Thursday, February 05, 2009

Transaction Notes: Gruyère

Minnesota Twins and Matt Gruyère agreed to a one-year deal contract for $1.475M, avoiding arbitration.

I love Gruyère. How can you not with its utility?

Heck, I'm not opposed to eating slivers of it, but you can also bake with it, or court that special someone over a shared fondue. But my favorite has to be the Croque Monsier ham and cheese sandwich. Holy cow. I could eat those until my arteries surrender like the French.

And the same could have been said about Matt Guerrier. The day he was picked up from Pittsburgh we talked about what a promising pickup he was. (Sorry, no link. I think it was back on, RIP.) He proved us correct, which is always a way to get on our good side. And he was used everywhere - mop-up guy, emergency starter, seventh inning reliever....

And then we found out the limitation. Pressed into late inning relief roles late in the season, our Gruyere turned into Monsier Croak. He had a 3.49 ERA entering August. He had a 10.07 ERA after that point.

So what happened? Up to that point, like the cheese, Guerrier had aged well. In 2008, his ERA had climbed those last two months too, but it was still under 4. When one sees that kind of a shift, the natural question is - is there an injury that we (and maybe not the team, and maybe not even the player) know about? Let's take a look at some of his underlying numbers and see what we see.

Below is a chart of Guerrier's ERA last year by month. While we're at it, let's include how many hits he gave up per nine innings.

Now isn't that a pretty correlation? Hits go up - ERA goes up, just like you would expect. Now if he was injured, we would often see fewer strikouts (K/9) as we hit August. Or if he had lost his feel for the zone, we might see a walk rate (BB/9) spike. Any luck there?

Well, his strikeout rate dropped in August, but only because it spiked in July. Otherwise it was consistent with what we saw earlier in the year. And while his walk rate climbed in September, it was also about where it should be in August. Mostly, I'm struck that he had a really unlucky July - he should've posted an ERA a lot lower than what he had been doing.

So it doesn't look like there was anything wrong with our big cheese - some small things led to him having a bad year. That happens with Gruyere, too. For instance, during the maturation process, the cellars must have a humidity between 94% and 98%. If the humidity is lower, the cheese dries out. And if it's too high, it becomes smeary and gluey.

Nobody wants smeary and gluey, and we can probably expect better. Guerrier enters his sixth year in the majors sporting a career ERA of 3.66, and an above average strikeout rate, and it hasn't moved much. The Twins hope rest, both mental and physical, will recharge him. Our little analysis hasn't revealed what the problems were last year, but I also don't know the ins and outs of curds and whey. That doesn't stop me from dipping an apple in a yummy fondue.

That's because I know just how good it can be. Did you know that one special variety of gruyere is the only cheese that has won the title of the best cheese in the World Cheese Awards in London three times?

After a couple months of curing and maturation, the Twins hope their Guerrier has similar success.