.10, we can expect him to contribute about 16 runs above replacement level over a season. If he declines to a 4.60 run average, that figure becomes 11, and if he improves to 3.60 it goes up to 21. For all those estimates I'm using park-neutral numbers, so the overall value operates independent of the fact that those aren't terribly impressive numbers for pitching in Chavez Ravine. Based on those expectations, it's fair to expect Dessens to be worth about 1.5-2.0 wins above replacement. More simply, his expected level of production should match that of Duaner Sanchez in 2004, although the two aren't terribly similar otherwise. Using the MDMW and NWSV methods, this projects as an above average deal either at two years, $2.6 million or at one year, $1.55 million (if the option is declined with the $250K buy-out).

Overall, this was a pretty solid move. Gagne and Brazoban are pretty set in the bullpen with Wilson Alvarez presumably returning as well, but the Dodgers had a need for a reliable innings eater. Duaner Sanchez' 2004 was good but featured peripherals that indicate an ERA a run higher would have been more appropriate, Kaz Ishii probably has no value as a reliever, and Giovanni Carrara's career was last seen auditioning for an illustrated dictionary under the listing "mercurial". While Franquelis Osorio and Steve Schmoll show promise, they haven't pitched enough against high-level competition to guarantee their success in 2004, and it does make sense for them to start the season in Vegas before taking over when someone becomes injured or ineffective. All in all, Dessens fits a pretty important role for the Dodgers, who don't have to pay much for him and have no reason to overspend for a marquee free agent reliever.

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